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Georgia’s Tbilisi Dinamo: Under Stalin, a Soccer Team for the Secret Police

A photo of the 1937 Tbilisi Dinamo team shows 10 players lining up at the beginning of a match, but only nine player names are hand-written on the back of the photo. It has been claimed that Mikhail Aslamazov, the team captain and an NKVD officer, had his face scratched out from the photo. Aslamazov was arrested on Dec. 1, 1937, and, reportedly, two weeks later jumped to his death out of a window in the Tbilisi NKVD building. (Photo: National Library of the Georgian Parliament)

For Soviet Georgia, Tbilisi Dinamo was not just a soccer club. It was much more – a display of national pride and identity. From ordinary people to high-ranking politicians, the whole country was in love with soccer. Including Lavrenti Beria, the sadistic secret police boss who, as the feared head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, oversaw the arrests and executions of tens of thousands of Soviet citizens.
 
But Beria, 26 years old when Tbilisi Dinamo was founded in 1925, also loved soccer. He played himself and knew the Dinamo players personally. By roughly 1928, two years after he became the feared head of Georgia’s security services, state archival documents show he had made the team part of the secret police, known as the NKVD.
 
Appointed NKVD officers held all managerial positions at Dinamo and were involved in discussions of technical and financial problems. Some took it on themselves to act as executive coaches.
 

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David Jishkariani is an historian and co-founder of the Soviet Past Research Laboratory (SovLab) in Tbilisi.

Georgia’s Tbilisi Dinamo: Under Stalin, a Soccer Team for the Secret Police

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