The Communist Party of Georgia was officially dissolved in April 1991, after the nation declared independence from the Soviet Union. However, almost 30 years on, there are some leftover remnants of the bygone Communist era.
In central Tbilisi, there is a museum. This museum is not advertised in any tourism centres, nor does it have a website. Yet, for the few people who work and live there, it is the centre of the contemporary Georgian Communist movement.
The museum does not look much from the outside. It looks like a derelict house, blocked off by gates proudly showing the Soviet hammer and sickle. An old man greets you at the gates. There is no entrance fee, instead the first thing he will do is offer you a glass of water in a Stalin mug, proclaiming that this water kept Stalin strong through Socialism’s early struggles against the Romanovs.
It is underneath the house where the true purpose of this museum is revealed. An old printing press is in a hidden basement underneath this house, where Joseph Stalin, who was born and raised in Georgia, used to print Communist propaganda before the 1917 revolution. This museum was – according to the guide – the most popular museum in all of the USSR. What is apparent, is that this museum has not been altered since the USSR was in existence. It is one of the last bastions of Georgia’s Communist era.
Stalin is a divisive character in Georgia, but a recent poll by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace found that almost half of all Georgians still view Stalin in a positive way. He was born in Gori and that town reveres him. There are several statues of him and a whole museum celebrating his achievements, without even a passing mention of the atrocities he is known to have committed.
These two museums, especially the one in Tbilisi, are some of the living remnants of Georgia’s Communist past. Ironically, they are all glorifying the past, ignoring the fact that there has not been a single elected Communist Party candidate since 1995. Yet, in the museum in Tbilisi, this old man did not only want to show me the museum. In another room, full of Soviet memorabilia, he shows me his office, where he organises his current political campaigns, standing for the current Communist Party of Georgia.
The Communist movement in Georgia is full of factions and divisions. The New Communist Party of Georgia is the Party who this gentleman at the museum stood for. It is a Party founded by Stalin’s Grandson and is a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a Party seeking to reinstate the USSR. There is also the Unified Communist Party of Georgia, who are members of the Union of Communist Parties, another Party who likewise want to see the reunification of the USSR. Both see themselves as the true successors of the actual and original Communist Party of the USSR. Both, however, spend more time arguing that they are the genuine successors than they do attempting the reunification they so desire.
Above highlights the key issue with modern Communist politics in Georgia. There is more in-fighting amongst Communist Parties then there is political campaigning or policy-making. Different Parties see themselves as the true Communist Party successor, who are in turn affiliated with broader Parties who propose that they are the true successor Party of the USSR. Semantics aside, one thing is abundantly clear. All these groups are living in the past; as much a relic as the museums they call home.