For Georgian-born Tinantin Japaridze, who was living in Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed, the complexity surrounding Stalin’s legacy has always been a source of curiosity. Her new book, Stalin’s Millennials: Nostalgia, Trauma, and Nationalism, analyzes how the leader’s image—and the nostalgia it evokes—is manipulated and exploited for political gain.
Japaridze recently joined the Negotiation Task Force for a conversation about her book, her unexpected path from singer-songwriter to scholar, and the cults of personality that served as a catalyst for her research.
Expanding on Simon Sebag Montefiore’s claim that “there are two Stalins,” Japaridze came to unveil a third Stalin during the early stages of her research at the Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia, Stalin’s birthplace. Using the metaphor of the nesting doll, Japaridze claims there are many different Stalins, depending on who is “unpacking the matryoshka.” Japaridze explains what she refers to as Stalin’s tripartite of personalities:
the Georgian Koba accessible exclusively to Georgians, the fearless Soviet victor of the Great Patriotic War and bestselling Russian commodity meant for both domestic and foreign consumption, and the third Stalin—a phenomenon that is seldom touched by historians who focus their attention on the figure of Stalin who belongs to history, archives, and the Soviet past at large, but instead seen through the prism of post-Soviet millennials.
Unlike the previous two portrayals of Stalin, this third Stalin is fluid, manipulated through nostalgia, and unbound by region. This Stalin is forever alive—the “phantom of Stalin.” The tale of the third Stalin, Japaridze notes, is not rooted in the past alone, but rather, it “belongs equally to the present and the future. Devoid of concrete, static spatial and temporal elements like the other two Stalins, the hero of the narrative is a hybrid—an invisible thread between space and time, a bridge connecting him to us and vice versa.”
With the analysis of this third Stalin as a focus of the book, Japaridze explains how the “third Stalin” also serves as an extended metaphor for a memory project of her generation, and even a reflection of herself—her own fears, insecurities, and perceptions.
Japaridze encouraged her audience to turn to history to explore the path ahead. How we talk about these critical historical issues across Eurasia, she says, is revealing of who we are, what we see, and how we move forward.