The Soviet Past and Problems of Understanding Stalinism

June 10, 2009

Nino Bekishvili – Magazine "Liberali";
Levan Gigineishvili – I. Chavchavadze University;
Ilamaz Mitsishvili – society "Memorial".
Facilitation: Giorgi Gvakharia

Public debates have been dedicated to the presentation of a new book “Portraits of prisoners of ALZHIR: from the history of Stalinism” issued by the South Caucasus Regional Office of Heinrich Boell Foundation. Moderator Giorgi Gvakharia has mentioned that it is very painful that in Georgia the phenomenon of Stalinism has not been comprehended for a long period unlike Russia where serious debates have begun at the end of 80-ties.

At the beginning of his speech Levan Gigineishvili has mentioned that for him this theme was first of all interesting from the point of relationships between totalitarianism and concrete persons. He also spoke about the nature of totalitarianism, saying that it is leveling of a person, disrespect of the personality, abolishment of the space of personal discussion; this is a space where an idea becomes more important than a person and the right of saying the truth. Totalitarianism is created by the fear of liberty and personal responsibility.

According to L. Gigineishvili Stalin is one of the figures of totalitarianism. In any case, when a person refuses his liberty because of the comfort it appears a danger of totalitarianism. “It would be nice if we all read this book because there is no guarantee that totalitarianism will not be repeated again. In case of lack of personal development and dignity formation there always appears a chance of totalitarianism”. Therefore, this book is a kind of warning”.

As Nino Bekishvili said this theme has always been interesting for her, as her personal formation and youth have coincided with the period of destruction of the Soviet Union, and the former Soviet people have been given an opportunity to speak loudly about Stalinism.      

According to Nino Bekishvili, Stalinism like many other themes has not been comprehended by the Georgians. 

At the end of her speech N. Bekishvili said: “This book is important from many points, first of all it gives our society an opportunity to have an idea about that epoch through true stories. The whole spectrum of these stories enables us to get much information about general history, as well as concrete persons”.

The third speaker Ilamaz Mitsishvili, one of the founders of the Society of Memory and Support of victims of Soviet period political repressions in Georgia “Memorial” has mentioned that the phenomenon of Stalin will not be studied for a long time despite long discussions. He said that the Society “Memorial” has always tried not to hide this problem. Ten years ago its representatives arose a question of opening the museum reflecting the Soviet political repressions; however this plan could not be implemented. The Society “Memorial” has been functioned for 17 years, though today it does not exist due to the lack of state or private financing. In 2009 the Society has been deprived the space where the office and the archive have been located.

The speakers of the debates have been asked the following questions:

  • What is the difference between the Stalinist and other totalitarianisms?    
  • Why did not our society begin to speak about Stalinism for such a long time?
  • What is preventing us from comprehending Stalinism?
  • Is it right to speak about taking away the statue of Stalin?
  • Why did the people love and still loves Stalin in Georgia?
  • What parallels can be drawn?
  • What is drawing us closer to totalitarianism?
  • Are the phenomenons of searching foreign enemies or an attempt of creating the personality cult symbols of totalitarianism?
  • What is stipulating the popularity of people like Stalin and Hitler in the society?

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