Friday 17 August 2007

Back at the Festival

I heard a couple of good talks today.

Simon Sebag Montefiore spoke about Stalin. His description of the Tiflis bank robbery was excellent:

By 1907, he was looking to pull off a spectacular bank robbery, but he needed an "inside man". In the streets of Tiflis, he bumped into an old schoolfriend, now working as an accountant in the state bank, who declared himself a passionate fan of Soselo's poems, particularly the one dedicated to Eristavi. Stalin charmed and cultivated this admirer until he agreed to reveal the arrival by stagecoach of a million roubles. Using this information, Stalin set up the Tiflis bank robbery in which 40 people were killed and a huge sum stolen for Lenin. This secured Stalin's reputation with Lenin, who declared he was "exactly the type I need". Only in Georgia, where poetry was read passionately, would a banker risk his life and career to arrange a bloody bank robbery because he loved a man's poetry.

After a thirty-minute break it was on to hear Douglas Hurd tell us about his new biography of Peel. I was never a great fan of Hurd but he came across very well, speaking mainly about Peel's founding of the Metropolitan Police and then the Repeal of the Corn Laws. Afterwards I realised that I should have asked Hurd about the modern Corn Laws imposed on us by Brussels...

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