Stalin’s Legacy: Ethnic Time Bombs That Continue to Tick
Eighty-one-year-old Nikolai Khasig was born in Sukhumi in 1932. It was just one year after Soviet dictator Josef Stalin stripped Abkhazia of its short-lived status as a full-fledged republic of the U.S.S.R. and made it a region of Soviet Georgia.
At the end of 1936, Lavrenty Beria — at that time the head of the Transcaucasia region and later the sadistic head of Stalin’s secret police — invited the popular Abkhaz leader Nestor Lakoba to dinner at his house in Tbilisi. Lakoba died suddenly — officially, of a heart attack, but it was widely believed that the former revolutionary comrade of Stalin’s had been poisoned.
In the repressions that began in 1937, the entire Abkhaz government was arrested and subjected to show trials. Soviet archives later revealed that Beria had ordered them all executed before the trials even began.
Collectivization came to Abkhazia with a vengeance. Soviet publications began arguing that the Abkhaz were actually of Georgian origin in the first place.
“Such violence, such humiliation, such abuse, such genocide,” Khasig recalls. “Our people never experienced such things before.”
In a sense, World War II was something of a respite, but the work begun in the 1930s continued as soon as the war was over. By that time, Khasig was in high school.
“In 1945, after the end of the war, Abkhaz schools were shut down and the policy of forced assimilation was begun,” he says. “Our children — we ourselves — studied in the Georgian language and didn’t know a single word [of Abkhaz]. We were simply cut off.”The late Soviet leader Josef Stalin
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, all this old resentment and more surged to the surface.