Not the Father's Son

Sergei Khrushchev Becomes an American Citizen


Anyone who is old enough to remember the Cold War is bound to note the irony of a certain new U.S. citizen who swore allegiance to the American flag recently in Rhode Island. His name is Sergei Khrushchev, son of the late Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev, who once stood at the podium of the United Nations in New York and said to America and the West, "We will bury you."

Yes, this is the son of the same Khrushchev who John F. Kennedy stared down during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a situation which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. He's also the stout, bald-headed one with the frown in that famous picture with Richard Nixon, taken at a 1959 home show in Moscow during what is now called the "Kitchen Debate." The incident helped further build Nixon's political reputation. Meanwhile, the son of the late dictator is enjoying the capitalistic pleasures of the American kitchen at his home in Cranston, R.I. If only Nixon were alive to see it, or even Eisenhower.

Anyone who was alive in the 1950s and early '60s in this country can tell you about the yellow and black bomb shelter signs that were posted near the basements of certain sturdy buildings and subways around the country, and how you could read directions in Life magazine on how to build your own bomb shelter, either in your basement or backyard.

There was a great deal of fear at that time of what was called the "communist threat" and of this man Khrushchev who embodied it. We saw black and white television pictures in 1956 of people being mowed down in the streets by tanks in Hungary. Refugees who escaped from that bloody and unsuccessful revolt came to New Hampshire to live, and so we learned first-hand about how bad communism and living without freedom was.

We also knew the Soviets did not live well. We'd see pictures of long, empty store shelves in Moscow and of tiny, one-room apartments there where families lived. We read that Russians could not own private property or afford to buy the clunky cars built in government factories. Later we learned that many Christians were persecuted in Soviet Russia and had to worship underground, and that Jews were not allowed to emigrate to Israel. In fact, nobody was allowed out of the country without special permission. Now a generation after the father took off his shoe and used it to pound his desk in protest of Western policy, the son has raised his hand to take the oath of U.S. citizenship.

And what would the father think of such a move? The son side-steps the question. "It is impossible to move a political figure from one era to another. We only create such fiction in movies," the son says in a recent newspaper interview.

Today, Sergei Khrushchev teaches on the Cold War at Brown University, but was a former scientist in the old Soviet Union when his father was in power. After Nikita Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964, the old Bolshevik lived out his years quietly and wrote his memoirs. Sergei edited them. By then, Soviet coups no longer included assassination. Gradually, the father's reputation has been somewhat rehabilitated as historians remember the senior Khrushchev's denunciation of the murderous Stalinist regime, and the gradual reforms he tried to institute in the rigidly bureaucratic Soviet system. They stopped bugging the son's phones in Moscow after the father's death in 1971.

In the 1970s, much was made of the defection of the butcher Stalin's daughter to the West, resulting in her becoming an American housewife. It was a salutary rebuke of a failed evil at the height of the Cold War and the American press reveled in it.

Now, with the Cold War consigned to history books, this son of a once feared dictator is happily and quietly making his home in New England, just minutes away from his university classroom.

"It's a great country and it's an honor to live here," the son says.

Yes, it is. Always has.

This article first appeared as an editorial in the Manchester (N. H.) Union Leader, July 26, 1999. Dean Dexter is freelance writer and a former Belknap County Commissioner and N. H. state representative.

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