the communist way

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Down in the south of Tbilisi, in Kaspi Street No. 7, there is a building that looks like a bunker or a German university canteen:

Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

It is the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing House Museum, and when I went in and asked about the admission fee, I was told to donate 10 Lari:

donation for the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

Okay.

There was a picture of Joseph Stalin with Mao Zedong:

painting of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong

Upon my remark that these two particular gentlemen used to hate each other, I was told that this wasn’t true at all. In fact, I learned, Stalin and Mao had been the best of friends, as was clear from public statements both had made. And of course from the picture.

There was a small exhibition with some copies of Communist relics:

newspaper clippings

But the main attraction was this:

part of the press in the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pres

The original secret printing press that Stalin and his buddies had operated during the first years of the 20th century, back when the October Revolution had not yet happened and Communism was still underground (just like the printing press itself).

The press was located in a chamber under a residential building:

the printing press at the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pre

And it was, just like Communism, a German creation:

old German press at the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press

Sadly, the whole place had come under water at some point, which is why the press was damaged pretty badly:

the damaged press at the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pres

An old gentleman named Jiuli showed me around:

inside the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

He was the caretaker of the place and a lifelong supporter of Communism. He loved Stalin, and he hated the way things were right now. I liked him as a person, though, and we got along great.

Jiuli took me to an opening in the ground that had served as a hatch from where Stalin (‘s crew) would eject their newly printed newspapers:

opening over the printing press in Joseph Stalin Underground Pri

And he showed me the tunnel through which they used to climb in and out of their secret underground printing press:

tunnel entrance in Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Muse

It was all pretty claustrophobic and clandestine:

tunnel in Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

The water damage in the underground chamber was so bad that even the bell that had once functioned as a warning system had fallen off, much to Jiuli’s dispair:

the old bell in Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

There was an illustration depicting the original buildings with the underground tunnel system:

house illustration at the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pre

And there was a set of winding stairs that the Communists had built later, when Stalin had come to power and the place was converted into an institution of ideological education:

stairs in the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

Jiuli told me that they used to have 800 visitors a day when the Soviet Union was still there.

Now hardly anyone would come here anymore, and the printing press and the (reconstructed) buildings above it seemed to be widely forgotten:

reconstructed house in the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pr

But of course they weren’t. Communism had always recognized the need for storytelling and mythologization, and so it seemed only natural that a group of people from “Communist” China showed up:

with Chinese visitors at Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Pres

Jiuli showed us all around. He didn’t speak any Chinese and hardly any English, but that didn’t matter. Everyone was happy, and we took a lot of pictures:

Chinese visitor taking a photo at the Joseph Stalin Underground

Our new Chinese friends were rather quick, though. In fact, two of them were even members of the Communist Party, but that didn’t change the fact that they liked to travel with speed and efficiency. Soon I was alone with Jiuli again.

I took a picture of the lobby, which I liked because of the contrast between the grand red drape and the lonely radiator:

lobby of the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

And then I took this photo of Jiuli in his office, surrounded by his flags and his Pravda and his pictures of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili aka Joseph Stalin:

Jiuli in the Joseph Stalin Underground Printing Press Museum

Jiuli looked very serious in the picture.

It was the Communist way.



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