Thank You, Father! March 1956, The Streets of Tbilisi

A. Yakubov

Even though my parents were Russian, I was born in Tbilisi. In Tbilisi I spent my childhood and adolescence. One of the memories of that time that impressed me most was the tragedy that happened in March of 1956. The brutal attack on Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin by Khrushchev at the XX Congress of the CPSU for us was like a bolt from the blue. The entire population was in a state of shock.

The story:

On March 5, 1956, the anniversary of the demise of Stalin (less than a month after the XXth Congress of the CPSU), people came out on the streets of Tbilisi. I remember well a column of students under red banners, with portraits of Lenin and Stalin. It moved slowly down the Chelyuskintsy Road. All the traffic in front of the column had stopped, then students asked all motorists to beep the horns of their vehicles, as a sign of mourning and appreciation! My father came out of his “Opel” brought from the war as a trophy, took off his fur hat (although it was snowing copiously and it was wet) and bowed to the portrait of Stalin. “Thank you, Father!” – said one of the young people from the column.

For two consecutive days, huge crowds of people came to the buildings of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia and the Council of Ministers, demanding a meeting with the leaders of the Republic so that they would give their answers to the people.

On the third day the first secretary of the Central Committee of the party, V.P. Mzhavanadze, who came from the war in the rank of lieutenant general, came out. The crowd produced forward three men with the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union: the glorious commander of the partisan unit of Kovpak, David Bakradze, a Russian tank driver with face disfigured by burns and the pride of all Kurds in Tbilisi, a Sheikh sniper.

David Bakradze took off his felt hat, and said, “We came to you, dear Vasily, to speak to you not only as to the political leader of our republic, but also as fighters on the front line when they encounter another war veteran.”

“Conventional wisdom states that of the dead it should be spoken only well or nothing,” – added the sheikh. “People want to know why the despicable Nikita has besmirched the memory of our dear father, in whose name they were going to face the death, to defend the Motherland.” “Shut up, shut up!” – waved Vasily Pavlovich. “Do not threaten us; it’s hard to scare us, – said the tank crewman -: Five times I have been on fire in my tank, it is very hard to scare me. You better explain to us why our enemies rejoice now?” Comrade Mzhavanadze at this point asked everyone to calm down and to disperse, promising that he would try to resolve the situation. But people did not move and continued to agitate and protest.

Every day I went with my classmates to the monument of Stalin on the riverfront of Kura, where night and day human rallies were boiling. All of the high pedestal of the monument was covered by wreaths and bouquets of fresh flowers, but people continued to bring more and more of them.

From an open truck (an improvised stage), people were talking and shouting about their outrage caused by the heinous offence to their Father – Stalin. The popular novelists and songwriters, Georgians, Armenians, Kurds, Azeris in their songs and poems were glorifying the Father of all the nations. The fighters of the Great Patriotic War, the veterans shared their memories of where and when they saw Stalin at the front.

I was impressed by a story of a soldier from Azerbaijan who swore by Allah that in December 1941, near Moscow, Stalin walked in the front line trenches and personally shook his hand. Now the “democrats” argue that Stalin was never at the front during the Great Patriotic War, but also two of my family saw him at the frontline: an uncle of mine, Colonel-tank crewman L.P. Ivanov, and my father-in-law G.F. Vysotskiy who was during the war in the 9th Division of the Cossacks of Kuban ‘.

On the evening of 9 March, the people knew that the famous commander of the Liberation Army of China, The Marshal Zhu [De], was staying in Tbilisi. The elders elected by the people were sent to invite him to the meeting. Soon came a car, a ZIS-110, from which emerged a Chinese official who spoke fluent Russian. He introduced himself as the deputy of the marshal apologising that the marshal was not able to come because of health problems.

When he was asked how Comrade Mao Zedong thinks about Stalin, he replied that the Leader of the Chinese people considered himself a loyal and faithful pupil of the great Stalin.

Then he tried to ask people to disperse and leave, assuring them that everything would be clarified and the slanders against Stalin would be removed. However, the people remained adamant...

After some time, armoured personnel carriers, full of soldiers, arrived on the riverside. Then people began to hastily send children home, away from the crowds. I and my friend were dragged by the scruff of the neck by a military pilot, who ordered us to rush home. At night, the gunfire began. It was said that many people were injured and that there were many victims.

On the second day I left home to go to buy bread. The street was full of police and military. People were confused and depressed. The soldiers sat on armoured cars with lowered eyes, trying not to look into people’s eyes. War veterans approached the armoured personnel carriers, to express outrage and indignation: “Why did you have to hurt people?”, “In the name of Comrade Stalin fighters threw themselves under tanks!”, “We trust and believe in him as our real father” “He was he to guide us and lead us to victory.”

At this point came a Kurd named Ozo, who had lost a leg in the battle of Prokhorovka. Dragging his leg, leaning on a crutch, he went straight to the military. Beside him was one of his sons with the portrait of Stalin, decorated with the colourful woollen threads with which Kurdish women decorate the portraits of the deceased ones. Ozo scolded the soldiers and officers, these were silent. On the pavement were some leaders of the party committee of the region.

One of them motioned to a young Georgian police officer, pointing with his head to Ozo. The policeman approached him and reluctantly held out his hand to the portrait of Stalin. All the people around began to scream and even the soldiers began to whistle. The officer took off his peaked cap, threw it to the ground and began to tread on it, screaming hysterically: “Leave the disabled man in peace! My father gave his life for the Fatherland, for Stalin! Nikita should smother with the first milk of his mother!” (This is a terrible curse in the Caucasus -. A. Y).

In the meantime, Ozo, working with his crutch, put all the “leading comrades” to flight.

The unity of the Soviet people and the unity of the party with the entire population were the force that made our country indestructible. And although the “democrats” today insist to convince us that the brotherhood among the people was a “Stalinist myth”, I know the truth – not from the newspaper articles, but from real life that I have lived.

Our people welcomed children evacuated from besieged Leningrad – in our building quite a few of them were housed – and we shared with them our meagre meals, treating them in a brotherly manner. Almost all the people of our great multi-national courtyard were at the front...

The head of the women of our courtyard was a former Duchess, Anna Ivanovna, whose eldest son was killed in the vicinity of Stalingrad. She encouraged the weak, looked after the children when their mothers were at work, under her leadership women sewed uniforms for the soldiers at the front, and she always organised the collection of warm clothing for the Red Army, when this request was given to the population by the representatives of the executive committee of the district, which bore the name of Stalin.

From small Georgia more than 700,000 people fought on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War, of whom more than half did not return home. All the women wore black, almost in every house on the walls there were strips of black cloth on which in Georgian and Russian were written the names of the fallen.

In this unity of the nations the denigration of Comrade Stalin by Khrushchev struck the first wedge. The Georgian people took it as an insult, as a personal offence, and our enemies took advantage of this, in order to begin to deepen the rift, pouring out of this a grudge towards all Russians in general.

And the very fact that this campaign was organised by the anti-Stalinist first secretary of the CPSU, and the other leaders of the party (with a few exceptions), albeit reluctantly, had supported it, became the first decisive step of alienation and detachment of the Party from the people.

A. Yakubov – Belgorod Region. Sovetskaya Rossiya


Ed. This article may be read together with the letter of S. Stanikov who was the correspondent of the Trud newspaper in Georgia at the time. See: ‘We shall not allow criticism of Stalin.’ The Incidents in Georgia, March 1956, in Revolutionary Democracy, Vol. V, No. 2, September 1999.

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