GORI, Georgia, June 25 (UPI) -- A 20-foot statue of Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin was removed Friday from the main square in his hometown in Georgia.
The monument in Gori, where Stalin was born in 1879 as Josef Dzhugashvili, was secretly taken down in the early morning, The Guardian reported. Officials announced it will be replaced with a memorial to victims of the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.
But the Stalin statue is not being destroyed. It is to be re-erected in the courtyard of a museum where the exhibits include Stalin's private railway car.
Zaza Gachechiladze, editor-in-chief of the Georgian Messenger, said removing the statue from its conspicuous location is a sign of the country's growing "western orientation."
"But it's also a controversial move. There are still some sentiments towards Stalin in Georgia," he said. "He's seen as a local boy who achieved great heights and for 30 years was No. 1 in the world together with Hitler."
The Gori monument was erected in 1952, a year before Stalin's death. His successor, Nikita Kruschev, later had most Stalin statues taken down.