After the Georgian Rose Revolution of 2003, the Ukrainian attitude towards Georgia as a country for recreation and perhaps even a country to move to has changed dramatically. Over these years, we have become accustomed to considering Georgia a friend: both in the sorrow of its close proximity to Russia, and in the joy of feeling independent after the Soviet occupation, as it is regarded by the Georgians.

Almost 100 years have passed since the Communists came to power in Georgia. Of course, our countries have their own special history of becoming a member of the USSR, but at the same time these histories in all 15 former Soviet republics are similar.

In Georgia, after the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy in 1917, power passed to the Russian Provisional Government and the Menshevik-dominated Georgian Soviets. After overthrow of Provisional Government on May 26th, 1918, Georgian authorities led by Mensheviks declared independence of the Democratic Republic of Georgia. In February 1921, the Bolsheviks led an armed uprising and, with the help of the Russian Red Army, overthrew the Menshevik government. In December 1922, Georgia, together with Armenia and Azerbaijanm formed the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (TSFSR), which became part of the USSR. In 1936, the TSFSR was liquidated, and Georgia has remained a Soviet Union republic ever since.

The USSR collapsed in 1991. Since then, Georgia, like the other republics that gained independence, has had an independent history. But is it so independent?

In Tbilisi, we looked at how the city has changed over the years of independence and how far it has moved away from the era of visual communism in public space.

Georgia is always waiting for you! That is probably the most important feeling you get when you come to this country. But! We did not come to rest, but to work, and it was not as easy as we expected. Yes, Georgia does expect you, but not to work, but to relax and spend money, even if you speak Russian, or more exactly, to spend even more money if you speak Russian. But if you come for business, be prepared to communicate in Georgian or English: Russian becomes burdensome for Georgians in this case. And it is better to tune in to the local time perception. The point is not even that here is plus two hours to our time zone, but that when you arrange a meeting for some specific time, you can safely add an hour to it and be about that late for the meeting.

You may laugh at it but as for the language Georgians don’t really want to speak Russian on serious topics. For most people, it is the language of the occupying country, and please: English only, if you do not speak Georgian. If you are from Russia – no problem, we will speak Russian, you are tourists, and we do not mind your money. So we worked out our tactic to start the conversation: we spoke Ukrainian, caused a confused smile and a phrase in Russian “I don’t really understand what you’re saying, but I love Ukraine very much”. After that, our interlocutors switched to Russian a little as an exception, although they admitted that it was not easy for them: “no practice”.

We planned several important meetings, but not all of them took place. According to those with whom we managed to communicate, the national trait worked: not always to fulfill promises, and punctuality – there are also questions about it to Tbilisians.

However, unexpected meetings and casual encounters more than made up for the interviews that did not take place.

The taxi driver Aleko, who participated in the demolition of the Lenin monument in the centre of Tbilisi and the events of 1988 near the Georgian Parliament, when the country was demanding independence from the USSR, has already been covered in our previous piece.

Besides the historical events, we discussed the city with Aleko:

“You know, on the face of it, everything is well and good. But if you think about it, it’s not quite like that. Tbilisi is a very old city, more than 1,500 years old. And new buildings in the centre spoil its image. It is very bad. I was born in Tbilisi. There is a maternity hospital right there, where you get in my car, I was born there 57 years ago. It used to be a nice old city but now it is just a city. Typical one, with some boxes. If you look at this place in the old photos, it was like a forest here. And now… It is sad. But aside from that, everything is fine.”

It turned out that taxi drivers were a separate cultural layer in Tbilisi. For example, Sergo told us about his family. He agreed that almost all Georgians sing well, but said that he personally needed to sit at a generously served table and in the company of his family to do so. And with young Kakhetian Gemeli we have already agreed on the next meeting in Georgia, but not in Tbilisi, but at the family winery in his native Kakheti. And not just as guests, but as family friends.

There were a few more casual and non-casual encounters, which formed the picture of Tbilisi we were looking for. Old and new, chaotic and organised, post-Soviet and without any hint of sovok, historical and not so historical, protesting and relaxed. Very diverse, and not quite consistent with the stereotypes that have developed in the Ukrainian tourist imagination. We saw and heard a slightly different city, looked at it through the eyes of the people from inside and, of course, drew our own conclusions.

We have seen an image of Tbilisi that is constantly changing, although, according to our interlocutors, not always for the better. A tour guide, a pensioner, a historian, a designer, an activist, a blogger, journalists … the most important thing that united everyone we talked to was love for their hometown and a clear desire to make it more beautiful.

Our first unscheduled meeting happened just after checking into a small hotel in the old centre. Before going out for an evening city scouting, we got chatting at the reception desk with a rather strange-looking local who could be mistaken for an urban madman. But having looked closely at how calmly and respectfully the young people who work in the hotel talked to him, and at the style of this unusual man’s communication, we realised that we should arrange a separate meeting. In general, we immodestly asked for a visit.

Vladimir Eristavi-Buchukuri is a Tbilisi pensioner and artist, and, according to him, a descendant of the tsarist branch of the Romanov family. He asked to be called by the shortened name Lado.

The house Lado invited us to is his parents’ house. It is located just behind the Parliament. The heating hasn’t worked for a few years now, so we didn’t take off our coats, despite our host’s hospitality. You can’t call this housing uncomfortable, although our interlocutor lives modestly. An endless number of photographs from different years and paintings painted by Lado make the interior atmosphere a bit creepy, but very peculiar.

Lado’s family left Georgia during World War II and came back in 1970. The family branches, he says, are intertwined with several princely and tsarist families of different nationalities. Our hero is sincerely nostalgic about the Soviet period and claims that the Soviet regime gave birth to him. He misses the Soviet collegiality and friendship in work collectives and admits that he will never be able to get rid of the internationalism in which he was brought up.

“Of course, we were pressured by the symbolism of those three letters: KGB, but everybody was normal about it. Now it has become a scarecrow. It’s not like that at all, and few people know what the KGB really is. I even have an idea to write a book in which the KGB will be rehabilitated.”

Our meeting with Lado alone would be enough for a film, and we were intellectuals and intelligent guests from the brotherly Ukraine for the artist. But we’ll confine ourselves to talking about the city that Lado loves: first and foremost, for the desire to think independently.

“It is already ingrained in the mass consciousness that one should be free and independent. This is a very positive factor. This should be welcomed in Ukraine and everywhere else, but I would say that the level of intelligence is not enough for everyone to support this economically. I do not like excessive Americanism in Tbilisi. Today’s Georgians are too much eager to be like Americans. They even speak English to each other, so that they do not look like Georgians to passersby, but like newcomers.

The stereotype of old Tbilisi is very poorly reflected in architecture. Everyone tries to do wooden balconies, when they renovate, they spend huge sums of money, and after three years everything rots. I agree, there should be a small old town. Like everywhere else in Europe – Stare Miasto in Warsaw, Prague, other places … But to build temporary wooden houses so widely again? It’s nice, but leave that for the centre and bring the rest in order. People need to get out of these moldy wooden buildings, so that there are less Potemkin villages being built all the time. We have streets with a European façade, you walked there and could see restaurants, shops. But if you go deeper, everything is not so rosy. And no one likes it – these backwoods, provincialism. The Soviet style remains only in the old bedroom communities on the outskirts. And this architectural negativism, as I call it, pulls thinking back as well. There is such architecture in the centre too, especially if you turn from the big streets to the depths. For the city to become European, this situation with old buildings has to change.

But we talk too muck, let’s have a drink and then go on.”

We had time for coffee,  and at the farewell Lado treated us to some Rkatsiteli.

Aleko Elisashvili is the founder and head of NGO Civic Movement, candidate for mayor of Tbilisi in 2018.

The case when we could not arrange a meeting in advance,  but our Georgian colleagues strongly advised us to talk to the activist. And we were, as always, lucky: on our first day in Tbilisi, there were civil protests near the Parliament. Activists were outraged about the large green fence that fenced off the Georgian legislature. Aleko was there, of course. We met and arranged an interview. To talk about the city, Aleko Elisashvili suggested meeting in the square that now bears the name of the First Republic.

“It used to be called simply the Republic Square, then Rose Revolution Square, but now it’s First Republic Square. In my childhood, they used to hold parades here. I used to go to gymnastics. They dressed us up in some kind of pantaloons and we marched and waved to these leaders… Chiefs. I hated this seventh of November: it was cold, and we, the children, were simply tortured.

Tbilisi, ‘tbilisi’ means ‘warm’. It is the city where I was born, and for me it is the warmest. And I try – just as parents try to make sure that their children grow up good people and have no problems – I have the same feeling about the city. Many problems, many buildings that destroy the unity of my city and its beauty. Tbilisi is a very beautiful city and I am trying to make it better than it is now, and the best in the world. I feel responsible to it. Unfortunately in the 90s and early 2000s there was wild capitalism and not much greenery, parks and squares left. Compared to Soviet times, public transport is much worse now. I have no nostalgia for the Soviet times. It was my only childhood, yes, but it was still a terrible time. 

So I would rather have such a Tbilisi with such transport and less greenery, but at least I feel responsible, so as a citizen I decide something. My dream is that there will be fewer cars and more public transport and pedestrians, and that the tram will return to Tbilisi.

To be honest, I don’t like the way the city is changing. Look: we preserved this IML building, the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, we have not let it be destroyed, although it is Stalinist architecture, Stalinist Empire style. But what was built next to it?!

It is not always changing for the better, because wild capitalism has set in. We have daily protests in different parts of the city, because you cannot build so wildly. We need urban regulations, we need to preserve antiquity, we need to build with care.

I myself hate the Soviet Union and everything connected with the Soviet Union, but it is very stupid to fight with history, with architecture. History needs to be studied, to understand where mistakes were made, what was wrong, why the Soviet Union was what it was, and what conclusions need to be drawn from it all.

When they wanted to demolish the IML and other old buildings and build some glass towers, it was very difficult for me and my friends to explain to people why these buildings are important. And to make more people understand the importance of historical heritage, we started holding exhibitions and tours. Only for those who live in Tbilisi, not for tourists. To explain why old buildings are important for the city, why the historical heritage is important in general. And this was effective: in the beginning, the maximum number of people standing at the protests was five. And after the tours, there were 100 to 200 participants. That is why we were able to save a lot of buildings.

And I would call the Parliament building my main place of power. Everything is decided there. That’s why our mayor has put a fence there. It’s both funny and scary. Because he is afraid of people. That is the place of power. Everything is decided there: there was a civil war there, and the change of power has always taken place not at the polling stations, but at this place.”

We met Gugo (Giorgi) Kotetishvili by chance at a nice conceptual café, the House of Tea, where we stopped after a meeting with Aleko to warm up and have a snack. Gugo is a Tbilisi-based designer and architect, and he designed the establishment that his friends own.

“I live just behind the Parliament. So everything happens just in my yard: all the demonstrations, rallies that have been and probably will continue. Everything in the city has changed over the years, just like in Ukraine. But it started, in my opinion, from Georgia. It all started in our country during Soviet times, then it was repeated in other countries, somewhere worse, somewhere easier, somewhere stronger. What can I say… For some reason I do not see anything particularly good in what is happening now and how things are changing. The worst thing in our city is driving in traffic jams. But I have to, because the facilities are at different ends, and you move all day like that.

The city is very comfortable in the sense that it’s old. But the city has grown terribly. The whole of Georgia for some reason wants to live in Tbilisi, and half of them want to live exactly in the centre, which will not accommodate everyone. And they keep building high-rises, spoiling the charm and structure of the city.

And I love Tbilisi for everything, in principle. I remember there is a poem: “A body is given to me – what shall I do with it, So unique and so mine?” There is still much to love. For eclecticism, probably because the country is located on the border of Europe and Asia. I am an interior designer, I make interiors, and I always have eclecticism, as in our lives: always the same, in the same style – it doesn’t work.”

In search of the authentic atmosphere of Tbilisi’s last century, we visited old restaurants. We were especially looking for places where locals have been going for years. Something like pubs, where people chat and discuss the latest news. The oldest khinkali house Veliaminov, which is already 125 years old, turned out to be such a place. Its employees say that at different times poets, musicians and old-timers from the city have gathered there. During the whole period of its existence the establishment has never changed its name.

Our dream was to find more places from the pre-Soviet period, to feel more fully the difference between that era and the time when the Communists came to power. But this turned out to be very difficult: apart from Veliaminov, there are hardly any of them left in Tbilisi. But we have found those that survived, the Soviet ones. Their range frightened with the familiar flavour of drinks from Soviet childhood.

The old Racha is about 100 years old, when it was a Soviet catering establishment. Today it is privately owned. Our interviewee Manana has been working here for more than 20 years, and judging by her behavior, she runs almost everything.

“You are in the old Racha dukhan. This is the first dukhan in Tbilisi. They have different names now – a café, a restaurant, but we remained “dukhan” as were were. This abacus that I have is a hundred years old and I don’t throw it away. There are a lot of visitors here, they are very grateful and, as a rule, they come back to us. If you want a good meal, you should come to us at the Racha Dukhan.”

We couldn’t pay by card at Racha. And Manana did calculate our order on the abacus.

David Khurtsilava, founder of travel company Homo-Soviet Tours, fixer of Chaykhana and National Geographic publications.

We arranged to meet David Khurtsilava, who organises guided tours of Soviet-era sites, in a 1970s bedroom community, near a clumsy structure of several high-rise buildings connected by a transitional bridge. The main reason for choosing this particular location was that David decided to show a completely different Tbilisi from above.

“North Korea,” said the guide as we climbed to the 10th floor of one of the high-rise buildings.

“I was primarily interested in the history of the Soviet Union because my family was connected to the Politburo. I often heard about Brezhnev, Khrushchev, I was always interested in this topic. My grandfather fought against the Red Army, and I was interested in that too, and then he became a general in the Red Army. Subsequently, I became interested in what the period was like before the USSR, back then and afterwards. And I also wondered why in the post-Soviet era people don’t talk about what was bad in the Soviet Union. They only talk about the good, about tidy streets, houses, black caviar, jobs and free sanatoriums.

The purpose of my tours: firstly, to show that it was the Soviet occupation of our country. And even though we have architectural monuments and buildings from Soviet times, we are still part of Europe and the rest of the world.

Decommunisation is very important now. Russia is our neighbour and Kremlin propaganda is very strong now. Bringing back the Soviet past is one of Putin’s goals. And since we want to join the European Union, young people need to understand what “communism” is and what Europe is and how things work there.”

A tour led by David usually starts from the Chronicle of Georgia complex. The monument was created during the Soviet era by Zurab Tsereteli and is located on the outskirts of Tbilisi. It depicts the lives of Jesus Christ, Georgian kings and people in the Middle Ages – three markers of Georgia’s identity, David says. According to Khurtsilava, the monument is interesting because it combines religion and history, which is paradoxical for that time.

The tour of Soviet sites also includes the Bank of Georgia building, one of the world’s most famous buildings in the constructivist style.

David’s tour ends in an old Soviet bedroom community, exactly where we met.

“Objects are selected according to several criteria. Firstly, by era: from the 60s to the 80s, and secondly, by geographical location. Sometimes we change facilities if they become private property and are demolished.”

Giorgi Kandelaki, Member of the Georgian Parliament from the European Georgia Party, Georgia’s Representative to the PACE. Giorgi scheduled a meeting with us not far from the Parliament (actually his place of work), near the building that was the legislative assembly during the First Republic from 1918 to 1921.

“Tbilisi is too big for such a small country. When there is economic stagnation in the regions, everyone usually comes to Tbilisi. And the development of other cities in the country seems to be fading. Tbilisi is growing, but mostly chaotically. The master plan for development has not been approved; in fact, it does not exist.

 Tbilisi was the jewel of a large region. In previous eras, serious figures liked to come here, and the cultural life was boiling here. Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and many others. Tbilisi was a rich city, various people came here to work from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia… But then – communism, poverty. But still some kind of zest was preserved. Inertia from previous eras, there were a lot of cultured people.

Now I love the city because it has a very distinctive atmosphere and remnants of ancient civilisation.”

Chatting with Giorgi, we walked around the centre where he showed us one of the most significant buildings for the study of the Soviet past – the former Cheka.

“Just recently we found out what was housed in this building. It is the only such large building in Tbilisi that is directly linked to the period of Soviet occupation and the colossal repressions of the 20-30s. During the Tsarist times there was a public school for boys of the Georgian nobility, and later, during the period of independence, the Ministry of Agriculture. There were flats here where the ministers who had no housing in Tbilisi lived. They were all poor. The Cheka was established here in 1921. Terrible repressions are associated with this building. Many prominent figures of independent Georgia have been imprisoned in its basements, where there were prison cells.

 One level of the basements is now sealed off. There must be a lot on the lower level – the prisoners’ inscriptions and prison cell doors have been preserved. The history of this building shows that an important episode of our past is not comprehended at all. Even people like me, who are interested in this topic, did not know what was going on in this building 10 years ago. We hope to at least put up a plaque this year. People just live here, some investor wants to tear everything down and build a big house. Of course, there should be a museum in these cells, like the KGB museum in Vilnius. There are no other buildings of the same type left.”

Lasha Bakradze, Director of the State Museum of Georgian Literature. Lasha was waiting for us in his office, and this was one of the few meetings that took place directly at our interlocutor’s workplace. Lasha’s office is located at the very end of a long museum corridor. On our way to the meeting place, we felt the atmosphere of an old pre-revolutionary house, with the characteristic inter-noise of the muffled voices of the hall keepers and the creaking of the old wooden stairs.

“There are a lot of problems with the city. Because of the air, which is not very clean. Because of the constant traffic jams in the city, because there are few parks and gardens left in Tbilisi. They are building ugly, huge houses everywhere. And a lot of things are problematic here, you have to fight for every piece of land.

 It’s an old town, there’s a lot to see. Many people like that everything is a bit shabby, like in Havana, for example, but it’s going away. I tell my son, who is 8 years old, that he will not be able to see what is now in 15-20 years, because there will be little left. We see the old city receding. The restorations are not of a very good quality. Many houses are not restored, but rebuilt. Sometimes the figures that are on the houses are redone. It is very difficult to explain to people how important it is to preserve the old.

There is little communist symbolism left, but I don’t think it should be removed altogether. You know, it’s much easier to go this way: remove and forget. And forgetting is not an option.  When the coat of arms of Soviet Georgia was above the Parliament it was inappropriate. And if there are soviet symbols on the bridge you will cross now, if they are left there – I do not think it is a communist act, no, it is a part of our history, so we need to look it in the eye.”

Activist and historian Aleko Elisashvili, like our other interlocutors, believes that revitalization is the best way to treat Soviet buildings correctly. Lasha Bakradze believes that rebirth of old Soviet buildings, giving them new meanings, is the best solution for de-communization in architecture too. Tbilisi’s “Factory” is an example of such renovation. It used to be a weaving factory during Soviet times but after the collapse of the USSR it was abandoned for quite a long time. Now it is a hub, a hotel, a restaurant – in other words, a place where youth life is buzzing and a lot of different events are held: from jazz festivals and music concerts to conferences and forums.

Daria Kholodilina – born in Donetsk, moved to Georgia in 2013, travel-blogger, founder of Trails and Wines travel agency.

Daria and I arranged to meet for breakfast in one of Tbilisi’s revitalised houses. It used to be a printing house and publishing house of the Soviet newspaper Kommunist, but now it is a stylish restaurant Stamba and a hotel Rooms. As Aleko Elisashvili recounted, “We had a businessman with taste,” the same businessman who rebuilt the Factory as well. Unfortunately, we were not able to talk to the businessman himself, but during our conversation with Daria, we had a chance to look at the redesigned interior of the establishment.

Daria Cholodilina moved to Tbilisi seven years ago. She describes her choice of place of residence as absolutely conscious.

“I liked the country and wanted adventure. I was born in Donetsk and lived in Berlin for a while. I met some Georgian friends there who invited me here for the first time. When I arrived, I realized that there was a lot to see here, and I wouldn’t be able to see everything in one trip. I’ve been coming here again and again and then in 2013 I came here with small luggage from Donetsk airport. That luggage is no longer there, nor is the airport, but there is still hope that things will be good at home one day.

By and large, I have moved from one outlook to another. Everything is much more relaxed here. The old city is very reminiscent of Odesa; for me Tbilisi is Odesa without the sea.

What our countries have in common, perhaps, are jokes and movies. But it seems to me that Georgia resisted the Soviet Union stronger and more actively. Setting aside the upper class, the people who had a good life, who suddenly became bosses and were attached to the good supply, there was a great resistance from the bottom because you had to do everything in a group, together, there was resistance to collectivism as a whole. Perhaps in Ukraine there was more physical destruction of people able to oppose the USSR, or to carry the idea that these methods of governance were wrong. Here too, a large percentage of free-thinking people were destroyed: some went abroad, some couldn’t save themselves. But here the protest lives on a deeper level. So what our countries have in common is superficial, cultural, non-embarrassing, so to speak. Movies, cartoons, the bright side that everyone remembers. On the mental side, there is a difference in attitude towards entrepreneurship. Here’s what I remember concerning my family: this is haggling, you have to get a serious job. Here, too, they want children to look for a respectable job, but if you want to start a business, there will be no attitude towards is as to haggling.

At first I really liked how Tbilisi is changing, but in the last two years I see some kind of stagnation and a return to, so to say, post-Soviet management systems, where the authorities do not like to hear anything unpleasant about themselves. Infrastructurally the city looks better from the outside, but I am not sure that these are qualitative changes, a lot of them are just a facade. For example, we see that the underpass has been decorated by cool graffiti artists, it looks cool and instagrammable, but life in the city is not just Instagram. I would like to see more attention paid to to the problems of pedestrians. If you’re walking with a stroller, it’s very problematic to pass in some places, on main streets, because cars are parked there or there is no sidewalk.”

Irakli Khvadagiani, co-founder of NGO “Soviet Past Research Laboratory” (“SovLab”). Irakli’s office is the only place in Tbilisi where we saw a small bust of Lenin. “Specifics of the work process”, was how Irakli commented on the presence of the statuette in his office.

“The city has changed a lot in the last 30 years, but the zones outside the centre are deteriorating. For example, the industrial zone of Soviet Tbilisi on the outskirts is like another dimension, another world compared to the centre. It is impossible to compare some part of the city to what it was during Soviet times. New constructions are being built, new infrastructure projects are being developed, but this is somehow not meaningful. During the Soviet times, there was no economic rationale for building these industrial zones, there was a planned economy. And when the Soviet Union collapsed, all these factories and plants were no longer necessary. Now there is a real Apocalypse there.

In the planning and development of the city there is almost no room for memory, especially of the tragic one, there are no new approaches to cultural heritage. The officials who sit in the administration, in the commission that decides what name should be given to some street – most of them do not understand what they are talking about. “What totalitarianism?”, “What victim?”, “this is nonsense”, “What does this give us?”. Because these are people without the necessary background to help them understand this. For them it is business interests, lobbying for private companies, new constructions, big buildings.

When the state is passive in this direction, it is carte blanche for pro-Soviet, pro-Russian propaganda, and this is a problem in our society. Sentiments, nostalgia for the Soviet period and for Stalin is one of propaganda tools. And our space is absolutely open for this. There are publications, newspapers that print some nonsense about Stalin, and his statuettes still stand in the villages. People buy this. Even wine companies put Stalin’s face on the label: if such wine is sent for export to Russia, it will be bought.”

Samaya Rzayeva, a journalist with Sova.News, our guide, coordinator and interpreter for the time in Georgia, born and raised in Tbilisi.

After many meetings with various experts on the topic of the Soviet past, we talked to young Samaya not only about how her hometown is changing, but also about her impressions of our work together. She was born in independent Georgia, so we were interested to understand how important the information we learned during our research had become for her.

“I love my city very much, but unfortunately it has many shortcomings that are strongly felt in everyday life. For example, the problem of transport. Tbilisi has become very congested in the last few years. Tbilisi 10 years ago and now is a completely different city. I would like Tbilisi to be green, to have large parks, squares, so that one could go to a park and have a picnic with friends.

Soviet architecture and symbolism we were paying attention to is part of the city for me, I’m used to it now. I knew it was Soviet architecture, but I didn’t even think it could be otherwise. I hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest. Although I am madly fond of the old city where I grew up, for me the old city is that very real Tbilisi. Soviet architecture is not even Tbilisi, in fact.

 After our conversation with various experts, the first thing I will do is talk to my grandparents: what they remember about Stalin. And I will ask my parents what they were told. I would like to read more about the history of the Soviet Union, especially what happened here, how the occupation of Georgia happened. I realised that I know almost nothing about this, and I would like to study this topic.

But the most serious impression I have is that educational reform is needed, because I myself have that education that everyone has been talking about. Literally, an entire era is only allocated one point at school, and so we cannot fully assess, for example, the figures of Stalin, Lenin, Hitler or whoever. We don’t see the whole picture. I think that our history teachers are still from that period, from the Soviet period. They love it and remember it. When, as they all say, there was job, everything was good, there was stability, and now things are very bad. I think there should be a new and serious reform of education, we need new teachers who will come and teach history in more detail, so that young people and children understand our past from a young age.”

At the end of the trip, walking along the touristy streets with Samaya, we came across a salesman who, upon hearing Russian, began persistently offering to buy souvenirs with Stalin’s image on them. Our Georgian colleague began to ask him questions about Stalin’s policy in Georgia, asking him whether he knew about the colossal repressions during which thousands of his compatriots suffered. Our interlocutor, slightly embarrassed, suggested that if Stalin had been alive, perhaps there would now be more order… and offered us to buy a portrait of the “leader” for 30 lari.