Al Jazeera Correspondent

The Soviet Scar: Legacy of USSR Architecture in Georgia

A union of equals or Russian occupation? A personal journey exploring how decades of Soviet rule have shaped Georgia.

Journalist Tamila Varshalomidze grew up in Georgia after the downfall of the Soviet Union, but she is very aware of how the USSR’s influence has affected her life, her family and community and her country.

In 1937, during Stalin’s “Great Terror,” her great great grandfather, a wealthy peasant, was purged. In the middle of the night, someone knocked on his door; he was told to get dressed and leave with the authorities.

They (Soviet monuments and buildings) squat on the hillsides of our towns and cities as if awaiting the return of their Soviet masters. They give you the eerie impression that our world is the temporary one and it is the Soviet one that is permanent.

by Tamila Varshalomidze, journalist

His family never saw him again.

“It has been 80 years … but I think that finding the truth still matters. I feel it helps us to understand why and how we were controlled as a country,” says Tamila. “After almost 30 years of independence, the USSR is still with us and I believe we cannot have a future before we have dealt with this past.”

Tamila sets out to explore her family’s history and how Soviet rule has shaped present-day Georgia. Was it a union of equals or a military and cultural occupation by Russia? And how does the existence of Soviet-era monuments and buildings continue to dominate life in the former Soviet republic?

“One of the means to show the power of the state has always been architecture, be it pyramids or baroque palaces,” Georgian architect and urban planner, Irakli Zhvania says. “It was always the means to show your own people how powerful you are, to show them that they are small, they are little and they should be afraid of the state.”

These structures, which Tamila refers to as the “Soviet scar”, are a constant reminder of Georgia’s long, painful struggle for independence.

Will Georgia ever escape the shadow of its Soviet past? [Al Jazeera]
Will Georgia ever escape the shadow of its Soviet past? [Al Jazeera]

For others, they are simply a fact of daily life. While some buildings reveal a kind of Soviet grandeur, many, like the “Khrushchev” residence blocks, named after the Soviet leader’s promise of housing for the masses, are an outward symbol of hard times and oppression.

Poorly made, limited in functionality and lacking in design, the buildings are nonetheless home to many Georgians, including Tamila’s parents.

I think we actively avoid dealing with our past,” she says. “This has always been the mindset of my parents’ generation. They were born into a Soviet Union which was against people asking questions and curiosity got you into trouble.”

In The Soviet Scar, Tamila looks into Georgia’s complex past to find out if there might be a way to heal the collective memory of pain.