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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Taking a Break in Stalin's House




KHOLODNAYA REKA, Georgia -- Less than 50 years ago it was the favorite dacha of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Today, it is a $50-a-night hotel on the Black Sea in Abkhazia, where New Russians relax and party with their girlfriends.


"Various people come here to enjoy being Stalin," said Roza Djuba, one of the locals. "Mostly they are New Russians who are able to pay $50 a day. I haven't ever seen scholars staying in this hotel. They bring with them girls, vodka, they do barbecuing, and so on."


By modern standards, Stalin's self-described favorite dacha is a modest affair, with four bedrooms, one study and a dining room. Stalin never slept two nights in a row in the same room and never slept in a bed, only on a sofa. Each room has an extra exit f a door that only Stalin had the key to.


Valentin Arbatsky, 74, has been looking after the dacha for 45 years, since he was an officer in a special platoon of the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, that guarded high-level government property.


"We got paid three times more than ordinary officers. Once a month we were given a special food ration, including two bottles of expensive Sibirskaya Russian vodka and good jam preserves," he said.


Now Arbatsky makes just 200 rubles ($15) a month guarding what has become an irrelevant seaside motel.


"All my life has been connected to this dacha and now it is very painful to observe how time destroys it and how people do not care about their past," he said. "We should create a museum here, and not a hotel where everybody can stay and for just $50 make use of a staff that a leader used."


Asik Tomagolis, 65, a Kholodnaya Rechka local, was another who was upset about how today's visitors use this historical place. "They don't care about their past. They are so obsessed with money that they are always trying to establish a hotel or restaurant here. Sometimes I see officials coming here to celebrate a birthday or a wedding. It is disgrace."


Construction of the dacha was completed in 1939, just as Stalin's worst wave of terror was coming to a close. Stalin's dacha in those paranoid days of wreckers and foreign spies was protected by a virtual army of NKVD officers.


"When Stalin was not here, there were about 30 officers on duty, but when he was, the number of guards exceeded 300 people," Arbatsky said. "Thirty houses were constructed for the staff. When somebody came to visit Stalin, the visitor stayed in a special hotel for at least three days beforehand. All visitors had to go through a special medical test."


Frome the end of World War II until his death, Stalin visited every year. "From 1945 to 1952, Stalin came here every September. He liked to walk along the paths. He enjoyed nature. He also worked here," he said. "Once he came here to find no hooks on the walls. He asked for nails and drove them into the wall himself. We were very surprised. ? The last time he came here was in 1952, for just three hours."


Raisa Lasarzeva, 52, is the general administrator of the dacha. She was appointed to the position after Stalin died and says she has had no choice but to take in visitors for money.


"The state gave not a ruble to reconstruct this historical place," she said. "The state of the dacha buildings is terrible. We need more money. We are forced to turn the complex into a hotel because we need money to repair it."


Locals complain that nearly every year a fire breaks out at the dacha. Lasarzeva confirmed that and recounted one such fire, in a building near the swimming pool.


"It broke out suddenly. Our local leaders were celebrating the wedding of the local Federal Security Service chief's daughter," she said. "Someone was drunk and smoking. The fellows from the local neighborhood saw the building burning. They were lucky to arrive in time to save it."