GORI, Georgia – Although reviled by many as a murderous dictator, Joseph Stalin continues to wield a degree of reverence in his central Georgian hometown, where on Monday nostalgic locals raised a toast to the Soviet leader on the 65th anniversary of his death.
Stalin was born in Gori, 83.7 kilometers (52 miles) to the west of the capital Tbilisi in the erstwhile Russian Empire on Dec. 8, 1878, and it was here he became a young Bolshevik activist before going on to help form the Soviet Union and eventually taking over as leader from fellow revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, where he remained at the helm of power until the end of his brutal rule with his death on this day in 1953 at the age of 74.
At a church in Gori, a group of predominately older devotees laid out a small feast, lit candles and plastic glasses under the watchful eye of an iconic Stalin portrait.
During his 30 year stint as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union starting in 1922, Stalin oversaw the hard-fought Red Army victory against the German Nazi regime in World War II and expanded the USSR’s grip across much of Eastern Europe, where he wielded a personality cult.
But his name became synonymous with his brutal political purges, the murder of hundreds of thousands of people in secret prisons and Gulags, and disastrous economic policies that prompted widespread famine, leading to the deaths of millions in areas such as modern-day Ukraine.