Statesmen’s descendants recall Cold War memories

By
Monday, October 29, 2007

When Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower, was eight years old, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pinned a small red star on her jacket and told her parents that she was welcome to come visit him in Russia.

“Even as an eight year old, I could tell this wasn’t going to happen,” Eisenhower said. Fifty years later, Eisenhower has been to Russia and married a Russian scientist. She spoke Saturday at a symposium on campus celebrating the publication of the third and final volume of Khrushchev’s memoirs, “Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev: Statesman, 1953-1964.”

Nikita Khrushchev’s son Sergei Khrushchev, a fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies, joined biographer William Taubman and sociologist Vladimir Shlapentokh at the symposium, held at the Watson Institute on Saturday morning.

“These memoirs are in a class by themselves,” said Professor Emeritus of History Abbott Gleason. “They throw light on momentous events, and we here at Brown are simply fortunate to have been able to help Sergei.”

The first volume of the memoirs, “Commissar, 1918-1945,” was published in 2005, and the second volume, “Reformer, 1945-1964,” in 2006. All three editions are translations of Nikita Khrushchev’s work and were edited by Sergei Khrushchev as a joint effort between the Watson Institute and the Pennsylvania State University Press.

The panelists shared their own personal stories about Khrushchev, the Cold War and Russian history and legacy. Susan Eisenhower explained the relationship she witnessed – and has since discovered – between her grandfather and Khrushchev.

“They had a sense of affinity for each other – the fact that someone who was an adversary to the U.S. was at our family farm and had given us presents was quite something,” she said, adding that after Khrushchev left that day, her mother immediately told her to take off the pin and not talk to anyone about it.

“Their personal relationship was very important. All the crisis during this tense time could have blossomed into something bigger,” she said.

Eisenhower continued to discuss the influence of the 1950s and how relevant it is today.

“Nothing gave me greater satisfaction than seeing the Eisenhower administration calming the public down,” she said, going on to describe the international peace efforts of the 1950s, in particular. “I’m not sure when it stopped being the government’s job to calm and support its people,” she said.

Sergei Khrushchev began his talk by joking that while Susan had not saved her red star, he had saved his “I like Ike” pin. He then focused on his father’s role in Russia and how the elder Khrushchev is perceived by the world today.

“His most important task was to make a better life for our own people – and he truly believed that our political system would make life better,” Khrushchev said, discussing the housing reforms his father implemented – during which Shlapentokh interrupted to exclaim, “They were great apartments!” The improved lifespan of Russians during this time period was significant as well, he said.

“He realized early on that the U.S. was much more powerful than we were and that we should focus on what we really need – so he tried to reduce arms spending and wasting resources,” he said.

Sergei Khrushchev and Shlapentokh said they believe this to be part of the reason Khrushchev is unpopular or ignored by people and history.

“In books about the time period, his name is not even mentioned – just called ‘the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union,’ ” Khrushchev said.

Despite the serious content of all the panelists’ remarks, the symposium maintained a light atmosphere. Both Eisenhower and Khrushchev commented that they had seen a lot of each other lately because of the many recent Cold War commemoration events.

“All these events have strong personal ties for us,” Eisenhower said. “But looking back on them so often in these forums reminds me how relevant they are to understanding how the world is today.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*