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SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT: David Reynolds, Professor of International History

David Reynolds is Professor of International History at the University of Cambridge. He will be delivering the talk We need to talk about Stalin on 24th October, 6-7pm.

Question: Why do we need to talk about Stalin now?
Professor Reynolds: He's been dead for 65 years, but, as a historical force, he's still alive and kicking. Many Russians still revere him. And, in an era of would-be 'strong leaders' - Putin, Trump, Erdogan and the like - he still has lessons to teach.

Q: How did Western views of Stalin change during the Second World War?
DR: They changed a lot. From the Machiavellian leader of 1939 who signed a pact with Hitler; to the fall guy who looked like he was being rolled over by his ex-buddy Adolf in 1941; to the heroic supreme commander who turned the tide at Stalingrad; and then the increasingly alarming leader who took over most of Eastern Europe in 1945.

Q: Will the size, diversity and social divisions of Russia continue to make strong leaders seem essential in your view?
DR: Putin certainly believes so. And the Gorbachev revolution of the 1980s has failed to take root politically. But Russia is now a very different country from 30 years ago - the cities, at least, are recognisably Western and most Russians over 16 have internet access. So it's not clear how long they will accept Putinesque politics.

Q: How do you think Stalin and Putin compare in terms of their ambitions for Russia?
DR: Stalin was a Marxist-Leninist: he saw the world through ideological lenses even though a lot of his diplomacy was pragmatic. But he and Putin both know that economic development is essential and they share and adversarial view of the world.

Q: Do we suffer from a black and white approach to Russia?
DR: Yes - as we do about most foreign countries. And also a view dominated by the latest news in our 24/7 world.

Q: How can historians help to address this?
DR: By trying to offer a more nuanced, long view. And by speaking at events like the Festival of Ideas!