Beria’s Dream

by Jay Nordlinger

One of the favorite techniques of the Cuban dictatorship is to jail you on the charge of “pre-criminal social dangerousness.” You have not broken the law (such as law is in Cuba); but something tells the authorities you might — so they arrest you in advance.

Today in Impromptus, I quote a passage from Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar: In August 1937, Nikolai Yezhov, the secret-police chief, “decreed that children between one and three were to be confined in orphanages but ‘socially dangerous’ children between three and fifteen could be imprisoned ‘depending on the degree of danger.’”

Here in the Corner, I’d like to quote something lighter — and who else to turn to for lightness than Lavrenti Beria, Yezhov’s successor? Montefiore recounts the time Beria was playing with his little granddaughter. “This girl will be tutored at home and then she’s going to Oxford University!” he exclaimed. Comments Montefiore, “No other Politburo member would have said such a thing.”

And as I commented to our resident Oxonian, Charlie Cooke, “Such is the power of your university” — even NKVD chiefs want their offspring to go there. (David Pryce-Jones is another Oxonian, toiling in NR’s London bureau, so to speak.)