Yesterday, Yalies who may have been turned away from John Gaddis’ oversubscribed Cold War class had a chance to hear about the conflict from the son of one of its most crucial players.
Sergei Khrushchev, son of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, captivated students at a packed Branford Master’s Tea yesterday with stories about his father’s role in the Cuban missile crisis, his own childhood and the problems facing Russia today.
Khrushchev began by delineating a brief history of the succession of leaders in Russia, explaining that with Leonid Brezhnev ended “the reform that had started through the 60s and died with my father.”
The words “my father” resonated throughout Khrushchev’s talk — but Khrushchev also struck lighter notes, and elicited laughter when he described the latter part of Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s term.
“Yeltsin could not move, quite literally,” Khrushchev said. “He could not talk, could not really walk, couldn’t even drink.”
Khrushchev said Russians needed a new leader they could believe in, and through a compromise in the upper ranks of the party, they decided that Putin was the man for the job.
“Now, why was Putin elected?” Khrushchev asked rhetorically. “When electing the American president, people want to find out everything they can about him. Not so in Russia. There they don’t want to know anything. Because if you know something about the man, you cannot expect the miracle. And a miracle was what everybody wanted.
“Besides,” Khrushchev added, “unlike Yeltsin, when [Putin] talked, you could understand what he was saying.”
Many students who came to the tea were there for what Andrew Hamilton ’05 described as “the inside story.”
“You can ask anyone about a particular situation [in Russia] or what’s going to happen there in the future, but he has a specific connection,” Lisa Siciliano ’05 said.
In response to a student’s question about his impressions of the Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev pinpointed what he saw as the fundamental dividing point between the way the Americans and the Russians reacted to the situation.
“The Americans had food stored up in their basements and, if war broke out, they had all these elaborate plans for where they would hide out for shelter,” Khrushchev said. “In the peak of the crisis, there was no such feeling [in Russia] because we knew that if war started there would be no place to go to be safe.”
One student asked Khrushchev what it was like to live as the son of the “most important man in Russia.”
Khrushchev said for the most part he lived a fairly normal childhood. His parents were fairly strict about telling him he “mustn’t do this and mustn’t do that,” and warned him that if he smoked or drank, he would end up “like Stalin’s son.”
He went to a normal high school and got average grades, he said, but found out later that his mom had told his teachers to give him mediocre grades because she wanted him to work hard.
“And all the time, I was suffering with B and C, B and C,” Khrushchev laughed.
In inviting Khrushchev to come speak, Branford Master Steven Smith said he was hoping to “give people a brush with history.”
“I’ve had a slight background [in Russian history],” Lauren Burke ’05 said, “and it’s amazing to come hear someone who was part of it.”