In late July and early August I was traveling in Georgia, a post-Soviet state on the make, as part of my work following the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline route. Two years ago in 2008, the new nation-state was beset by misfortune in the form of invasion by its northerly neighbor, Russia. A short but devastating nine day war ensued in mid-August over the self-proclaimed independent republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia’s north and northwest.
A primary theater in the armed conflict was the Georgian city of Gori, most famous as it is the birthplace of Iosef Dzughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin who ruled the former Soviet Union with an iron first and a mass murderous streak from 1922 until his death in 1953. In some parts of the now former Eastern Bloc like Poland, de-Stalinzation did not occur until 1957, a year after Khrushchev’s “secret speech” at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) renouncing the Soviet crimes of Stalinist excess.
In 2008, several images from the Georgian or August War made a splash in the international photojournalism awards, garnering a World Press Photo award and Visa d’Or at the Visa Pour L’image Photojournalism Festival at Perpignan, France for Polish photojournalist Wojciech Grzedzinski.
In July, I had a few days while waiting for permissions I have yet to obtain and took a side day trip to Iosef Dzughashvili’s hometown, Gori. In June, Gori was again in the headlines because a famous statue of Mr. Stalin that stood prominently in the main square had been removed and taken to a nearby courtyard, ostensibly while room is made in front of his boyhood home, also relocated to a nearby square that rests in front of the Stalin Museum, Gori’s primary attraction. But for now and perhaps for the first time in his afterlife, Stalin must wait.
Due to the yet more recent tragic history of 2008, I revisited some of the places that had been devastated by Russian bombs to find that they had been rebuilt. My translator and guide told me in two months following the war, most of Gori was rebuilt and in better condition than when the Soviets had their turn.