[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Stalin stirs Caucasus passions
The BBC's Steve Rosenberg finds that the Soviet supreme leader Joseph Stalin is still idolised by some in Russia's volatile North Caucasus, where his crimes affected whole nations.

Walk into the back garden of Number 45 Lenin Street, and you're in for a big surprise.

Stalin statue in Germenchik
Stalin grew up in Georgia - on the other side of the Caucasus range
Towering over the flower beds is a 2.5-metre (8.25ft) statue of Joseph Stalin.

It hasn't always been there.

When Stalin was in power, the giant stone statue stood proudly outside the village hall, just down the road.

But when the Soviet dictator died in 1953 his cult of personality was debunked. All statues of Stalin were pulled down across the entire USSR - including this one in Germenchik, a village in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Twenty years ago, Asker Batyrov discovered the figure on wasteland near the village. It lay abandoned and in pieces. He picked up the bits and, with the help of his brother, stuck them back together.

The revamped Stalin was then accorded a place of honour in the corner of Asker's garden, Number 45 Lenin Street (just behind the washing line). It stands there like a monster, mutant garden gnome.

I asked Asker why he wanted to have a dictator in his garden.

"Before Stalin came to power we were poor and weak," Asker explained. "By the time he died our country had a nuclear bomb. He made us so much more powerful."

Hero worship

More than 50 years after his death, Joseph Stalin remains popular in many parts of the Caucasus.

In neighbouring North Ossetia, I found two portraits of Stalin painted onto the side of mountains, as well as several busts of the Generalissimos.

There's also a Stalin Appreciation Society to glorify his memory. Its members travel around giving out Stalin memorabilia, such as pens, badges and calendars.

Today a delegation from the Society visited Asker Batyrov's back garden. After laying flowers at Stalin's feet, the 20 visitors sat down to a feast of Ossetian cheese pies and vodka (special "Stalin Vodka" - 40% proof, with a picture of the late leader staring at you from the label).

Suddenly, Stalin's crackly voice began wafting over the flower beds, an old recording coming from a tape player in the kitchen.

Then the toasts began.

"Let's drink to Stalin!" one supporter cried.

"No, the first toast should be to God," suggested the man sitting next to him.

"For us, Stalin is a god." came the reply.

But not everyone here is so complimentary.

Soviet crimes

Half an hour's drive from Asker's back garden is The Museum of the Deportation.

Dolkhat Taumuzaev (right) with BBC's Steve Rosenberg
Dolkhat Taumuzaev (right) keeps memories of past wrongs alive
It's devoted to the suffering of the local Balkar population at the iron hands of Joseph Stalin.

Together with the Chechens, the Ingush and the Karachai, the Balkars were accused by Stalin of collaborating with the Nazis and deported to Central Asia. In the space of a day, more than 30,000 Balkars were herded onto cattle trucks and kicked out of their land.

At the museum I met 72-year-old Dolkhat Taumuzaev. He remembers vividly the day the Red Army came knocking on his door.

"Without warning, soldiers went round all the houses in our village. They told us we were being deported and to gather our things. The train journey to Central Asia lasted 17 days. Many people died on the way, corpses were thrown out of the train. In Kazakhstan conditions were so bad, that two of my sisters fell ill and died."

Remarkably, Dolkhat says that many Balkars never blamed Stalin for what happened, clinging to the belief that he was the father, the protector of the state. Some, he told me, even burst into tears in exile in Kazakhstan when they heard the news nearly a decade later that Stalin had died.

But not Dolkhat. To him, Joseph Stalin was the personification of evil.





RELATED BBC LINKS

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific