This Europe: Lennonism takes off back in the old USSR

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They could soon be replacing Lenin with Lennon in Tblisi, the capital of the former soviet republic of Georgia.

The man behind Tblisi's plan to join Havana and Liverpool airport in honouring the former Beatle is Valerie Kucharov, founder of the local Beatles club. The musician and sculptor wants to set-up a life-size statue of John Lennon opposite the Georgian capital's huge glass Philharmonic Hall.

"It will be made of bronze. The plinth will bear the inscription: 'And the World will be as One. Imagine John Lennon'."

The flamboyant Valerie used to be John Lennon in a soviet Beatles tribute band. He brings his right arm crashing down on his imaginary guitar. "He will stand in the most powerful pose, when he's singing and playing like that."

Sitting on a "Blue Meanie" chair, surrounded by décor inspired by the characters in Yellow Submarine, Valerie explains in wonderful Georgian-Liverpudlian English: "John Lennon's everything to me, he's my teacher, he's my father, king of rock and roll, he's everything for me."

In the Soviet era Valerie got his Beatles records on the black market. With the fall of the Iron Curtain he was able to visit Liverpool and see the traces of the Cavern Club - returning to build a Cavern copy in the centre of Tblisi.

While no one here wants to be "Back in the USSR", the fall of Leninism has left a void for those sceptical of the capitalist revolution. That void is being filled by the softer utopia of "Lennonism".

Yuri Mechitov is also part of the statue project. Rattling around the potholed streets in his red Moskvich car, he explains how Lennon's 1971 post-Beatles classic, "Imagine", played a crucial role in his life. "The Georgian civil war started on the same day the Soviet Union was crushed, the 22nd of December 1990. It was an amazing coincidence.

"I found it very hard to stand the situation. There was only one remedy - the music of John Lennon's 'Imagine'."

Georgia paid heavily for its independence from Moscow. Electricity is rationed and the huge hotel near the Beatles club is full of refugees from the Russian-backed war in the Georgian province of Abhasia.

Valerie and Yuri have a long and winding road ahead but, as Yuri told me as we hit another pothole: "It's hard to be a dreamer here, but we try."

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