TBILISI, U.S.S.R. -- Although he has become the toast of the West, the smiling avatar of the Soviet Union's "new thinking," Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, is far from a hero in his native republic. "No Georgian patriot thinks Shevardnadze is a positive figure. He is serving the interests of the Soviet empire, not Georgia," said Nodar Notadze, leader of the republic's Popular Front.

The drive for independence and the resentment of Moscow have become so strong here that even one of the key supporters of radical reform in the Kremlin leadership can count on absolute support only from Communist Party officials. And in Georgia -- unlike the placid Baltic republics -- people have a way of expressing their disdain bluntly.

"People in Georgia hate Shevardnadze like they hate Stalin. He is a Communist, he is subservient to the people that keep us down," said Giorgi Chanturia, the volatile young leader of the National Democratic Party.

Shevardnadze, who has been a friend of Mikhail Gorbachev since their days as activists in the Young Communist League in the Caucasus 25 years ago, became the Georgian party leader in 1972 and reigned here until Gorbachev brought him to Moscow and the ruling party Politburo in 1985. Shevardnadze is known abroad as having cracked down on corruption in the republic, but some here remember it otherwise.

"Maybe he arrested some dishonest people, but he was the head of the most corrupt of all organizations, the Communist Party," said Zviad Gamsakhurdia, one of the republic's leading nationalist politicians. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Shevardnadze also headed the Internal Affairs Ministry and likely supervised the surveillance of dissidents.

Thomas Gamkhrelidze, a member of the national legislature and the director of Tbilisi's Oriental Institute, said one incident that stands out in the minds of many people here was an airplane hijacking in the mid-1970s in which three young men tried to commandeer a Tbilisi-Leningrad flight to Turkey.

"They were shot finally, and people remember that with real regret," Gamkhrelidze said. "The political oppostion is convinced that Shevardnadze had his hands in blood when he was here."

In an interview at local Communist Party headquarters, the present Georgian party chief, Givi Gumbaridze, spoke of Shevardnadze's "honesty, his wisdom" and how he "is famous all over the world." But Shevardnadze is Gumbaridze's political mentor.

A more effective defender here, perhaps, is filmmaker Tengiz Abuladze, who described how Shevardnadze helped him produce and show publicly the landmark anti-Stalinist movie, "Repentance."

"We gave him an 18-page scenario, and he told us, by all means there must be a film on this topic. But he said it had to go through Moscow. So he started thinking how to solve this problem for us," Abuladze said. In the end, he said, Shevardnadze helped him get money and permission from Moscow to make the film. "In a way he was an extra author of 'Repentance,' " Abuladze said. "In my book, he's a great man."

A legacy that looms more darkly over Georgia is that of native son Joseph Stalin. Lenin, founder of the Bolshevik state, already has lost much of his iconographic presence here. The last statue of him was toppled last month, and Lenin Square was renamed Freedom Square. Lenin Avenue is now Merab Kostava Avenue, named for an independence advocate who died in a car crash here last October.

But Stalin, in his terrible way, lingers. The grotesque statue of him in Gori, his hometown, still stands, and recently a group of war veterans and former Communist Party officials started a new party named after Stalin to compete in open elections at the end of October. Their platform: iron discipline.

But while no one expects the Stalin Party to do well in the elections, fascination with the tyrant persists. The letters column of a recent issue of the Communist youth newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda revealed that Stalin was not only a world-class monster, but also a monstrous poet.

Literary scholars here believe that the magazine Iveria in 1895 published six poems written by a 16-year-old seminary student named Iosif Dzhugashvili, who later rechristened himself with the nom de revolution Stalin -- "Man of Steel." The poems were about love of homeland and "the tragedy of man trying to bring good into the world," according to Nikolai Dobryukha.

Dobryukha said that the poems greatly impressed Ilya Chavchadze, a well-known poet of the era and the editor of Iveria. The June 14, 1895, issue of Iveria carried Stalin's lyric called "Morning":

The wind smells of violets,

The grasses are lit by water drops,

Everything around is waking up,

Glowing with roses.

And the singer from the cloud,

The nightingale, shares his joy with the world,

Ever livelier, ever sweeter.

You make me happy, Homeland,

With the beauty of your rainbow,

Just as every man should make his Homeland

Happy with his work.

Robert Frost said the essence of a poem is what is lost in translation. So maybe "Morning" is better than it seems in English. In any event, Stalin quit the seminary in 1898. So far as we know, he did not continue with his poetry. He joined the revolution.