Where Stalin's Fame Lives

THERE is no water in the fountain. The gardens are untended. The grass has died. And anybody can wander into the Intourist Hotel, once reserved only for foreigners, and order lunch. If Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi is Georgia's liveliest street, Stalin Avenue in the dictator's hometown of Gori has to be the deadest. More than a year ago, the central Soviet authorities shut down the grandiose Stalin museum in the face of mass demonstrations. Life here has not been the same since.

Aside from losing the perks of living in a tourist mecca, the people of Gori express genuine disappointment that almost no one comes here anymore to hear all about their native son.

``Stalin was a great man,'' says a woman on a walk with her two young daughters. ``If he were in charge today, he'd have a grip on things.''

It is a typical reply here, where a large statue of the man still graces the town square. Others say that the museum should be open so that people can decide for themselves what they think.

For the few visitors who have made the 50-mile trek out from Tbilisi, there are still some things to see. Sergo, the man who has been guarding Joseph Stalin's birthplace for the last 20 years, will let you into the tiny house if you ask nicely. And a few hundred feet away, Sergo's colleague can be persuaded to let visitors inside the elegantly appointed railway car the legendary figure rode to the Tehran conference of 1943 and to Potsdam in 1945.

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