oseph Stalin (lived 1878-1953), one of the most powerful and brutal heads of state in the history of the world as the absolute leader of the global Soviet Union from 1924-1953, lived an infirm life of paranoia and seclusion. Despite his efforts to appear as an upright and healthy fatherly figure through propaganda, Stalin was vulnerable to a variety of health problems and other maladies that are still debated by historians. Some claims include alcoholism, jaundice, liver disease, a shriveled arm, frequent immunity problems that caused him to become sickly ill, and severe mental infirmities like paranoia, bipolar disorder, and hysterical depressions. Despite these exaggerated claims, Stalin remains one of the most magnificent and influential persons in history — still beloved by most Russians despite his murder of more people than Adolf Hitler (more than 10,000,000 citizens) –who forged the largest empire on earth, proliferated the Stalinist-Communist idea globally, is overwhelmingly responsible for defeating the Third Reich in the war, and until his death was almost undeniably the most powerful man on earth. Although Stalin has been often criticized as not being a full believer in the Marxist ideology, Stalin lived an incredibly austere and simple life that was appropriate for the Marxist mantra of crushing the thievery of state authorities. Like Adolf Hitler, Stalin did not have massive palaces for his own private property with gold and ivory, but private summer resorts for his own health and contemplation.
Stalin had several summer homes intended for his own recovery. One of his most favorite was built in a quiet coastal summer village on the border of his home country of Georgia, today in the city of Sochi of the separate Russian Federation. This article offers historical background, personal observations, and rare personal photos from my vacation to the unique and fascinating historical site. The summer home is actually in modern Russia (Sochi), but the ethnic background of the locals and the historical heritage of the area links it with Greater Georgia (the heritage of Stalin) and the Caucasus peoples. The warm climate of Georgia, as well as the beautiful coastal setting, made this the perfect setting for Stalin’s health. It is reported that Stalin went into a completely dysfunctional state of uncertain collapse for many days when he first heard that Hitler had violated the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. Some employees claimed that Stalin came here to recover before preparing the retaliation, although I could not cross-verify this with scholastic documentation. Sochi is a clean, beautiful city with trees, greenery, water, and animals. It has been selected for the Winter Olympic Games. It is the favorite summer resort of Vladimir Putin, and was frequented by many Russian aristocrats during the Imperial Russian period. Stalin’s dacha (estate) rests secluded atop a winding, green hill that was barred from visitors and citizens during Stalin’s stay. The physical layout of the area was carefully and personally mapped out by Stalin for his own safety and private. The dacha was placed and built in such a way that it can only be seen from one distant hill. A lookout fort was built atop this hill to house a sniper guard, the only person who could see inside Stalin’s dacha. Here, a sniper could keep watch on Stalin when on his balcony for smoking or drinking. Stalin was so afraid of assassination in his vulnerability that he removed a fountain so that he could hear approaching assassins. From his balconies adorned in plain green paint, only trees and woods can be seen; he cannot be targeted from any room. The rampant Soviet paranoia over assassination, purging, and spying intruded into Stalin’s private life even on his summer retreats.
Stalin’s house is extremely innocuous, plain, and unimposing. Today the former dictator’s house is a hotel in the portions that are not the museum of today. The house reveals no fantastic or elaborate architecture or gold or marble mediums, and is only plain wood, stone, and brick to offer him shelter. The interiors, too, are quite plain and unimpressive. This shocking lack of architecture or radiance that one would seldom expect from a dictator of the world’s most powerful superpower (at the time) implies that Stalin lived plainly and without elaborate wealth much like the class-less Communist ideal encouraged. A massive gate encloses the interior of the house. A cobblestone walkway in the center courtyard offers a small and pleasant garden. In one of the buildings on the property, Stalin’s desk, main room, and bed are all in the same room. Stalin’s personal desk offers original documents hand-signed by Stalin from other Communist leaders like Mao Zedong and internal SSR authorities. The walls offer huge portraits and paintings of Stalin and Mao. A small and plain bed next to his desk offers only a place to sleep. Next to the bed is a massive black bulletproof couch, revealing Stalin’s paranoia to prevent him from being shot through walls. Against the wall (perhaps placed later), a large flag standard of the Georgian SSR (Soviet Socialist Republic) stands with pride. In the adjoining room, a huge pool table allows Stalin to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes. It is said that his adjutants and servants refused to beat Stalin at the game out of fear for upsetting him. Multiple balconies compliment each room in the structure for smoking, enjoyment, the crisp air, and drinking.
The other main building is much more impressive, with somewhat elaborate (yet overall plain) red carpets, copper and steel, and finished attractive wood ceilings and walls. Forward on the ground floor and down into the earth offers a bizarre swimming pool. As Stalin had one atrophied and disabled arm (as he had fallen off a horse during the Red-White civil war), he was unable to swim comfortably in a traditional large pool filled to the top. Thus instead, the pool is very rectangular, small, and short, with water only reaching the chestline of the mighty dictator. This pool was not only for his enjoyment, but for therapeutic recovery and treatment of his many hardships (especially the need to remain calm to alleviate aggression and extreme stress levels). The sun also shines in from the outside woods for the humid air to aid in recovery. Upstairs, a conference room can be seen that is quite impressive by comparison with the remainder of the property. Tall ceilings made of attractive yet plain wood designs tower over warm furniture and table arrangements. Next to the conference room is a large balcony that offers only woods in the distance for Stalin’s personal enjoyment (and his Soviet, American, and British Allied visitors). Stalin’s indulged in his favorite wine here in the evenings before (at least as reported) his men engaged in binge drinking of vodka, smoking, and other spirits. Visitors to the house can drink his favorite Georgian wine here as well during tours. Stalin had quite a marginal taste in wine: he took pride in his heritage as an ethnic Georgian by constantly enjoying the grapes of Georgian vines, but indeed quite a weak, young, and poor red wine at that.
Stalin’s house reveals a fascinating and exclusive look at the fantastic dictator that goes beyond modern stereotyped or exaggerated historical depiction. Stalin lived a simple (yet unfathomably powerful) and plain life with impending stress, paranoia, danger, and health issues. It appears he was equally afraid of internal betrayal by his own men via political intrigue than he was of Hitler’s Third Reich that he ultimately obliterated in 1945. Pamphlets written in very broken English taken from the property retrospectively describe Stalin as a misunderstood father figure, a hero who not only defended the Russians from German conquest but was (rightfully) responsible for the Allied victory during the war.
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