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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Television Is Helping Stalin Reach the Young

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The ghost of Josef Stalin is haunting Georgia again. The former Soviet strongman has returned to his home country as a "televisual" apparition and has seriously spooked some of the country's top politicians.

Earlier this month, the leading Georgian channel Rustavi-2 started screening the Russian series "Stalin Live," a soapy drama about old Joe's last days on Earth. While promoting the series, the channel's general director said the programs offered the chance to find out whether Stalin was really bad or not and that, as it turns out, he wasn't. A Rustavi-2 journalist followed up by saying that although he wasn't defending Stalin, there had been a Western campaign to present the former Soviet boss as the source of all evil.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's government doesn't have much time for the Soviet Union, or for Communists of any kind for that matter. Saakashvili once told me that the day the Soviet Union came to an end was one of the best in his life -- unlike President Vladimir Putin, who famously declared its collapse to be a tragedy.

So, although Rustavi-2 is generally considered to be supportive of the government, it wasn't too much of a surprise when one of Saakashvili's closest allies, influential lawmaker Giga Bokeria, ripped into the channel during a parliamentary debate. Bokeria raged that attempts to promote a bloodthirsty tyrant as the greatest Georgian politician were scandalous.

The dispute has divided public opinion here. A few still admire Stalin, and not only in his hometown of Gori, where a huge statue of the mustachioed killer looms grimly over the main square and there is a large museum offering a sympathetic view of his life and times. Talking to people on the streets of Tbilisi, many said that Stalin was a great leader, a Georgian who had ruled a huge empire.

"I'm not sure if he was a good man, but since he was such an important historical figure, we can close our eyes to some bad things," said one woman, although most people I talked to went on to concede that he was also a mean and vicious character.

It's generally thought that Stalin's few remaining Georgian admirers are among the older generation, who respect him for defeating the Nazis in what is known as the Great Patriotic War. But I heard differently from one young man, barely in his 20s, who told me that yes, Stalin was a great leader and a decent man. Of course, he continued, from a religious point of view, Stalin was a murderer, but that was for God to judge and not us.

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.