TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — Georgia will restore a towering monument to Soviet dictator and native son Josef Stalin that was taken down three years ago, the nation's culture ministry said Tuesday.
Erected in 1952, the year before Stalin's death, the statue was removed in 2010 amid a crackdown on Soviet-era monuments launched by pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili. Its restoration is part of a rollback of Saakashvili's legacy after his party lost a parliamentary vote last fall to a coalition headed by a Russia-friendly billionaire who became the prime minister.
The 6-meter (nearly 20-foot) monument in Stalin's birthplace of Gori will be restored by Dec. 21, his birthdate, ministry spokeswoman Elena Samkharadze said.
The Gori administration decided to rebuild the monument at the request of the local legislature. It asked the Culture Ministry where it should be placed, and the ministry advised it be put outside the Stalin museum instead of its original location on the city's main square, Samkharadze said.
Saakashvili said saying the decision to restore the monument was "ill-conceived, stupid and harmful."
"The West will laugh at us and turn away from us because of such ideological decisions," he said, adding that the move wouldn't have been possible without Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili's approval.
Saakashvili's presidential term does not end until October, but his authority has been further weakened by a constitutional reform that has shifted powers from the presidency to Parliament and the prime minister.
Communists and other older generation residents share a nostalgia for Stalin, who dragged the Soviet Union into the industrial age and helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II, while many other denounce his cruel repressions that killed millions.