Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Spring No. 6

Spring No. 6

Joseph Stalin’s private bath house, Tskaltubo

Joseph Stalin, the General Secretary of Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, used to return to his home state of Georgia (in the Caucasus) to enjoy the benefits of the spa waters of the town of Tskaltubo – which was also a popular health resort for hundreds of thousands of Soviet workers and peasants – but if he was making this very long journey then surely he was returning to a site where he could enjoy the benefits on offer in the height of luxury, no?

Stalin wasn’t keen on air travel (from what I’ve been able to learn he only ever flew on two occasions, to the Tehran Conference and back in November/December 1943) and usually travelled by train – probably in a carriage similar to the one that is currently sitting outside the Stalin Museum in Gori. To make that journey to the spa town of Tskaltubo in western Georgia, therefore, was quite an investment in time and effort. Even today the journey takes at least two days and nights so there must have been something special awaiting him in Spring No 6 – the finest of all the spa buildings in the resort.

Spring No 6 is one of the few that are functioning in the town now. (Springs No 1 and No 3 are also functioning as of 2019 but they are much more modest structures.) However, the renovation of Spring No 6 has destroyed much of the original decoration from the time of its construction – apart from the main entrance portico and the entrance hall. In fact although very smart and clean the facilities that present day visitors use are somewhat sterile and lack any of the decoration I’ve seen in some of the ruined structures that are in and around Tskaltubo’s Central Park.

One area that has not undergone total renovation (there has been a replacement of the exterior windows as part of the general clean up of the building and also some work has begin on the ventilation system) is the room that I was directed to when I asked ‘Which was Stalin’s private bathhouse?’

I was directed to a woman who was sitting at a desk at the far end of the long, ground floor corridor that goes off to the right of the main entrance hall, running parallel to the frontage of the building. She had been asked to direct me to this special location.

It was with a feeling of suppressed excitement as I walked down the corridor. What was I going to see? What little hidden gem seen by relatively few people from western Europe (and many more from the east) was about to reveal itself to me? Surely the leader of the USSR, the country that had defeated the fascist Hitlerite beast only a few years before would be revelling in glory and have a private bathhouse rivalling those of the Roman Emperors?

Stalin was a megalomaniac and monster (according to the fascists he defeated, the capitalists and imperialist whose rule and control of the life of billions of people he constantly challenged, and those trotskyites, revisionist and social democrats whose lying and duplicity he spent much of his life uncovering and crushing with the necessary force) so what I was about to enter would be a grand arena, decorated in a manner paying homage to the Generalissimo.

According to the fascists, imperialists, revisionists and other anti-Communists Stalin would have surrounded himself with memories of his past actions – such as the destruction of the traitors, splitters, wreckers, renegades and fifth-columnists in the Soviet Union, the the late 1930s, before the imminent war against Hitlerite Germany.

Surely in the tiles on the floors and the walls there would be the severed heads of those internal enemies; Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev and other Party members who sought to undermine the iron unity of the Marxist-Leninist Party and colluded with the enemies of the Soviet people; Tukhachevsky who saw the Red Army as just another, more modern, army of Tsarism; the kulaks who sabotaged production in the countryisde and did everything they could to prevent the transformation of the agricutural economy through collectivisation; and the external enemies, especially the Hitlerite fascists.

And I was really interested in what sort of desk would be located in the bath house. Every picture (photo or painting) I’ve ever seen of Joe sitting and writing at a desk has had the caption ‘Stalin signs yet another death warrant.’ This was even when closer analysis of the actual document said ‘Dear Mr Milkman, no milk today’. I have never seen a semi-naked Joe doing this but if he spent so much time in such activities then he wouldn’t have wanted to have wasted time when he was up to his chest in warm spa water. So a desk which could have held stacks of pre-printed death warrants, a bunch of pens and gallons of ink would have to have been part of the architects remit.

My heart started to beat faster as I approached the woman sitting at her table at the end of the corridor. She didn’t speak but indicated a door way just behind her, on her left. I walked the handful of metres to the door and realised it was an ante-room.

But what an ante-room. If was about twice the size of my bathroom – and I live in a modest flat. How could this room cope with the large entourage that would have accompanied Comrade Stalin on his journeys. There was a window to the outside, in one corner was a single leather covered armchair but apart from that the room was devoid of any decoration – but with a parquet floor in a fairly reasonably condition.

Entrance to Stalin's private bath house

Entrance to Stalin’s private bath house

To the right another door led to a room with tiling on the walls and the floors. I took two steps to the door and had my first view of Comrade Stalin’s private bathhouse.

My first reaction was shock and surprise. I uttered a few words, I think audibly.

‘They’re taking the piss.’

In front of me was a tiny space – considering the size of the building. My first view was towards the corner of the room with two large windows at 90º to each other. I looked to my right thinking the main body of the room was there. All I saw was a tiled wall.

The room was about 6 metres square, with a high ceiling and with the walls covered in blue and cream ceramic tiles (some missing). There was some decoration on the walls but this was of a simple, geometric design. There was a walk way around the room which was covered in small square tiles that were set in simple geometric patterns, in places starting to come loose. In the centre of the room was a sunken bath, about 4 or so metres square. At one corner there were fours steps down to the pool with a tubular steel handrail on the left side. Around the edge of the pool were tiled covered concrete benches. There was no sign of a desk at all. But most shocking of all was the decoration at the bottom of the pool.

Stalin's jelly fish

Stalin’s jelly fish

In place of the images I had expected there was a mosaic of cartoon like jelly fish – with anthropomorphic characteristics. Four of these giant jelly fish were half out of the water and seemed to be about to attack a very strange creature (possibly representing a crab but if so it’s missing a couple of legs) which is sitting on a round patch of sand. In the water are cartoon fish and a huge number of starfish.

There were signs of renovation of the space, which seemed to have stalled. The only new work that had been completed was the replacement of the large windows – this would have taken place so as not to spoil the look of the facade of the building from the park. If the present owners follow their past practice then the jelly fish will go – that would be a shame.

The knowledge then crept up on me. This wasn’t a room built especially for one of the greatest leaders of the working class of all time – this was a children’s paddling pool.

But it was also Uncle Joe’s private pool. He is recorded as having been there some time in 1951. The search is on for photographic evidence.

Just goes to show that you have to be careful what you wish for. You will almost always end up being disappointed.

Location

Spring No. 6 is in the northern part of Tskaltubo’s Central Park, about a ten minute walk from the present day market in the centre of town.

GPS

42.3223

42.5989

How to get to Tskaltubo

Marshrutka number 30 leaves from its terminus on the western side of the Red Bridge, which crosses the Rioni River beside the main Kutaisi market. Closer to the market is the stop for a number of buses but you walk through that area (passing a cheap out door bar on the right) to cross the red painted iron bridge. The marshrutka will be on the left once on the other side. They leave roughly every 20 minutes. Cost GEL 1.20 (not the GEL 2 as in some guide books – although some of the drivers will take the GEL 2 and say nothing although others are honest). The price will be on a piece of paper somewhere, normally at the front of the vehicle.

Journey takes about 30 minutes to get to the centre of Tskaltubo. Once you cross the railway track (after 20 or so minutes) you are at the bottom end of Central Park. The marshrutka then follows Rustaveli Street on the eastern edge of the park passing the railway station and information office, the Municipality, Court and Police buildings, and then the entrance to the huge (now luxury 5 star) Tskaltubo Spa Resort all on the right. (The marshrutka takes the same route when going back to Kutaisi and can just be flagged down anywhere along this road.)

When you get to the northern edge of the park the road widens out and after passing the Sports Palace on the left and the now being renovated (although seemed stalled to me) huge Shakhtar Sanatorium on the right the marshrutka heads up to the main market. Get off when the bus turns right at the corner by the ugly, modern Sataplia Hotel. This is where you would look for another marshrutka if you wanted to go to the Prometheus Cave.

To get to Central Park go back along Tseretseli Street (not the road you came up), pass the mural of the telecommunication workers on your left and head down to a very wide road junction. Cross this wide expanse of tarmac towards an arch and at the open space at the top end of the park head south and pass by the right hand side of Spring No. 3. Continue south until you reach the white, side wall of Spring No. 6. The entrance is on the west side of the building.

Alternatively (if arriving by marshrutka) you could get off at the main entrance to the Tskaltubo Spa Resort and walk towards the back of Spring No. 6 through the park.

Gori – Rediscovered statues of Joseph Stalin

Stalin in Akhalbagi, Gori

Stalin in Akhalbagi, Gori

Gori – Rediscovered statues of Joseph Stalin

For those of us who bemoan the fact that the statues of Comrade Joseph Stalin – who used to stand proud in most towns and cities of the Soviet Union before he was attacked by the arch Revisionist, Nikita Khrushchev, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 – are now few and far between will be pleased to learn that he can still be found in a place of honour in the town of his birth, Gori, in Georgia.

Long after Khrushchev’s denunciation; the fall of the arch Revisionist himself; the years of betrayal of the principles of the Great October Socialist Revolution; the all-round restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union; the ludicrous involvement in Afghanistan; the eventual fall of the Soviet Union as an entity; the break-up of the union of constituent states; and the leadership of a once proud workers State that had defeated the power of German Nazism being led by a vodka sodden buffoon a statue of Comrade Stalin still stood in the square that bore his name in the centre of Gori.

That was until the Georgian people were foolish enough to elect a similar buffoon, perhaps less vodka sodden but one who was determined to be the most enthusiastic brown nose to the capitalist west, who, on 24th June 2010, in the dead of night, sent in a crew who removed the 17m statue in opposition to the wishes of the people of the town.

I was unable to definitively discover where it is now or what has been its fate. Local people told me they had no idea where it is but someone knows and now that the Georgian buffoon who ordered its removal (Mikheil Saakashvili) is now wanted in his own country to answer for other crimes during his Presidency I see no reason why Uncle Joe shouldn’t be cleaned up and brought back home.

But then Georgia wants into the European Union. Like so many ‘countries’ and Nationalist political parties that value and are proud of their ‘independence’ (such as Albania, the SNP in Scotland, Plaid Cymru in Wales, Sinn Fein in Ireland) they want to hand everything over to the un-elected functionaries in Brussels. And the EU would look down upon a country, like Georgia, making an independent decision such as to choose who to have standing in the squares of their cities.

So the fate of the big statue is uncertain.

As a response to the removal of the big statue (an empty plinth still ready and waiting for its return) a smaller one was erected facing the entrance to the Stalin Museum, at the back of the building in which Joseph was born.

I personally don’t like this statue. It’s a little more than life size and made of stone. It’s not a particularly good likeness and the pose is all wrong. He’s standing with his right hand on top of a book (of his own writings – which I stated in my post with videos and images from the Stalin Museum would never be the case) which is resting on waist high stump of a tree trunk. Now who have you ever seen in such a pose in real life? It’s more something that was produced to represent a poet during the Romantic period, following a neo-classical, Greek tradition. Added to that he’s looking dreamily into the distance and he has his left hand in his trouser pocket. That’s not Stalin. And it’s certainly not Socialist Realist Art.

He should be depicted as determined to push through measures that promote the development of Socialism. He should be carrying a copy of a newspaper and if a book it should be tucked under his arm as if he was going to refer to something in it at a meeting. He should be presented as if he were speaking to a meeting, making an argument. He should be shown sure and steadfast. This statue outside the Museum to the great man says nothing.

However, all is not lost for those who want to see the real Stalin. For in Gori the visitor has two opportunities to do so – although they appear to be two different versions of the same pose – perhaps one the original plaster master and the other the final result in bronze.

Stalin in Akhalbagi

The bronze version stands just a little inside the big park (Akhalbagi) on the western edge of the town centre, just to the south of the Gori Public Service Hall, the main market and the bus station. The park also houses the city stadium.

He’s dressed in his normal military style uniform on top of which he is wearing a full length overcoat which is unbuttoned. His right arm hangs down straight by his side but his left arm is bent as he is holding a folded newspaper or document in his left hand. Although the style is different there are similarities in the pose with the sculptures of Stalin that are behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana, Albania.

There’s a plaque (it’s not easy to work out what is written upon it) but there’s the date 1948, presumably when it was created and also when it was installed in the park.

Location and how to find Uncle Joe

The main entrance of Akhalbagi is at the junction of Guramashvili and Amilakhvari. Once inside the set of gates you are faced by a couple of circular fountains. Beyond them you will see the Georgian flag flying from a flag pole before a circular flower garden. In this garden, which is well tended – which is a rarity in Georgian public space – is a tall plinth upon which stands a dignified and determined representation of the former leader of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

GPS

N 41º 58.921′

E 44º 06.182′

Stalin, Gori Railway Station

Stalin, Gori Railway Station

Stalin in Gori Railway Station

The second one appears to be very similar to the bronze one on the plinth in the park. I say ‘appears’ to be because I wasn’t able to get close enough to make a definite comparison of the two. It’s in a locked waiting room off the main entrance/ticket hall of Gori Railway Station.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise it was there until my train to leave Gori was literally just about to enter the station. I could only take a couple of pictures though the glass and that made it difficult to achieve results that could allow for later investigation. It looks like it’s made of plaster and that indicates to me that it was the model for the eventual bronze version.

I’m also sure that given more time and a little bit of pleading it would have been possible to get someone to open the door to get closer to the statue. What is certain, as can be seen by the picture above, is that the room is pristine. It’s not a room that’s been locked and forgotten about. It must be kept clean on a regular basis and perhaps the main reason it is locked is to make sure that casual visitors don’t make the area dirty. Also the decoration is very recent – with no flaking paint that is even evident in the Stalin Museum and especially the portico over Stalin’s birthplace, which is starting to look seriously neglected.

How to see the statue in Gori Station

If you enter the main station building from the platforms you come into the ticket hall. Once inside the building look to your left and you will see an extended waiting room through the glass doors. There’s a sign that ‘foreigners’ aren’t allowed entry but I assume that is just a translation error which really means anyone not part of the railway staff.

Although I was unable to inspect the statue at the station with the time I would have liked I was happy to have ‘rediscovered’ these two statues – ignored in all the guide books that I’ve seen.