At the end of Leon Avenue, in the capital of Abkhazia – a city which because of the violent politics of the 20th century is variously called Sukhum, Sukhumi or Sokhumi – stands the elegant white Hotel Ritsa, overlooking the Black Sea.
The street is named after a medieval king, Leon, who founded a royal dynasty in Abkhazia. But you could be forgiven for thinking that the name stands for the most famous guest in the hotel’s history, Leon Trotsky. In 1925, Trotsky famously delivered a funeral oration from a first-floor balcony at what was then the Hotel San Remo, mourning three Bolshevik comrades who had perished in an air crash on their way to Abkhazia.
The year before Trotsky had delivered an even more celebrated funeral speech in the same city, for Lenin. That speech more or less sealed his fate. A combination of sickness and Stalin’s deception meant that Trotsky was not in Moscow and unable to be the chief mourner for the Bolshevik leader. He stayed in Abkhazia until April 1924, by which time he had lost ground to Stalin in the succession race in Moscow.
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Thomas de Waal is a senior fellow with Carnegie Europe, specializing in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region. He is the author of numerous publications about the region.