The Incidents in Georgia, March 1956
The Third anniversary of Stalin's death was observed in Tbilisi and some other cities of Georgia and mass demonstrations were held. The demonstration in defence of Stalin was provoked by the rumours regarding Khrushchev's speech on the cult of personality, which was read at the closed session of the XXth Congress of the CPSU on 25th of February, 1956. Force was eventually used to disperse the demonstrations. The number of casualties is not known exactly. The letter of the correspondent of the newspaper Trud, Mr. Statnikov is an eyewitness's account.
The Chief Editor Trud
I am sending you copies of two documents: The Appeal of the Georgian Communist Party and the Central Committee of the LKSM of Georgia and the Order of the commanding officer of the Tbilisi garrison.
The Appeal and the Order were relayed (day and night) on the radio all the 24 hours at regular intervals of 15-20 minutes in the Georgian and Russian languages. The Order was pasted all over the town on the 10th of March already.
The very contents of these documents demand serious thinking on our part.
So what happened after all in the Georgian capital?
Why was the Order regarding military patrolling necessary?
I will attempt to provide answers to all these questions in detail i.e. in this secret information I would attempt to depict the events to which either I was an eyewitness or about which I came to know through reliable sources (the eyewitness accounts of communists and press persons).
In order to be consistent I would depict the events in their chronological order.
So on the 5th of March I was near the Palace of Labour (I was on my way to the press centre), when suddenly I heard continuous car sirens (these are prohibited by traffic rules) and subsequently a large group of people appeared around the corner of the street. These were students (about 120-150 in number) marching with their heads uncovered. They were moving in the middle of the street. The front row was carrying portraits of Stalin and wreaths. The organisers were requesting the people standing on the footpaths to uncover their heads as a mark of their respect for Stalin. Every now and then someone from the procession would come out and ask the drivers of the stranded vehicles to blow their car sirens. This day witnessed similar processions in other parts of the city. All of them converged towards the monument to Stalin to lay wreaths.
On the second day the same events were repeated but now in a more organised manner. The number of the people increased, specially towards noon when classes at the colleges get over. Now Lenin's portraits were also being carried in addition to those of Stalin. Red flags adorned with black mourning ribbons also appeared.
On this day at 4 o'clock, a meeting was held in which I was also present. Leading officials of the ministries, newspapers and journals - in all about 70-80 persons - were invited to this meeting. The meeting was inaugurated by the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Georgian Communist Party, Comrade Mzhavanadze. In his very short speech he appealed to all those gathered in the room to work for the practical implementation of the decisions of the XXth Congress of the Party. He informed us that he will acquaint us with the letter of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union 'Regarding the Cult of Personality'. Then he left and his place was taken up by Com. Mchedlishvili, Secretary of the Central Committee.
After the reading of this document we were told that all the communists and the youth league members will be acquainted with the contents of this document. Nobody asked any questions and the session came to an end.
On the 7th of March, the students of the Stalin University, after having suspended their classes came out in the streets of the city. They were supported by the students from the Institute of Agriculture, Polytechnical Institute and other institutions (there are 19 of these in Tbilisi). Students from schools joined the college-going students. It must be noted here that the college students forced the school students to come out on the streets through threats to the directors of the schools of physical injury and damage to the school property. This mass (of people) was not stopped by anyone and proceeded along the main street of Tbilisi - Rustaveli Street - towards the Lenin Square. Approximately at 11 o'clock these people accompanied by the cacophony of car sirens were chanting the slogan 'dideba did Stalins' 'dideba did Stalins' (Long Live Great Stalin, Long Live Our Leader Stalin) near the Government House. Then they moved on towards the Lenin Square. Here they again stopped before the City Council building. A few people read poems while others sang songs in praise of Stalin.
On the 8th of March the number of incidents increased. Trucks filled with people appeared and they went about the city with flags and portraits of Lenin and Stalin chanting 'Lenin-Stalin!' and 'Long live Stalin!'.
Vehicles were forcefully stopped, and taken over by the demonstrators and the drivers threatened with physical violence. There were unruly incidents when some people refused to give in to the demands - it happened near the bridge named after Stalin where the hooligans pulled out the driver and threw him into the river Kuru when he refused. Incidents of beating were also reported.
On this day the atmosphere was already very tense. At about 3 p.m. I was in the crowd near the Lenin Square where several of the provocateurs came and delivered speeches. For example they shouted 'Why are there no mourning flags in the city?' Why are there no portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin on the building of the city council?' then they said that all those who support bringing out the portraits raise their hands. Several people rushed towards the City Council building, they searched for the duty officer, found the portraits and put them up on the wall of the building. And how did the police behave? They did nothing. Everything that went on during these days was done in the name of the great son of the Georgian people - Stalin, Djugashvili - this name was on every lip and it reflected the emotions the people.
Then somebody from the platform shouted, pointing towards the building of the Headquarters of the Transcaucasian army 'Georgians! If you want the portraits of Lenin and Stalin then go and demand them'. This was sufficient for the crowd to rush towards the headquarters. The guards could just close the metallic gates in time. Then the crowd started knocking at the gates and shouting. Some of them managed to climb on to the balcony along the water pipes and put up mourning flags. For an hour the headquarters was surrounded by the crowd. Only after that probably came the orders to the soldiers who then went up and put up portraits of Lenin and Stalin.
Now more and more demands were being made by the crowd - the city must be adorned appropriately for the mourning, put up loudspeakers so that poets and other could speak on the occasion. They even demanded to fetch Marshal Chzhu De (A delegation was promptly sent to him). It was later declared from the platform that the Marshal could not come due to illness.
Towards the evening microphones and loudspeakers were set up near the monument to Lenin and thousands of people gathered there. Provocative speeches of inflammatory, chauvinistic and anti-Soviet nature were read, thereby the event was given the twist that the antisocial elements wanted. The names of the people addressing the crowd were either fictitious or were withheld. Thus the unconstrained 'orators' read provocative speeches of an anti-Soviet and chauvinistic nature. I'll give some examples of what I heard. One of the speakers at the Lenin Square in his long speech made a list of Stalin's achievements and declared that with his death all his achievements are being compromised and that the country and first of all the Georgians are going to perish. After that he took out the party card out of his pocket and appealed to fight for the cause of Stalin and if need be to lay down their lives. Shaking the party card in the air he chanted 'who wants to take a vow raise your hands?' Several hands with party cards were seen in the air. They chanted 'we swear, we swear'.
Policemen standing next to me expressed their indignation and few of them smiled. Nobody took any step to turn the provocateur away (probably he had a stolen party card). And the provocateurs continued with their counter-revolutionary speeches. Then another speaker started in much the same vein. A huge young man with a Tarzan hairdo, who called himself a student, waved his fists in the air, and after a series of accusations against the Party and the government, went on to recall the struggle of the Georgian people against the foreigners and then concluded his speech saying:
'Those who have decided to defile Stalin and his memory must know that the Georgian people will never forgive them. We will not allow any criticism of our leader Stalin. Any revision of Stalin is a revision of Marxism and they shall pay for it with their blood'.
This speaker was 'awarded' a long applause by the public. And all this took place at the central square of the capital of Georgia.
Nobody tried to stop this nuisance. Suddenly there was a commotion and a cry for help was heard from someplace nearby. It appeared that a group of hooligans were beating up a person who had loudly expressed his dissatisfaction. The militia men could just manage to save the victim.
The speeches still continued. Suddenly someone spoke in Russian. I could not see the face of the person as he was far away, but it was apparent from his heavy Georgian accent that this speaker was not a Russian. I must underline here that I needed to take precautions and could not make notes as there was the incident of a photographer being beaten up and his camera broken when he turned his camera towards the platform.
I am recounting the speech of this person from memory.
'I am a student of a Moscow institute (no mention of the institute's name) and want to convey to you on behalf of all the students of Moscow our congratulations and that they support you and ask you to continue the struggle that you have begun. Just as the Georgian people we too are angered by the letter of the CC directed against our leader Stalin. It has been written with the purpose of destroying the friendship between the peoples and to turn back the clock of history. Nobody will be allowed to discredit the services of great Stalin - the leader of the world proletariat. Only the enemies of the people can revise Marxism.
Some woman in order to exaggerate shouted aloud from the platform:
'Listen Georgians, we have support in Moscow. Demonstrations are being held not only in Georgia but also in Stalingrad, Leningrad and other cities. We vow to continue our struggle for the cause of Stalin.'
As a young poet was lifted on to the platform he was applauded. He read out a poem dedicated to Stalin and then shouted loudly 'I am with you'.
On this day some intellectuals of Georgia including poets and writers Abashidze, Kaladze, Bobokhidze also read speeches. They read poems commemorating the death anniversary of Stalin.
However even all this did not satisfy the crowd. A voice demanded - 'We want new poems on Stalin reflecting the mood prevalent during these historical events.'
'It is two days now that we are waiting for Iosif Grishashvili, the winner of the Stalin Prize to come and read his poems. Why isn't he here? When Stalin was alive he received lots of money and now he can't even pay his gratitude to him. The Georgian people will not forgive such a poet.'
Anybody could speak from the platform as long as he expressed the sentiments that the provocateurs had aroused. Even a priest spoke thanking the Georgians for protecting the name of Stalin.
It is reported that even more revolting speeches were read near the monument.
On 9th March unimaginable things were happening. Not only the youth but even grown-ups were going berserk on the streets. Most of the small workshops were closed. The employees of small offices stopped work and came out on the streets. There were even cases of workers not reporting for work at the enterprises of the food and light industry. In short the normal life in the city was totally disrupted. That is why the Central Committee (certainly after a big delay) appealed to the city's population.
The transport - movement of trams, buses and trolley buses was disrupted from the very morning. A large number of trucks full of people moved all over the city waving flags and portraits. They were singing songs and shouting 'Lenin, Stalin' and 'Long live Stalin'. Flags were flying at half mast in the city and the walls of the buildings were plastered with portraits of Lenin and Stalin. On the eve the offices of the newspapers Kommunist and Zarya Vostoka were invaded by unknown people who threatened to demolish the office and the press if commemorative issues were not published (after this incident the offices of these publications were given armed protection).
On 9th March the newspapers carried editorials 'The Third Anniversary of the Death of J.V. Stalin' with a photo showing Lenin and Stalin together at the Gorkakh (1922). On the first page it was announced that 'Today, 9th March, meetings would be held at 1 o'clock in all the enterprises, offices and educational institutions to commemorate the third anniversary of the death of J.V. Stalin'.
I went to the meeting at the Stalin Coach Building Factory - the oldest factory in Georgia (formerly the Railway workshop). A stage was erected and a large portrait of Stalin was put up.
The chairman of the factory trade union Com. Deshneli opened the meeting. The director of the enterprise Com. Matsaberidze made the first speech. The speech that he made was in line with the Editorial in the newspaper Zarya Vostoka. Further he informed that the workers of the factory are successfully striving to implement the decisions of the XXth Congress of the Party and that the plans for the last two months have been over-fulfilled. Com. Matsaberidze concluded his speech with an appeal to the workers to work more efficiently.
Com. Chumburidze, a turner at the factory and also a delegate to the XXth Congress, Com. Antadze, the oldest worker at the factory, Com. Turin, a team leader, and Com. Bedenashvili, a fitter and many others declared that they will carry on the fight for higher productivity, and that the collective of the factory that carried the name of Stalin will occupy the front row in the struggle for the victory of Communism.
However, neither the first speaker nor the subsequent speakers said a word about what was happening in the city and did not condemn the deceitful provocateurs. I consider it a mistake that there was nobody present at the meeting from the City Committee and the Central Committee of the party. It was necessary to speak out and to explain to the people that the events in the city are a result of incitement.
Meanwhile, in two other towns of the republic the commemorative meeting passed without any incidents. In Gori and Kutaisi meetings were held under the supervision of the party organisations. After the meetings the people dispersed peacefully.
But in Tbilisi right from the morning meetings were being held. At 1 o'clock the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia Com. Mzhavanadze gave a short speech at the Lenin Square. At the end he said that the 'appeal' issued by the people will be considered and they will be given a reply. The people began to disperse, but when Com. Mzhavanadze departed a woman shouted 'Stop! I was summoned today to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and they took a written obligation from me that I will not speak today. I ask all of you why such things are being done?' And the crowd stopped.
In the evening a large crowd gathered at the monument of Stalin. It is reported that some critic by the name of Beso Zhgenti read out a very chauvinistic and anti-Soviet speech. The 'appeal' was also read out. It included among others such points: do not make public the letter about the 'personality cult' and the change of government etc.
Absolutely revolting was the behaviour of the people sitting on the trucks (the number plates were removed). Youngsters moved on the streets and were shouting: 'Long live Stalin' and 'Our blood for Stalin'.
And some of them moved about the city in trucks and personal cars shouting and waving knives while showering insults at the government and the Soviet leaders.
So about 11 o'clock in the evening (as per Tbilisi time) near the building of the Communication Ministry (situated about 200 metres from the Central Committee of the party) a most horrible incident took place which was to be expected the way events were developing.
As a matter of fact by this time a number of organisations were already put under armed protection. So a strong security cordon was thrown around the Central Committee building, the State House, the Army Headquarters and the newspaper and publishing houses.
At 23.45 hours a large crowd of people rushed towards the radio station shouting: 'Capture the radio station, capture the telegraph office'. It appears that a group of 10 persons was sent into the telegraph office to dispatch telegrams. They were allowed inside but were detained for identification. This was passed outside to the crowd. On the call given by the provocateurs people were sent to secure the release of the detained persons. The way to the building was guarded by the security personal. Some one from the rear ranks opened machine gun fire. One soldier was attacked with a knife. Hooligans put everything into action: knives, stones and belts. Shooting in the air was resorted to. Shots were returned from the crowd. The provocateurs continued inciting people. There was no way out for the soldiers. Their life was in danger and they were forced into taking defensive action. Only after this did the crowd disperse.
After this with the help of tanks the crowd gathered at the Lenin Square was also dispersed. The square and the Rustaveli Street were cleared. Most of the people went away. But the crowd still remained at the monument. It was not possible to take forceful measures here as the monument was in a park and was surrounded by a large number of trees which was made use of by the provocateurs.
Anti-social elements started inciting the nationalist sentiments of the people:
'Georgians' - they shouted - 'blood has been spilt for Stalin and we will continue our struggle and not a single Georgian must leave this place etc.'
The armed contingents surrounded the park and asked the people to disperse. Jeers and insults were hurled at them in response. Knives and fists were shown in response to repeated warnings. And when around three o'clock in the night they were being pushed out the hooligans and the provocateurs put up resistance - they began to attack the soldiers, snatch the machine guns from their hands and by now there were casualties among the soldiers. It forced them to resort to the use of arms.
This is what the provocation, that was apparently organised by foreign spies and agents, and which was not dealt with in time led to. This is clearly borne by the fact that a Turkish bullet was found in the wound of one of the soldiers injured during these incidents.
There was provocation also in the town of Gori. During the night (at 4 o'clock) some 'demonstrators' had come from Tbilisi in trucks to the Gori Textile Mill (from Tbilisi it is 2 hours journey). This group of people broke into the compound of this enterprise and the provocateurs started shouting: 'Why are you working? There is a civil war going on in Tbilisi. The Russians are killing us.' A section of the workers went with the provocateurs. In the enterprise village people were forced out of their beds and onto the trucks. Several vehicles with the workers from the enterprise were taken to Tbilisi in trucks. In the morning the administration of the enterprise had to get workers from different shifts so that the work is not disrupted.
On 10th March the Order was issued and pasted all over Tbilisi (in some places it was torn). The people talked about the incidents of the night in hushed tones and blamed the government and the Russian soldiers. In spite of the fact that soldiers armed with machine guns were guarding the monument, a group of people tried to gather there but was asked to move away by the soldiers. At about 12 p.m. a large group of people gathered on the bridge and rushed towards the monument. Warning shots were fired in the air and this stopped the people. On this there was an attempt to seize the military warehouse. Heavy military patrolling was carried out on the 10th and 11th March. Meetings were held in the party organisations and night duties were organised at the various enterprises.
Law and order has now been restored in the city. Some of the organisers and provocateurs have been arrested. All establishments are functioning normally.
These were the first anti-Soviet demonstrations ever in Tbilisi during the Soviet rule. Some minor incidents had occurred in some regions of Georgia in 1924 but never in Tbilisi.
The events of these days are an evidence of the lapses in the work of our intelligence agencies. The enemy could make use of the weak link i.e. the national sentiments. The existence of a spy centre can also not be ruled out as the evidence points towards organised guidance and that everything occurred according to a well-thought-out plan.
In my opinion the public reading of the letter on 'personality cult' should have been avoided (it was known to about 150 people in the Central Committee of the party even on 4 and 5 March). However on the 5th and 6th the symptoms were already visible. The decisions of putting loudspeakers was a mistake and if was done then it was necessary for the party leaders and workers (City Committee and the regional committee) not to leave the loudspeakers and take control of the situation. Making full use of the absence of the leaders the deceitful provocateurs carried out their anti-Soviet action.
In Tbilisi there are a large numbers of unemployed. There are thousands of qualified people who stay in the city but do not want to go to other places in the region to work and it is these people who vitiate the atmosphere in the city. Probably the provocateurs made use of this class of people. The town should now be properly searched.
I have been living in Georgia since long ago and know the language of the people and know their customs. The majority of them are honest and loyal Soviet citizens. The people I know well are extremely indignant. They say that 'Georgia has fallen in the eyes of the entire Soviet people. Here among the youth there are unscrupulous hooligans who for the sake of a 'friend' and a 'comrade' can even commit a crime. There was a time when it was very popular to be a member of the organisation Young Marxists. In view of the recent events, I am afraid if something similar has not been organised by the provocateurs.
I am confident that the CC of the CPSU would examine the whole affair and come to appropriate conclusions.
Correspondent of Trud in Georgia
12 March 1956
A P P E A L
To Communists, Members of the Komsomol,
Workers and all the Working People of Georgia
5th to 9th March have been days of mourning as the sad date of the death of J.V. Stalin were commemorated. During these days the working people of Georgia came to the monument to Stalin as a mark of their respect for him. These sentiments are very natural and understandable.
However, in these days of mourning some deceitful individuals - provocateurs and organisers of the unrest - who attempted to use the sense of grief of the sons of the Georgian people to harm the cause of Lenin to which J.V. Stalin devoted his whole life. These people took to creating unrest with the aim of disturbing the normal functioning of various establishments, enterprises, educational institutions and the life in the city.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia and the Central Committee of the Leninist Youth Communist League call on all communists, members of the Komsomol and all Soviet patriots for whom the cause of Socialism is dear to immediately restore order in the city, restrain the provocateurs and ensure the normal functioning of all establishments and educational institutions.
The CC of the CPSU and the CC of the Komsomol appeal to all the citizens of Tbilisi who have been misled by the provocateurs and call on them to immediately return to their normal work.
The CC of the CPSU and the CC of the Komsomol are convinced that the communists and the members of the Komsomol would take the lead and restore normal life in the city.
CC CP of Georgia
9th March 1956
ORDER No. 14
9th March 1956
Officer in Command of the Tbilisi Garrison
During the last few days in Tbilisi there have been attempts by certain elements to create unrest and disturb the normal functioning of enterprises, establishments and the life in the city of Tbilisi.
To stop these disturbances I order Lt. Colonel Makushev, Commandant of Tbilisi, to authorize military patrolling from 24.00 hours 9th March.
To arrest and hand over to the militia for criminal proceedings all persons creating unrest and disturbing the normal life in the city.
Major General Gladkov
Officer in Command of Tbilisi Garrison.
Courtesy 'Istochnik' No. 6, 1995. Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar.
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