Nikita Khrushchev and His Shoe

This is a moment that always puzzled me–Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe at the UN General Assembly on October 13, 1960*. In a response to the Philippine delegate who said that the Soviet Union had ‘swallowed up and deprived [Eastern Europe] of political and civil rights’, the Romanian delegate began shouting at his Philippine colleague. In order to attract the attention of the chair, Khrushche took his shoe off and waved it.

Whether he eventually banged it on the desk was the matter of some debate. A New York Times correspondent reported that he did, while another insisted that he never banged his shoe. A KGB general remembered that Khrushchev banging it rhythmically, “like a metronome.” A UN staffer claimed that the shoe fell off earlier when Khrushchev was entering the Assembly and a journalist stepped on it; Khrushchev, not wishing to make a scene, didn’t put it back on. The staffer said she passed the shoe wrapped in a napkin back to Khrushchev. Viktor Sukhodrev, Khrushchev’s brilliant interpreter, remembered that Khurshchev pounded the UN desk so hard with his fists firstly that his watch stopped, at which point, he took off his shoe and used it. Sir Brian Urquhart, the future Under Secretary General, on the other hand wonders whether Khrushchev ”used one of his own shoes, borrowed one of [Foreign Minister] Gromyko’s, or kept an extra shoe in his briefcase for banging purposes.”

Khrushchev’s granddaughter Nina recounted a different story: Khrushchev removed his shoes because he was wearing new, tight shoes. When he started pounding the table, his watch fell off, and as he was picking it up, he noticed his shoes and used them. John Loengard of Life magazine who was in General Assembly, noted that although Khrushchev “did not bang his shoe on the desk,” but “he certainly meant to do so.” He grinned to delegates from the United Arab Republic who sat across the aisle and mimed (with an empty hand) that the next time he’d use the shoe to bang. I can assure you that every camera in the booth was trained on Khrushchev, waiting for him to use the shoe. He only put it on again and left. None of us missed the picture — which would have been a serious professional error. The event never occurred.”

Not to be outdone, the Internet had produced this fake photo of Khrushchev banging his shoe.

(Most confusingly, the incident was claimed to have also occurred during many occasions, such as Harold Macmillan’s address on 23 September 1960; arguments about Red China’s admission to the United Nations on 29 September and Russia’s invasion of Hungary on 4 October, 1956).

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