Soviet leader sent wine to diplomat after UN incident

The UN general assembly of 1960 was one of the most contentious of the Cold War but the chairman of the session was afterwards sent a case of wine by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev by way of an apology.

Nikita Khrushchev at another meeting of the UN

The story is revealed in a slew of diplomatic papers from 1957-1961 being released from Dublin’s archives this week.

The diplomat in question was Frederick Bolan, who noted the incident and the gesture in a report to his chiefs afterwards.

Boland was Ireland’s first ambassador to the UN and was chairing the session when Khrushchev and the leader of the Philippine delegation, Lorenzo Sumulong got into a heated argument that has gone down in diplomatic history as the ‘shoe-banging incident’.

Sumulong was taking the Soviet leader to task for Russian oppression in Eastern Europe, whereupon Khrushchev rushed up to the podium, angrily gestured him to one side and embarked upon a furious rant, during which he called Sumulong a, “jerk, a stooge and a lackey” and a, “toady of American imperialism”.

Khrushchev was seen wielding one of his shoes at one point after he returned to his seat and may even (it is disputed) have banged it on the desk as Sumulong resumed his discourse.

Just as things settled down the Romanian minister accused Boland of not defending Khrushchev. So vitriolic did he become that his microphone was switched off, which caused further uproar and Boland ended up breaking a gavel in an attempt to maintain order.

The whole incident was seen as hugely embarrassing for the Soviets and especially for Khrushchev who looked like he was not entirely in control – of himself, let alone a nuclear-armed country.

But after leaving the UN, Khrushchev dispatched a Russian diplomat to the Irish embassy with a note of apology and also to say, contrary to the Romanian complaint, that he was “well satisfied” with Boland’s objectivity as chairman.

“That evening,” Boland noted, “a case of Russian wine was delivered at 1 East End Avenue with his compliments!”

Commenting on the Soviet Leader (tasting notes on the wine apparently not having been taken), Boland wrote: “Although I saw a good deal of him and had many talks with him, K is to me a complete enigma. He is the personification of elemental violence. Moreover, like Hitler, he is power-drunk and a doctrinaire. These dangerous qualities are tempered in his case, however, by an extraordinarily sharp intelligence, a keen sense of humour and, I would say, a good deal of plain humanity. He doesn’t carry his official resentments into his personal relations.”

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