Georgia removes historic Stalin statue
Georgia secretly removed a historic bronze statue of Joseph Stalin from the main square in his hometown of Gori overnight on Friday in a repudiation of the ex-Soviet republic's most infamous son.
Officials said the six-metre statue would be moved to a local museum and replaced in the city's central square, which was bombed during Georgia's 2008 war with Russia, with a monument to victims of the conflict.
"We have taken the decision to remove the monument of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin from the central square of Gori and to build in its place a memorial to victims of the Soviet dictatorship and to those killed in the 2008 war," Culture Minister Nika Rurua told journalists.
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"Stalin was a man who killed millions of innocent people, who killed the best representatives of not only Georgian society, but the best people in many countries," he said.
"I believe this decision was overdue."
The towering statue had stood in the central square of Gori since 1952 and generated controversy in recent years as the pro-Western government of President Mikheil Saakashvili repeatedly hinted it would be removed.
Many local residents, however, remain fiercely proud of Stalin and have opposed plans to remove the monument.
Local media reported that police sealed off the area around the statue during the removal and barred journalists from filming the process.
The huge statue of Stalin, in an overcoat staring out over the Caucasus Mountains beyond, was one of the few monuments to the dictator still standing anywhere in the world.
Born as Joseph Dzhugashvili to a serf woman in Gori in 1878, Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron fist from the late 1920s to his death in 1953.
Stalin is a deeply controversial figure in the former Soviet Union, accused of causing the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens in his brutal Gulag prison camps and through the forced collectivisation of agriculture.
Stalin's supporters, however, praise his role in the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
Gori, 80 kilometres west of the capital Tbilisi, has long revered Stalin and also hosts a museum that until now has presented a largely uncritical portrayal of the leader.
Rurua said that as well as moving the statue, the museum's concept would be changed to take a more objective view of Stalin.
"The concept of the museum will soon be changed as well. It will not serve anymore to Stalin's glorification," he said.
In spite of this fact, the National D-Day Memorial still has a statute of Stalin standing tall.
Why honor the murder of millions of people? Take down the statute
Jerald Terwilliger, National Chairman
American Cold War Veterans
----------------"And so the greatest of American triumphs... became a peculiarly joyless victory. We had won the Cold War, but there would be no parades."-- Robert M. Gates, 1996