I am like a newborn," Sergei Khrushchev said one day last July as he emerged from the Bishop McVinney Auditorium in Providence. A few minutes earlier, he had stood with 245 other men and women ≠ including his wife, Valentina Golenko ≠ holding a tiny American flag in his hand and reciting his first Pledge of Allegiance as a U.S. citizen. One friend commented that the symbolism was as if John F. Kennedy Jr. í83 had decided to become a Russian.
To most observers, the journey from the Soviet Union to the United States seemed like a long one for this son of former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. But not to Sergei, who came to the United States in 1991 to accept a visiting scholar post at the Watson Institute for International Studies and then simply decided to make Brown his home. (He is now a senior fellow at the institute.)
In fact, he says, the similarities between the Soviet Union and the United States were rather striking to him at first. Growing up in the Soviet Union, he shared the prevailing fear that the United States would jump on any sign of national weakness to crush the Soviet people. Later, after Khrushchev had moved to New England, he was amazed at how similar the attitude of Americans had been toward the Soviet Union. ďIn fact,Ē he wrote in last Octoberís American Heritage magazine, ďeach Cold War power came very close to seizing the other by the throat in a fit of righteous indignation.Ē
For Khrushchev, becoming a citizen was accompanied by the fast-moving media frenzy that seems a peculiarly American phenomenon. It startled him. To Khrushchev, the step was a purely personal and practical matter that made it easier for him and his wife to live in their ranch house in Cranston, Rhode Island, and to travel back and forth to Moscow, where the coupleís three children and three grandchildren live. In his office one day last fall, he agreed to reflect on that first Pledge of Allegiance and the reaction to it. His newest book, Nikita Khrushchev: Creation of a Superpower will be published this spring by Pennsylvania State University Press.
Could you explain why you think your decision to become a U.S.
citizen is not as important as Americans seem to have found it?
What was your reaction to all the press interest in your becoming
a U.S. citizen?
Stalinís daughter, she defected here [during the Cold War]. My case was a clear signal that the Cold War is over, because I came here, not defecting, not running away from somebody else. I was invited to the institute, and I applied for the citizenship after working here for seven years. It really shows that we have no problem in the communication between countries. Before, you could live here or there only if youíre Russian or American. Now, itís only a question of buying a ticket.
Why do you think the reporters were so interested?
Second, I think maybe itís the press creating the case and the event. And all these things took place during the summer. When I asked one of the journalists, he said ďItís no big events now.Ē So maybe [there were] no big events they can cover.
Why did their reaction surprise you?
How disruptive was the press reaction to your life?
From whom have you received the oddest responses to your decision?
What kind of a reaction did you get from the non-U.S. press?
Do you see any parallels between reactions to your decision and
the response to the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., whose father
was so linked to yours?
Did his death affect you?
How did your children, grandchildren, and other relatives in Russia
react to your becoming a U.S. citizen?
Have you asked your children to come to America, or have they
asked you to return to Russia?
There was no such practical discussion. In this country, if you come here without idea of what youíre expecting to do, itís very difficult to find some job. They have their position in Russia, so Iím not trying to bring them here. Sometimes Iím worried about them, because itís a very chaotic situation in Russia, and something might happen. But they prefer to be there. And for the same reason, they did not ask me to come back, because Iím working here; Iím happy here. Why I should have to go back?
Are you going to register to vote? Do you have a preference for
any particular presidential candidate?
Anthropology concentrator Shannon Tan is a news editor at the Brown Daily Herald and a former BAM intern.