New East Digital Archive

Red nostalgia: meet the Georgians who still worship Stalin

24 March 2017
Text and Image Sebastian Hopp

64 years have passed since Stalin’s death: the Soviet dictator and the 20th century’s bloodiest tyrant passed away in Moscow, nearly 2000 km from his birthplace of Gori, Georgia. Since Georgia’s independence in 1991, the country has been rebuilding its own identity, which was suppressed under Stalin. In recent years, Georgia has even introduced a penalty for the use of Soviet symbols, following bans in the Baltics and Ukraine. At the same time, Gori is also home to the largest museum dedicated to Stalin, along with a living community that lauds Stalin as one of the greatest Georgian-born leaders. German photographer Sebastian Hopp travelled to Georgia to meet Stalin’s present-day followers in order to understand why these individuals are keeping his destructive legacy alive.

This six-metre-high statue of the dictator Joseph Stalin was placed in the central square of Gori, Georgia in 1952. In 2011 it was removed by the government.

Michael B. was a guard at the mausoleum of Stalin and Lenin in Moscow.

Olgha prepares her car for the parade to celebrate Victory Day in Gori, Georgia.

The living room of a young family in Kojori, about 20 km from Tbilisi.

Giorgi K. has been a Communist Party of Tbilisi pioneer since 2015.

The government and the Communist Party of Gori discuss whether the huge statue of Stalin should be restored in Gori. They haven’t reached an agreement yet, but the Party has started to construct the pedestal.

Shalva decided to get his Stalin tattoos together with nine other men, when Stalin’s body was removed from the mausoleum in Moscow.

A combination of Orthodox Church and Stalin memorabilia in a private collection.

“I, Tamuna, joining the ranks of the Vladimir Ilyich Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization, in front of my comrades solemnly promise: to cherish my Motherland, to live as the great Lenin bade us to, as the Communist Party teaches us, as requires the law of the Pioneers of the Soviet Union.”

The meeting room of the Communist Party of Tbilisi. Currently there are 100 registered members.

Varketili is a suburb of Tbilisi, built at the end of the Soviet era.

The souvenir shop at the Stalin Museum in Gori.

In Soviet Times Nugzar was a respected officer. At the height of Soviet power he had a great house, nice car and high salary. Like many others he lost his sense of identity after the fall of communism. Today he runs a small driving school in Tbilisi. Now, Nugzar only gets to wear his uniform on special occasions, such as Victory Day on 9 May. When he puts the uniform back on, he can remember what it feels like to be a person of authority, even if only for a fleeting moment.

Parade on 9 May in front of the Stalin museum in Gori. People celebrating Victory Day.

Ushangi D. started to build a museum to Joseph Stalin in 1956 in the garden around the apartment block where he lives.

Text and image: Sebastian Hopp