From owner-labor-l@YORKU.CA Thu Mar 7 23:15:07 2002
Date: Thu, 7 Mar 2002 22:49:50 -0500
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: grok <grok@SPRINT.CA>
Subject: In Stalin's Town, a School Divided
GORI, Georgia—Spend half a day at Public School No. 4 here in the center of post-Soviet Georgia and it becomes a little clearer how an old way of life is dying and a new way is taking root.
Georgia's school system is collapsing. Better to say it has collapsed. There has not been electricity in this three-story building for 12 years.
The indoor temperature hovers around 40 degrees. Wood-burning stoves have been added but the wood supply is limited—the whole country is cutting down the forests. The judo instructor splits wood between classes.
“His salary is so low he cannot get married,” the deputy principal said, raising an eyebrow.
Most students have no textbooks. There are no computers. Among a dozen students asked, only one had ever been on the Internet—once.
Students study English from Soviet-era texts that extol the virtues of Marxism and Leninism.
But a course has been added called Declarations, as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the manifesto issued in the wake of the horrors of World War II reaffirming that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and are “endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
The repudiation of Hitler and of Stalin runs deep in the principles that are read out in lectures by the teacher, Markvala Razmadze, and copied down by students in tattered notebooks, part of a United Nations-sponsored program to promote enlightenment in the generation coming up in the newly independent states.
But it is not clear that those profound lessons are fully understood here. Stalin came out of Georgia; in fact, he was born here in Gori, and a distinct reverence still attains to the man who sent millions of innocent people to their doom and defined totalitarianism in the Soviet Union as Mao did in China.
“I think he is a hero,” said Georgi, a 10th grader who is the school's best hope to play soccer on the national team someday. “He was born here and we are very much proud of him.”
A dozen students gathered around him all agreed.
Yet in 1986, it was a Georgian director, Tengiz Abuladze, who with his film “Repentance” rendered a sweeping and realistic portrayal of official evil under Stalin, a film that won acclaim from overflow audiences in Tbilisi, and the rest of the Soviet Union, at the time.
Today, in Gori and in many parts of the country, Stalin is a far more popular historic figure than the current president, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who as Mikhail S. Gorbachev's foreign minister negotiated a largely bloodless dismantling of the Soviet empire.
Mr. Shevardnadze's presidency is known here, as in much of Georgia, for corruption and nepotism. It has created a class of elites who live well, send their children abroad to school while much of the country shivers through winter and ponders how much better life was under Communism, when there was heat, jobs and vacations at the beach.
Still, many of these students now see the world as it is outside of Georgia and aspire to something not connected to their parents' nostalgia.
“Sure things were fine and good in the past when everyone had work and could afford to live well, but now we have freedom, freedom of speech and more possibilities in our lives if a person has brains,” said Helen, a 10th grader who is preparing to enter a foreign-language institute to learn English so she can go into business—any business.
“We are hoping that Georgia will improve and get out of this situation like we have under Shevardnadze, where everything is done for himself and his relatives,” she said.
Ms. Razmadze, who teaches the course on human rights, said the contradiction between the admiration for Stalin that lingers among Georgians and the principles of freedom and human dignity that are enshrined in her course material was not something she dwelled on.
“Of course some innocent people were victims because in every city people reported on each other,” she said. “Repression was necessary for the Communist system to prosper and all the members of the Central Committee of the party were involved in repression. It was not done by Stalin alone.
“It was bad for him to sign decrees ordering the execution of people,” she added. “This was wrong, but the criminal code allowed for executions at that time.”
Another teacher interjected, “Some repression wouldn’t be bad even now.” She shook her head as she spoke, in complaint about some members of the Georgian Parliament who were Communist apparatchiks a dozen years ago and are now presumed to preside over the corruption that is universally reviled here.
The jumble of emotions and conflicting assessments that are heard here are hard to make sense of, even for the people who live here. They seem to understand that they are living through a long transition that has reduced Georgia from a semiprosperous Soviet republic to a newly independent state, now economically degraded and beset by splintering ethnic tensions and prodigious corruption. A credible national strategy has yet to emerge, which is why so many Georgians seem to have one foot still planted in the past.
Yet many students appear full of hope and a measure of enthusiasm for the future. Their principal, Nanuli Darsavelidze, said it was difficult to sustain that enthusiasm—some students drop out after the ninth grade because they do not see how a diploma can give them any prospect beyond selling meat in the local market. The best students, she said, stand out, as they did in Soviet times, and move on to college in Tbilisi, Moscow or the West.
But she fears that unlike in Soviet times, when vocational schools were a safety net that caught those who dropped out and trained them for factory work, today's dropouts will be lost to drugs or crime or simply “the wrong path.” Most factories are shuttered.
Nina Mtsuravishvili, 15, wants to be a doctor. Despite the fact that she believes that her parents lived in a better time under Communism, she says the times are not so bad now for those who have aspirations and are willing to work for them.
“I feel lucky, too,” she said in English.