In Stalin's native Georgia, Soviet dictator still revered by some

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Josef Stalin's hometown is still dedicated to him
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Josef Stalin's hometown is still dedicated to him
Nazi Stefanishvili, a 73-year-old retired economist, poses for a portrait in a room dedicated to Stalin at her home in Gori, Georgia, December 6, 2016. "Every morning I go to the room to say good morning to Stalin... I take part in every occasion marking the anniversary of his birthday or death," said Stefanishvili. "I have paintings, a lot of books about Stalin, busts, old newspapers, souvenirs. Most I bought, others were gifts; some were even found in the garbage." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired economist Otar Chigladze, 82, poses for a portrait at his home in Gori, Georgia, December 6, 2016. "I traveled a lot around the USSR and never missed a chance to buy Stalin memorabilia. I would earn well and could allow myself to do so," Chigladze said. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired librarian Tsitsino Tsintsadze, 77, poses for a portrait at her home in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 29, 2016. "I have portraits of Stalin, books about him, souvenirs. Some I bought, some were given to me. My relatives and friends know about my love of Stalin and often gift me memorabilia," Tsintsadze said. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Jiuli Sikmashvili (C), 77, a leader of the United Communist Party of Georgia, poses among other activists before a portrait at the party office in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 30, 2016. "I cannot say how many people support us but we have regional offices all around Georgia," said Sikmashvili. "Unfortunately the youth don't want to join our party, so our members are mostly elderly people." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired engineer Guram Kardanakhishvili, 86, poses for a portrait at his home where he lives alone in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 25, 2016. "I have been a fan of Stalin since school," Kardanakhishvili said. "He cared for his people. He is very popular among older people because life was better under his rule, there were lower prices and higher salaries but the younger don't know about that." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired driver Ushangi Davitashvili, 86, poses for a portrait at his home in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 22, 2016. "Stalin saved the world from fascism. He cared about people. Under his rule there was no unemployment. We had free education and healthcare. He was a great man," Davitashvili said. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
Retired accountant Olga Danelia, 62, poses for a portrait at her home in Rustavi, Georgia, November 28, 2016. Danelia is a Communist Party leader in her town. "Nowadays there are two types of people: those who love Stalin and others who hate him. We have to tell them the truth," Danelia said. "There were tough times, a lot of enemies around. Despite this, Stalin managed to build the country. I think he deserves to be remembered lovingly. We have to teach this to our youth, in schools, in the media." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Levan Gongadze, 87, poses for a portrait at his home in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 28, 2016. "I have been a fan of Stalin all my life, but there was a time when I almost changed my mind. It was after the 20th Congress of the Communist Party (of the Soviet Union in 1956) when Nikita Krushchev denounced the personality cult and dictatorship of Josef Stalin. But later I realised they weren't right," Gongadze said. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired railway worker Suliko Berdzenishvili, 82, poses for a portrait at his home in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 25, 2016. "I am a fan of his since childhood. I own portraits and books about Stalin. Most of them I bought myself, some I got as gifts," said Berdzenishvili. "I go to Stalin's hometown of Gori every year to mark his birthday." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired builder Shalva Didebashvili, 78, poses for a portrait at his home in Mtskheta, Georgia, November 29, 2016. "What Jesus Christ is for many religious people, Stalin is the same for me," Didebashvili said. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Retired builder Vasili Sidamonidze, 70, poses for a portrait at his home in Gori, Georgia, December 6, 2016. "Unfortunately, Stalin is not popular nowadays. Our people don't respect him. Only we, members of the (Communist) Party, respect him," Sidamonidze said. "I always try to attend Stalin's birthday anniversaries in Gori. Unfortunately many people don't want to join us even if they live nearby. They look at us from their windows." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
Natia Babunashvili, 40, an unemployed mother of two, poses for a portrait with her children Tamuna (R), 14, and Giorgi, 13, at her home in Tbilisi, Georgia, November 24, 2016. "My father was a party boss in one of the regions of Soviet Georgia and he taught me to love Stalin from childhood," Babunashvili said. "I tell my children of my childhood during Soviet times...how good my life was, how happy I was in the USSR. They form their own opinions but they share my views for now." REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili 
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GORI, Georgia, Dec 15 (Reuters) - In Nazi Stefanishvili's family home in Gori, posters, paintings and books fill a tiny room dedicated to the Georgian city's most famous son, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Although Stalin's rule was marked by mass repression, labor camps and famine, Stefanishvili, 73, a retired economist, says she has admired him since her childhood and over the years has filled a room in her daughter's house with memorabilia.

Among dozens of items on display are paintings, photographs and busts of Stalin, depicted both as a young and older man.

"Every morning I go to the room to say good morning to Stalin ... I take part in every occasion marking the anniversary of his birthday or death," she said. "I have paintings, a lot of books about Stalin, busts, old newspapers, souvenirs. Most I bought, others were gifts; some were even found in the garbage."

Stalin, who was born in Gori in 1878 and died in 1953, is largely reviled today in Georgia, which regained its independence during the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Over the years, his memorials have been dismantled, most recently in 2010 when authorities removed a statue of the dictator from Gori's central square.

AGEING FAN CLUB

But Stalin is still revered by a small group of mainly elderly supporters who stress his role in the industrialisation of the Soviet Union and in defeating Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"Unfortunately, Stalin is not popular nowadays. Our people don't respect him. Only we, members of the (Communist) Party, respect him," said retired builder Vasili Sidamonidze, 70, who keeps a huge painting of Stalin at home.

"I always try to attend Stalin's birthday anniversaries in Gori. Unfortunately many people don't want to join us even if they live nearby. They look at us from their windows."

Each Dec. 21, a few dozen people mark his birthday by gathering outside a Gori museum dedicated to Stalin, where they make speeches and walk to the square where a 6-meter-high bronze statue of him once stood, calling for it to be reinstated.

Opponents say it was a symbol of Moscow's still lingering shadow. In 2008, Russia fought a brief war with Georgia and recognized its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

"I cannot say how many people support us but we have regional offices all around Georgia," said 77-year-old Jiuli Sikmashvili, a leader of the United Communist Party of Georgia, one of several such small parties in the country of 3.7 million people. "Unfortunately the youth don't want to join our party, so our members are mostly elderly people."

The communist parties are not popular in Georgia, which wants to move out of Moscow's sphere of influence and join NATO and the European Union. Following a 2011 law, dozens of Soviet-era monuments and symbols were removed and street names which referred to Georgia's communist past changed.

Older Georgians, especially those who had personal and business ties with Russia, resent how much relations have soured. Others say the relationship only brought hardship.

At 40, Natia Babunashvili, an unemployed mother of two in the capital Tbilisi, is among the younger Stalin supporters, teaching her teenage children about Soviet times.

"My father was a party boss in one of the regions of Soviet Georgia and he taught me to love Stalin from childhood," she said. "I tell my children of my childhood during Soviet times ... how good my life was, how happy I was in the USSR. They form their own opinions but they share my views for now."

Wider Image photo essay: http://reut.rs/2hzwL50 (Reporting By David Mdzinarishvili; additional reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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