Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Georgia Wipes Away Red Past
This remnant of the communist era will have to be removed from the Georgian parliament building. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)
A Soviet star on top of the Academy of Sciences building in Tbilisi will have to come down if a draft law succeeds in parliament. (Photo: Giorgi Kupatadze)
The red stars and hammer-and-sickle symbols that still adorn some buildings in Georgia could become illegal if a bill currently in parliament goes through.
The legislation submitted by opposition parliamentarian Gia Tortladze, which has already received preliminary approval from legislators, would required all symbols of the Soviet past to be removed from monuments and buildings.
It would cement in law a campaign that is already under way to erase all visible traces of the Communist era. Begun after President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power following the 2003 Rose Revolution, the “de-Sovietisation” drive accelerated after a brief conflict with Russia in 2008.
In June this year, a large statue of Joseph Stalin was removed from his home town Gori, while last December, Saakashvili ordered the demolition of a Second World War memorial in Kutaisi. (See Georgians Finally Topple Stalin.)
Tortladze, a member of the Democratic Georgia party, explained why he felt his bill was needed.
“If I saw Soviet symbols in some other country, I’d conclude that the government of that country had nothing against the Soviet regime. Our country is moving step by step towards European integration and we must learn from their experience. All three Baltic states, for example, have already passed a law of this kind,” he said.
Although Tortladze belongs to the opposition, his bill –passed in its first reading on October 28 – chimes with the views of government and president.
The Georgian interior ministry has already opened its Soviet-era archives and held an exhibition called “Red History”, which put on display previously classified documents, photos and notes signed by Stalin, his feared security chief and fellow-Georgian Lavrenty Beria and other Soviet leaders.
The bill has received wide support across the political spectrum.
“I think that communism is the same kind of crime against humanity as fascism,” Nugzar Tsiklauri of the ruling United National Movement said. “There’s no need for the younger generation, or old people who suffered in the war, or indeed all of Georgia, to have to look at images that symbolise their common suffering.”
Monuments to Lenin and Stalin began disappearing soon after Georgia became independent in 1991, and only a few buildings now bear communist symbols, for example the Academy of Sciences on Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue, which is topped with a star.
The main criticism of Tortladze’s bill stems from concerns that buildings might be defaced in cases where Soviet imagery is built into the structure, or even forms the structure itself, as in the case of the Polytechnical University, which is shaped like a hammer and sickle when viewed from above.
Pointing out some of these concerns, Tsira Elisashvili, a guest lecturer at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs, said removal was “a very difficult technical process – these are all architectural monuments that express the atmosphere of their time”.
David Gogishvili of the Research Laboratory for the Soviet Past, said it was important for Georgians to understand what really happened in the Soviet period, and not just ignore it.
“Comprehension is a psychological process, so priority must be given to education, the most effective of ‘de-Sovietisation’ methods,” he said, adding that then, “the informed person will not have dangerous associations from seeing a monument to Stalin or a Soviet star”.
Lasha Bakradze, director of the Museum of Literature, questioned whether removing the few remaining symbols was relevant to efforts to create a modern European state.
“We need to print books and make films. That’s much more important than removing stars from buildings,” he said. “We do very little to study Soviet history and we’re trying to forget it by banning it. I think that’s very simplistic. The younger generation will ask what we’ve done with 70 years of their history. It’s as if those years didn’t exist.”
Tamar Babuadze is editor of the Liberali magazine in Georgia.
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