Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Remember Him?

     I was reading about this guy the other day, and I wonder if you can guess who he is. (Don't scroll down and cheat!)

     He was born in 1894 in a poor, remote village. His father worked in the mines and the factories. He had only four years of formal schooling, and at age 14 became a metal fitter's apprentice.

     When World War I broke out, he was exempt from the draft because he held a crucial job as a skilled metal worker. He got married and had two children, and during this period was involved in several strikes demanding higher wages, better working conditions and an end to the war.

     After the war he was elected to a worker's council and soon became its chairman. Then civil war broke out. Europe was racked by devastation and famine, and his young wife died of typhus.

     He bided his time, until it was clear which way the political winds were blowing, then he worked his way into a job as assistant director for political affairs in the mines. He attended a training program for uneducated peasants, but was described by his teacher as a poor student.

     In 1922, he married his second wife, but the two soon separated, and not long after, he met his third wife, Nina, a well-educated party organizer. The couple had two children, and lived together for the rest of his life, but they did not officially register their marriage until 1965, the year after he was removed from office.

     He rose quickly through the party ranks, and in 1932 met his supreme leader, a ruthless dictator. The two of them started a friendship that lasted through the many purges of the 1930s. Our man arrested many of the people who worked for him, and ultimately sent thousands to prison camps or to their deaths.

     In 1937 he was appointed head of the party for the Ukraine, where he again replaced many officials, sending  them to their deaths as enemies of the people. During World War II he was at the battle for Stalingrad, although he played no military role; and he later accompanied troops at the battle for Kursk and the battle for Kiev.

     After the war, he returned to reconstruct the Ukraine and collectivize agricultural production, then he was called to the capital as a confidant to top political figures. In March 1953 the General Secretary suffered a heart attack and died. A vicious power struggle ensued, and our man came out on top.

     Once he came into power, he released thousands of political prisoners, and in 1956 gave a "secret speech" denouncing the brutality of his predecessor. He allowed a modest amount of freedom in the arts, opened some inroads to the West, and made two visits to the U. S., the first one in 1959 and the second in 1960 when he famously banged his shoe at the United Nations. He held a "kitchen debate" with then vice president Richard Nixon. He also held a summit meeting with President Eisenhower in 1960 and another one with President Kennedy in 1961.

     But he was no friend to America. He competed with the U. S. in a race to space, humiliating the Americans by sending the first man into orbit in April 1961. He crushed a freedom movement in Hungary in 1956, authorized the East German leader to erect the Berlin Wall, and helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear extinction over the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

     When he backed down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he took the first step toward his own demise. Then in 1963 he negotiated a nuclear test ban treaty with the U. S., bringing his downfall that much closer. In 1964 a group of Central Committee members, led by Leonid Brezhnev, ousted him for his policy failures and erratic behavior.

The First Secretary Himself
     After losing power, Nikita Khrushchev collected a small pension and lived in a Moscow apartment where he dictated his memoirs, published in 1970 as Krushchev Remembers. When the former party leader died in 1971, he was denied a state funeral, and the official Soviet newspaper ran just one sentence announcing his death.

Recently, actor Paul Giamatti signed on to play Krushchev for an HBO special called K Blows His Top, focusing on his 1959 visit to the U.S. with stopovers in New York, Washington, Camp David, Los Angeles, but not Disneyland ... that visit was scheduled but then canceled for security reasons.

2 comments:

Kay Dennison said...

I remember Khrushchev. He was the bogeyman of those of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s. I recall his threat: "We will bury you!" And since many of our neighbors were immigrants/refugees from Poland, Hungary and other eastern European nations, he was a very real threat to us just as Hitler was to those who grew up during WWII.

schmidleysscribblins.wordpress.com said...

So odd, you brought up K. Last semester we read an interesting book 'From Stalin to Gorbechev' for my class on Eastern Europe. The book told a positive story about K. He was a reformer and probably removed by the old diehards in his party. Dianne