Stalin the Turntablist

July 21, 2008

From Richard Vinen, A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2001)

The humiliation and threats that Stalin used to cow his foreign allies and Russian subordinates emerges from a description by Jakub Berman (a Pole) of a meeting in Moscow:

Berman: “Once, I think it was in 1948, I danced with Molotov.”

Interviewer: “You mean with Mrs. Molotov?”

Berman: No, she wasn’t there; she’d been sent to a labor camp. I danced with Molotov – it must have been a waltz, or at any rate something simple, because I haven’t a clue about how to dance – and I just moved my feet to the rhythm.”

Interviewer: “As the woman?”

Berman: “Molotov led; I wouldn’t know how. He wasn’t a bad dancer, actually, and I tried to keep in step with him, but for my part it was more like clowning than dancing.”

Interviewer: “What about Stalin, whom did he dance with?”

Berman: “Oh no, Stalin didn’t dance. Stalin turned the gramophone: he treated that as his duty. He never left it. He would put on a record and watch.”

Interviewer: “He watched you?”

Berman: “He watched us dance.”

Interviewer: “So you had a good time?”

Berman: “Yes, it was pleasant, but with an inner tension.”

Interviewer: “You didn’t really have fun?”

Berman: “Stalin really had fun.”

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