Recollections of the Events in Georgia between the Fourth and Ninth of March, 1956

Grigor Oniani

In 1956 I was a second course student of the University, a 20 years old guy and lived in the hostel -” Dormitory”, which consisted of 13 residential buildings. About 3,000 students were placed in it.

On March 4 of 1956 about 20-25 of our students decided to stay at night in the square near the Dry Bridge before the monument of Stalin to commemorate the date of his death. It was about 5 o’clock, when we went out from the hostel and walked along Ilia Chavchavadze Avenue. After an hour a small group of us, who surrounded the monument showed our honour with silence. Nobody thought about coming back. The darkness was gradually spreading and it was getting cold. The hard condition increased resistance in us. We gathered dry branches and made a fire for heating. The lack of branches made us use some benches. None of our students left. Frozen with bitter cold we barely reached the morning.

In the morning, when other University students heard that their friends stayed at night near the monument of Stalin, thousands of them marched to the Dry Bridge. It was already the Fifth of March (the date of Stalin’s death).

The square was getting full of people gradually. The arrangement of organizational issues became important tribune. The text to be used to address the students, the declaration of funeral applications and many other things. The initiative of each student was not enough for the organization of large-scale meeting, so, we decided to create a mobile group, which would lead this activity, without any chairman.

A group of citizens joined the stream of students and the square became crowded. On March 5, in the evening there were about 10,000 students and young people around the monument that were showing honour to Stalin. The night passed in such crowd. It was getting impossible to hear the speaker’s voice because of the huge audience, so it became necessary to set up the radio broadcast. By decision of the organizational group two activists had to make negotiation with Ministry of Communications about the temporary broadcasting. In case of refusal, the whole stream of demonstrators would reach the Ministry. The threat achieved the result. The tremendous equipment installed on the greatest truck body was set in a cozy corner near Stalin’s monument and specialists of networking started installing amplifiers on the plane trees. The organizational group transformed into an organizational committee. After the first triumph we became more courageous and busy. Then we made a decision to ascend the pedestal of the monument, that did not have large terrace, from which we would make a speech. Immediately, we tied up the ladder with boards, which was used for speakers to get to the pedestal.

On March 6 in the evening, after working hours the number of activists reached more than 50,000. The crowded meeting was so well organized that there was no case of stealing the things dropped on the ground like ties, scarves, boots, watches, bags which were gathered in the certain place. This order increased the interest in people to come to this sacred place.

People started to bring wreathes and bouquets and we put them around the pedestal but there was no longer space to put them. Then we decided to lower ropes from the pedestal and to attach wreaths to them. I remember how one wreath was quite different from others with its beauty. Each wreathe had the inscription of an organization or a personal name. And the wreath, which was quite different from the others had the following inscription: ”For a worthy father from a worthless son”.

People of different fields were giving speeches, among them were: famous actors, sportsmen, writers and poets. Hundreds of people expressed the wish to give a speech, they were standing in a queue and wanted to share their feelings with people. There were exceptions, who were swearing at Khrushchov, so we considered their speech disrespectful towards people and committee so we decided to check the speakers texts before the presentation, otherwise they would not be allowed to speak. Exactly these texts were checked by me, whose pockets were full of rejected texts in which bad language was used towards Khrushchov.

On March 7 of 1956 in the evening it was already known that Stalin would be taken out, criticized and reviled. The stream of people, which exceeded 10,000, had a destructive power. In most cases their emotions and cries were fearful. Each of us felt that something would happen. On March 8 of1956 in the morning the majority of activists went to the Krtsanisi governmental residence where Chu Teh, one of the Chinese statesman, was staying. 10,000 people were addressing him ”Ju-de. Ju-de”. But the foreigner was not in residence or did not appear, which was unknown to them. Ju-de’s searchers came up to the Hotel Intourist on Rustaveli Avenue and even there they were trying to attract Ju-de’s attention, but in vain.

Finally, we returned to Chitadze Street, where the Central Committee buildings of the Georgian Communist Party were located. Even there Ju-de was demanded by angry people with shouts. People with deafening cries and whistles were not only in the streets, but on the roofs of the houses.

Two men, with silvery military hats, came out from the main building balcony of the Central Committee. We recognized that one of them was Vasik Mjavanadze , the First Secretary of the Central Committee and another was Misha Giorgadze, the Second Secretary.

People didn’t calm down with Vasil Mjavandze’s speech. The deafening shout was heard again. The first secretary addressed people to keep calm, again, but in vain. So, this calm and balanced man gave such strict voice like military order and this blustered crowd looked like the city of death people. Suddenly he started with reproofs:

"Shame on you Georgians, sons, we are here, your fathers, uncles, familiar people and you are asking Chinese men for help, what we are doing here? Do you think we are appointed as conductors? I’m Stalin’s soldier, he brought me up, I have made an oath to him. Who should love Stalin more than me?”

After such an emotional speech the thousands of protesters became controllable. “It’s impossible to make any concrete negotiations with such an enormous group of people” - stated Mjavanadze. Separate your 10 representatives, come to our cabinet, tell us your demands, we are ready to listen and if there is any possibility, we will comply with your requests.

Some members of organizational committee including me, which at that time were on Chitadze Street (some of them were on the Dry Bridge and were leading the meeting) went up to the cabinet of the First Secretary of Central Committee.


Ten Members and two Secretaries of our organizational committee went up to the cabinet. They were sitting on the left side of the conference table. We shared our requirements amongst ourselves.

The requirements were not so hard and difficult:

  1.  9 March should be declared as a day off and day of grieving.
  2.  At 6 o’clock in the morning and at 12 o’clock at night should be performed the National Anthem with the usage of the poet’s words, where the Great Stalin would be mentioned.
  3.  There should be restored the performances and cinema photos that were created about Stalin.
  4.  On 9 March there should be a funeral meeting on Lenin Square with the whole attendance of the government.
  5.  Samtredia city should be renamed with Stalin’s name (still don’t know why it is named after Gr. Oniani.) and many others.

Vasil Mjavanadze was listening and reading carefully our prearranged “petition” about the issues which had to be solved. When we finished representing our requirements Vasil Mjavanadze addressed us in a fatherly way and said that 9th of March would be a day off, but not everywhere. “If we won’t bake bread and won’t make sausages, or if we make Marten’s Stove stop working, it will damage you and your government too, so only students and pupils will have a day off, who are not involved in strategic objects.

“Representing the National Anthem with the poet’s words will be restored.

"Tomorrow, on March 9 at 12 o’clock there will be held the grand funeral meeting on the Lenin square, which will be attended by all members of the Government. Cinemas will incessantly show films and performances about Stalin.” So, almost all of our requirements were accepted by the First Secretary of the Central Committee.

Finally, he thanked us as we are youth, who are grown up on the national soil, which is so necessary for today’s Georgia.

With these words, the first person of the government saw us off from his working room, and we hurriedly descended to Chitadze Street, which was crowded with people. At that time there were no megaphones and we had to inform the members of the meeting and about all these promises.

Hearing this news on the Dry Bridge from the pedestal of Stalin’s monument made people happier and courageous and made their speeches louder. They said phrases easily like: “Down with Khrushchov”- “Cheers to Molotov, Lenin-Stalin’s faithful disciple”.

We spent all the night in such admiration, with the hope that the next day at 12 o’clock the funeral meeting would be held.

On March 9 at about 12 o’clock Lenin square was full of people. Young people were spread on the roofs of the houses. Despite the concentration of these people, the amount of participants on the Dry Bridge was not decreased, the number of people in the street, among them people from different parts of Georgia, was more than half a million.

Vasil Mjavanadze opened the meeting. He spoke honourably about Stalin’s greatest role and place in the world history and about his merits that led to the destruction of fascism. His speech contained only respectful words towards Stalin.

Other members of the government gave speeches too. Participating students also took part in the meeting, including me.

Poet Ioseb Noneshvili read his verse “Mamav Dzvirfaso”, which he wrote on March 5 of1953 and which was familiar in the whole of Georgia. The verse impressed people and this was the end of the meeting. Vasil Mjavanadze addressed people to finish the meeting and leave the Dry Bridge and go home.

Young winners descended with happy cries and joined the participants distributed on both right and left sides of embankment.

The participants of the meeting on the Lenin Square were spreading the happy news, that made them more courageous and delightful.

Near the monument, among enormous number of people, appeared Akaki Khorava, the famous artist of the Soviet Union, who asked to give a speech. We brought the elder artist with the huge body to the Pedestal Terrace and gave him a microphone. People met him with great emotions. The actor was retelling episodes from his and Stalin’s meetings with his usual mastery, that extremely gladdened the people.

The row of Intelligent Tribune Speakers was endless. People believed in the possible happiness, but no one had just realized what kind of happiness was it.

1956, 9th March

The events that occurred on 9th of March left their mark not only on the citizens of Tbilisi and Georgia, but also on all peoples of the Soviet Union. The tragedy that happened became known to the whole world. The way that this dreadful event was analyzed and published was disturbing.

Georgia‘s State Security Committee chairman Alexi Inauri mentioned in his interview, that 22 young people were killed by gunfire.

At the Party Meeting Eduard Shevarnadze declared that the number of people that died that day was 150, by foreign sources the number of dead would be more than 400 people, while Professor Nodar Natidze published his research on this matter in the magazine “Peoples' Education” and claimed that the number murdered that day were 500 to 1200 people.

The newspaper “Homeland” published photos of 19 deceased and asked the question - “How many people died that night? 400, 1000, 2000 or more?”

The newspaper “Country's Life” writes: “On that horrible night of 9th March hundreds, thousands and ten thousands of people were destroyed, who knows how many were murdered."

Every Tbilisi hospital was full of wounded and murdered people. Separate members tried to determine how many people were actually hurt on that crucial night using records from hospitals journals, however, all records in all hospitals regarding that night had disappeared.

These facts supported the suspicion that number of victims was much higher than officially published!

In the end, there was a hope that relatives of wounded and deceased would speak up, but the Security Services blocked this unpleasant for them reports and outcries.

This is how the terrible tragedy of 9th March was attempted to be secluded from the public and international society.

Grigor Oniani is Chairman of the International Stalin Society, Tbilisi, Georgia.

Translated from the Georgian to English by Ana Ioseliani.

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