Saturday, June 5, 2021



Continuing a look at the events and people in Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire.

Each two lines represent a year.

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, "Rock Around the Clock"
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn's got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez

Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, "Peyton Place", trouble in the Suez


Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894 – 1971) was the leader of the Soviet Union as First Secretary of the Communist Party from 1953 to 1964 and as chairman of the country's Council of Ministers from 1958 to 1964.

Relevance to 1956:

In 1956 Nikita Kruschev (1894-1971) made his famous Secret Speech, in which he criticised the repressive actions of Stalin and the cult of personality. The speech was part of the “Kruschev Thaw”. Repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were relaxed, and millions of political prisoners were released from Gulag labour camps due to Khrushchev's policies of de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence with other nations. The term was coined after Ilya Ehrenburg's 1954 novel The Thaw, sensational for its time.

The Thaw initiated irreversible transformation of the entire Soviet society by opening up for some economic reforms and international trade, educational and cultural contacts, festivals, books by foreign authors, foreign movies, art shows, popular music, dances and new fashions, and massive involvement in international sport competitions. As the power struggle between pro-Khrushchevists and pro-Stalinists never stopped, it eventually weakened the Soviet Communist Party.

The Thaw allowed some freedom of information in the media, arts, and culture; international festivals; foreign films; uncensored books; and new forms of entertainment on the emerging national TV, ranging from massive parades and celebrations to popular music and variety shows, satire and comedies, and all-star shows. Such political and cultural updates altogether had a significant influence on the public consciousness of several generations of people in the Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev, who succeeded Khrushchev, put an end to the Thaw.

Some Kruschev comments:

  • On a visit to the US in 1959, Kruschev met Shirley Maclaine on set whilst she was filming Can Can and was hosted lunch by Frank Sinatra. However, his mood changed when he was barred from visiting Disneyland, ostensibly for security reasons.

“And I say, ‘I would very much like to go and see Disneyland.’ But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? …

“We have come to this town where lives the cream of American art. And just imagine, I a premier, a Soviet representative, when I came here to this city, I was given a plan — a program of what I was to be shown and whom I was to meet here. But just now I was told that I could not go to Disneyland. I asked: ‘Why not?’ What is it, do you have rocket-launching pads there?’ I do not know.

“And just listen — just listen to what I was told — to what reason I was told. We, which means the American authorities, cannot guarantee your security if you go there. What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken over the place that can destroy me? Then what must I do? Commit suicide? This is the situation I am in — your guest. For me the situation is inconceivable. I cannot find words to explain this to my people.”

  • Sinatra, who was seated next to Mrs. Khrushchev, leaned over to actor David Niven and said, “Tell the old broad you and I will take ’em down there this afternoon.” (A State Department official said later that Mrs. Khrushchev and her daughters were welcome to tour Disneyland, but that she decided to remain with her husband.)
  • Speaking of Mrs Kruschev, Nikita Kruschev was once asked what it would have meant if he had been shot instead of President Kennedy. He replied "The main difference for the history of the world if I had been shot rather than Kennedy is that Onassis probably wouldn't have married Mrs Krushchev."

  • The news of Kennedy’s assassination sent shockwaves across the entire world, including the Soviet Union. General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev was awakened by an aide with the words: “Kennedy’s been killed!” According to some accounts, the first thing he asked was: “Did we have anything to do with it?”
  • In the book Nikita Khrushchev: Reformer, the memoirs of the Soviet leader’s son, Sergey Khrushchev states that his father fell to his knees and sobbed over the killing.
  • During his rule, Khrushchev stunned the communist world with his denunciation of Stalin's crimes and his de-Stalinization. He sponsored the early Soviet space program, and enactment of relatively liberal reforms in domestic policy. After some false starts, and a narrowly avoided nuclear war over Cuba, he conducted successful negotiations with the United States to reduce Cold War tensions. His tendency toward recklessness led the Kremlin leadership to strip him from power, replacing him with Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary and Alexei Kosygin as Premier.

Khrushchev and his first wife Euphrasinia (Yefrosinia) in 1916

Khrushchev's second wife (though they were never officially married) was Ukrainian-born Nina Petrovna Kukharchuk, whom he met in 1922. (photo taken in 1924)

Khrushchev (second from right) poses for a propaganda photo alongside Soviet autocrat, Joseph Stalin, during the 1930s

Nikita Khrushchev posing in a Red Army uniform following the Soviets' entry into WW2

Khrushchev (left) on the Stalingrad Front

Nikita Khrushchev featured on the Nov. 1953 cover of TIME after rising to the prominent post of First Secretary of the Communist Party

Khrushchev (right) with cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin, Pavel Popovich and Valentina Tereshkova, 1963

Khrushchev with Vice President Richard Nixon, 1959

Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy, Vienna, June 1961

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