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Stalin's summer home in Sochi tells a lot about the man

SOCHI, Russia — He was only about 5-5 — give or take an inch, since the historical accounts vary — and if you think a detail like that doesn't matter in understanding the mentality of a tyrant, Joseph Stalin's summer house is practically a monument to short man syndrome.

Winding into a hillside near downtown Sochi and hidden by thick trees, "Green Grove," the dacha where Stalin spent three of four months every summer from 1936 until his death in 1953, is indeed one strange dictator's den.

"He wasn't a simple person," said Anna Hovantseva, who gave some American reporters a tour of the place and a history lesson.

From the tiny steps leading up to the second floor, to his private pool that was only 5-feet deep, to the small army cot in which he slept, many of Stalin's peculiarities are on display just a few miles away from where the Winter Olympics are being held.

And though it's eerie and unpleasant in many ways, since the Stalin regime was responsible for the genocide of perhaps 20 million people, it's also important history and context. Because without Stalin's love for Sochi and this blissful plot of land where the mountain air and the Black Sea air meet, it's not a stretch to say there would be no Olympics here 60 years after his reign.

Even so, the legacy of Stalin is so conflicted that Vladimir Putin has never stepped foot in Green Grove, as the symbolism would be too controversial even for a powerful and popular president.

"He created a great country, but as far as the message of his power is concerned, it is very, very disputed," Hovantseva said. "Part of our people think Stalin is a great figure in our history, and the other part thinks he's a criminal."

For most people, though, Stalin's hideaway is just a tourist attraction and even a hotel, where visitors can sleep in the same rooms as the man who built the Soviet industrial complex and engaged the Cold War.

It is also a curiosity, each detail shedding light on Stalin's paranoia and insecurity.

He demanded that the property be painted pea green so that it would blend into the forest. It was constructed without metal nails; only wood and glue, per Stalin's instructions. Carpets were nowhere to be found because he wanted to hear footsteps of intruders. Ceilings were built high to accommodate for the fact that he spoke softly. He worked at night from an office with a phone connected directly to Moscow and slept during the day, changing rooms three-to-four times so that nobody would know where he was.

And this dacha was really no different than the other six he built, which seems like an awful lot of prosperity for a man who purported to believe in a social system without class distinctions.

If nothing else, it's one of the few real-life relics left in Sochi from communist times and a piece of history just as complex as the Olympic host country itself.

Joseph Stalin spent three or four months a year in his dacha in Sochi.
 

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