Voices From Russia — Dr Sergei Tarasov
Voices From Russia — Dr Sergei Tarasov
Editor’s note. This interview is taken from the book: ‘Voices From Russia: Witnesses to Change, 1970-2000.’ Interviews were conducted by John Harrison. The book consists of 11 interviews with Russians and 11 with foreigners who lived in the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation during some or all of this period. The book is an attempt to document what actually happened during this crucial part of recent Russian history. Interviewees share their thoughts and experiences about what happened to them during this tumultuous period of recent Russian history. Read together, the interviews create a collage of experiences and understandings; a view of history in the first person. Some of the interviews are challenging, even horrific, others humorous, but all are genuine. The book can be bought as an ebook or paperback on Amazon: link.
Chapter 1. Dr. Sergei Tarasov
Interview conducted October 2018
Dr. Sergei Tarasov was one of the Soviet Union’s leading computer engineers and provides a glimpse into the world of the Soviet engineering elite, busy developing supercomputers in the middle of the Cold War. Sergei was born into a military family and relocated, as military families are, several times during his childhood. He describes his perception of the Cuban Missile Crisis and other international incidents, and talks, amongst many things, about how Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party 1953-1964, used PR on an international scale, and how this guided, to a certain extent, Soviet foreign policy.
You were brought up in a Soviet military family. What are your earliest memories about the world outside the Soviet Union?
My father was a military officer, and like many military officers, he had to travel extensively. I was born in Moscow, and after that we moved to different places, and the places I remember most of all are Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, and Kalinin, which is now called Tver. I remember from early childhood, when Khrushchev returned or went to the States through Vladivostok. We had to stand by the side of the road to greet him as he was passing through, and I have a photo of people who took their children to watch – and I am among them – just to see the return from the first visit of a Soviet leader to the United States.
As far as I can remember, those trips took place in 1957, and I have the famous book, Face to Face with America. It came out in 1959. It has a great collection of pictures and was written by an established journalist. The book was extremely popular, with a print run of 250,000. So if you are asking about my first impressions of the foreign world, first of all, I do remember the Khrushchev’s entourage, a procession of big cars, and that book which appeared at about the time when I started to read.
The book contains recollections of the journalist’s descriptions of the trip. There is a final section in the book with letters from Soviet people written before the visit, letters from foreigners during the visit, and then letters from Americans and Soviets after the visit. From prostikh (ordinary) Americans. It’s really a very good collection of descriptions, and very accurate descriptions of America. Definitely the journalists presented it in a certain prescribed way, but at the same time it differed from other propaganda works in its originality of content.
The second most memorable moment for me was when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember we were watching TV, I was jumping on the sofa, and suddenly they announced that Kennedy had been shot. He was liked by Russians thanks to Jacqueline, because she was a beautiful lady. We were depressed and shocked by the fact that the President could be killed in such a stupid way. During one of my first trips to the United States, I decided to go to Dallas, to Dealey Plaza, just to see the place where it all happened. I had Russian friends in Dallas, who had lived there for at least five years, and they had never been there. I remember that I analysed that story because it was so complicated. I have a collection of documentaries about who killed Kennedy, the Harvey Oswald story, and the story of Jack Ruby who killed Oswald, and actually there seem to be all sorts of holes in these stories.
My father was responsible for the radar systems that covered the eastern part of Russia. The assassination of Kennedy was a watershed moment, but before that, I remember my father came in a bit nervous one day, and I asked him what was wrong. It was 1 May 1960. He asked us to turn on the TV, because he had received information that an American U2 plane had been shot down near Yekaterinburg. By the way, three years ago, I decided to go to Yekaterinburg just to find out something related to that story as well. At first America announced that there was a crash, and that the pilot had disappeared. Then we took parts of that plane, which clearly showed that it was a spy plane, to a public place, to Manezh or to Gorky Park in Moscow, and Khrushchev arranged a press conference. For me, this was all an indication that something was very wrong, that Americans were spying and using very sophisticated technology to get information about the Soviet Union.
So I saw America very negatively. Again, because Khrushchev was a master of marketing, he created a show out of this, where he showed America lying to its own people, and that pilot fell right into Khrushchev’s scheme. Powers should have killed himself, because as far as I know, he wasn’t supposed to leave the plane alive, he blocked the destruct system.
I remember our feelings about America, because America was a country that was given special attention. We were not very interested in Europe at that time, and because of that book by Khrushchev, America was considered to be some kind of a special country, compared to Europe. Some European countries were even considered to be friendly, especially France. All the French songs and the publications about France were very positive at that time. There weren’t very many publications about Britain, but there was a lot of information about Europe. There seemed to be an attempt to differentiate West Germany and France. France was seen as friendly, Western Germany was another story, because exactly at that time, the battle for Berlin (the building of the Wall) was going on.
What sources of information did you have?
Definitely, there was TV, we got a lot of information from that, and we read newspapers. But we read them in a very specific way. Normally we ignored the first few pages, that was something that we started doing from early childhood. We were taught to read newspapers from the back page first. I was brought up on Pravda, Izvestia, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and everything related to engineering. There were a lot of specialist interest magazines for children; every day a few newspapers arrived in our post box and I remember I read children’s books at first and then the last pages of all those newspapers. We were not interested in politics at all.
We had a lot of magazines about America. There was the Amerika magazine and that was very professional. Britain published its own magazine in smaller form, called Anglia but it wasn’t that popular. I remember as a child you could buy Anglia in ordinary kiosks, not in Moscow. By that time, we lived in Kalinin, and it cost, like everything by that time – next to nothing. Anglia was much more conservative, and I remember thinking that Amerika was entertaining, and Anglia was like something from the 19th century. Amerika was published by Americans. There was an agreement as far as I understand signed by Khrushchev that the Soviet Union would publish a magazine called something like The USSR in English, for distribution in the States, and in exchange Amerika was published in Russia and distributed through standard distribution networks in Russia. The information about the number of copies that were printed was transparent, it was in the interest of the Americans to increase it, and obviously Russia wished to decrease the number of copies. I couldn’t say that it was as easy to buy Amerika magazine as it was to buy copies of Pravda, but there were places where you could buy it, and they were quite interesting, especially the early ones.
Figure 1. Copies of ‘Amerika’ magazine.
Did they have an impact?
Yes, compared to our magazine Ogonyok for example. There were standard Soviet magazines, they were quite boring, and again, you had to start reading from the back page. Amerika was an exception, we read it from cover to cover. There were a few Soviet magazines dedicated to life abroad; there was the magazine Inostrannaya Literatura, that had a huge circulation, I think something like a million. Every family subscribed to it because they published pretty prominent literature by quite prominent writers. There was virtually no limitation on content, and we were reading everything. That was a window to the world.
Did you meet any foreigners during your childhood?
There were no foreigners in my life in my childhood, apart from the foreigners who studied at the military academy where my father worked. These were people from Vietnam, Cuba, from those countries. I remember meeting foreign military people in funny clothes when I went to my father’s office. All of them spoke Russian and they were all very friendly. By that time the Vietnam war had started, and we were not very well informed about what was going on there, nor did we have very much information about what was happening during the Cuban Missile Crisis later on. That happened when I was a student in Vladivostok. Now when I read about it, I can see that it was a real crisis, and at times we came very close to war. But at that time, in the Soviet Union, we didn’t really feel that. We were less informed and much less afraid than people were in The West. We were not given many details in the official press, and by the way, that was the reason that much later on I went to Vietnam and Cuba several times to find out for myself. I have a collection of virtually all the documentaries that have been made about these subjects.
For me, as a child, life was absolutely positive; I didn’t see any problems, I was very demanding, and I got more or less whatever I wanted, that was a very positive period for me. Even when Khrushchev had to leave his position, when there was a shortage of certain products – and I remember the queues in the shops, which was something new – it was not a great problem because that was the time when people had very positive mindsets. People really believed that in just 20 years, there will be only communism. When I read about dissidents later, about real problems, I was amazed, because at the time I felt no reason to be afraid, about anything. For me, it was a really amazing period of my life, despite the Cuba Missile Crisis and other threats.
So people were simply involved in their lives and what was going on in other countries, the international political situation was important but not that important?
People were actually much more interested in the Cosmos than in life in the UK or America, Cuba and everywhere else put together. We were utterly thrilled when the satellite pictures came through and we saw Gagarin in space. We were not talking about competition between America and Russia. I had no idea that we were using military rockets; they just put another engine in them. Only later on, when I started to study military rockets, I saw at VDNKhthat the Vostok rockets were exactly the same as military ballistic missile carriers. As a child, I had no idea that this was part of a military programme, and that it was in fact just a marketing opportunity taken by Khrushchev. He created such sensational news from what was in fact a military project. He was a master at making that kind of propaganda. During his visit to America, he took a puppy from the dog that was in space and gave it to the American president.
By the 1970s, we in The West had pretty entrenched stereotypes about Soviets being the nasty evil people behind the Korean and Vietnam wars. Very popular films like the James Bond series, and others that dealt with the Soviets endorsed the stereotypes that they were the master minds, the evil geniuses who were striving for world domination through communism. Did you have a similar anti-Anglo-American thing going on?
My impression in retrospect is that American media presented the Soviet Union in a negative way, and they presented Russians as stupid, aggressive, evasive and all that stuff. There were a lot of movies, and the James Bond series was just one of them. It’s a mild example, and a very positive, romantic example. It’s a masterpiece. In ordinary movies, Russians were shown as aggressive, wishing to conquer other countries and all this stuff. But in not one Soviet movie of the 1960s did you find a direct indication that America is aggressive, is a threat, and we should not consider them to be friends. It was an asymmetrical relationship. The spy movies are good examples. Some were concerned with spying against the Soviet Union, they never showed that the spies were Americans, they were from ‘some country.’ They were dressed differently, but the country was never shown. America was never pointed out as being a major threat. Americans were never presented as being aggressive people. Even during the war in Vietnam, when the American version was that it was Russia that wanted to extend the communist world. I was really shocked when I found out, much later, that the American people thought that the Vietnam war started when some torpedoes attacked American ships. Those torpedoes came from Vietnamese boats and, one can’t really see how it is possible that Russian boats torpedoed American warships. But that was the American official version.
But when you look at the anti-western posters in the museums of Soviet Art, you see a kind of stereotypical western capitalist, the evil American capitalist exploiter with a top hat on.
They could have been American, Japanese, anybody… Actually in 1957 foreigners first arrived in the Soviet Union in large numbers, during The Festival of Youth and Students. The mindset of the time, thanks to Khrushchev, was openness and friendliness. There was a term called Ottepel (the ‘Thaw’) that was used. It affected everything. That created positive feelings, and that actually started before the Ottepel, but The Festival of Youth and Students was like a turning point, so we could cooperate.
So the direct attack against The West had quietened down by the 1960s? That wasn’t the way it seemed to us.
Thanks to Khrushchev, and the Ottepel, yes. There was a feeling that we should be friends with other countries. There was a feeling that we had a number of countries, that we didn’t need new countries, that we will never attack let’s say Europe, we had no reason to do so, we have to be friends. I remember that the Italian communist party and the French communist party were really popular then, and that’s an example of friends in those countries. So if they are not affecting us, we did not wish to add any more territory to the Soviet Bloc. Those situations in Korea and Vietnam were exceptions, because to my mind, they were modulated by China, and at that time relationships between Russian and China were bad. To my mind, it wasn’t the idea to expand territory but to defend it, certainly in Vietnam I don’t know that much about the Korean war, but in Vietnam, it was defence because honestly, for the Vietnamese, it didn’t really matter who was in power, the important thing was – “Don’t touch us. We would like to live our own lives please.”
You are saying that in the 1960s basically you had respect for other countries?
Yes, much more respect than now because all those wars were not against the peoples in those countries, even in the battle for the Cosmos, yes, it was important to be ahead of the Americans, and that created huge technological progress inside the country. I am an example of somebody who received an education because of that. But those battles were not against the American people per se.
In the 1970s, we had a situation in The West where we were, on a cultural level, pretty active in promotion of our way of life through literature, films, fashion. Did it work in your opinion?
Here I have to mention that in 1970 I entered the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. That was a top-level institution which gave me, I would say, a brilliant general scientific education. That institute is not in Moscow but in Dolgoprudny, which is on the Northern suburbs of Moscow. Foreigners were not allowed to be there. I worked for my first degree from 1970 to 1976 and then I entered a post graduate course for three more years. I and my friends had no interest in anything other than science, especially during the first years when the courses were very tough, we were under a lot of pressure to learn a lot. We simply were not interested in what was going on in The West, and what was going on in politics, who is in charge of the communist party and so on. We had TV, but there was nothing on it we were interested in, it was pure bullshit! By that time, I had stopped reading newspapers by the way, because they were also bullshit, and I moved from scientific and technical magazines for children to real scientific and technical magazines. We had access to all the science and technical magazines that were published abroad, there were special libraries and special departments, where you could immediately get access to the publication you wished for, on any subject, and this was without the internet. And that was an important aspect of our studies; we were interested in technologies, and we were looking at foreign technologies carefully.
When Sakharov started to make certain statements, we were very surprised. Sakharov worked in the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences. After finishing my studies, I worked in the Institute of Computer Engineering. These two buildings were near each other on Leninsky Prospect. We didn’t discuss politics, apart from telling each other anecdotes. That was the time when anecdotes flourished, we had hundreds about Brezhnev for example. But that was all secondary to me; I was less interested in what was going on in the world compared to when I was a child, because science and the world of science took up all of my time. It was the major priority, well above all other interests.
I guess that takes us up to the late-middle 1970s, and my next question is: If you had any stereotypes about Americans, about westerners, maybe you didn’t, but if you did, how did they match up to real life when you met foreigners?
Foreigners were to us quite exotic people, at least at first. I met very few of them before the late 1970s, first of all because we were not supposed to communicate with them as we had signed certain documents. But there were occasions when we communicated with them in the 1970s. Those first foreigners that I met were people who needed someone who spoke English, they simply needed to understand what was happening around them. That was the time when first of all, we were actively listening to music, everything related to The Beatles, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, and all those groups immediately appeared on our tape recorders. And that was of real value. To have some new music of good quality – that was very attractive. So we got to understand a little about who foreigners were from the music we listened to. There were also films. Starting from the 1960s, the number of foreign movies that were shown in Soviet cinemas was quite substantial. They actually showed very good movies, even from America. Later I studied the history of the cinema, and I came to the conclusion that they really gave us an opportunity to see the best movies in the world. It is difficult to believe, but there were very few restrictions.
This is the late seventies?
Even in the sixties. The most interesting films that I remember from my childhood were foreign. Movies were some kind of a window to the outside world. Those movies were not shown on TV but in cinemas. I remember that a fellow student bought a TV. We decided to make use of that TV for a scientific experiment. We took it onto the roof of our hostel. We advertised around the hostel that a scientific experiment was going to be held, to see what would damage would happen to it if it was dropped off the roof, like some kind of unsuccessful landing of a satellite. That was some kind of fun and shows our attitude to what was on TV at the time.
We had the impression that the 1970s and 1980s in Russia were really heavily controlled. You have said that you could buy ‘Amerika’, but could you buy Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova, or Brodsky?
In the 1970s, if there was something you couldn’t buy that meant that it was something you should read. So when Solzhenitsyn published his first story, I think A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Khrushchev decided to publish it. That is an extremely well-written story. It is a short story, but it is well done, an extremely good piece of art. It’s just one day, starting in the morning and ends with the words, ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.’ Solzhenitsyn became famous abroad, and when that happened, he became famous in Russia. You couldn’t buy his books officially, but you could get them. People went abroad and came back and brought them back with them. The fact that they were forbidden made them more popular.
Dr Zhivago was forbidden. I saw the American film of the book. It was absolutely stupid. Omar Sharif starred, and he received an Oscar for his performance. It is full of bullshit. When I saw the life of a person in Siberia, living in an American-style house. When they showed demonstrators of people holding slogans against the Soviet Union, they didn’t bother to check what the slogans were, it was ridiculous.
How difficult was it to get hold of these books?
I can’t say that it was difficult. First of all, some books like Bulgakov’s Master and Margerita were printed but only in small print runs, relative to demand. There was a place, Izmailovsky Park in Moscow, where every weekend you could see a number of intelligent-looking people carrying suitcases. They sat down on the benches, and opened their cases. You would sit close to one of them and you could buy a whole range of books. I still have my copy of Master and Margerita, which I bought for 65 roubles, here it is, it was printed in 1973. This is a good book, a good investment. There was another place, in Begovaya, that was where you could buy copies of Western popular music. The price was 60-100 roubles for tapes.
But that was a lot on those days when people only earned 100 or 120 roubles a month.
Yes, they were expensive. I got a students’ stipend of 60 roubles a month, but at the same time I received about half of the salary of an engineer, another 60 roubles, so being a student at that university I earned as much or more than an ordinary engineer already. At the same time, I didn’t need to be at the Institute all the time, so I had enough time to do a lot of things. I couldn’t say that my life was all bread and water, if you were not lazy you could earn money.
Did the words of the songs you heard affect you?
The meaning of the songs was not of great interest to us, but we did utilise them to study English. We were forced to study written English. I remember reading English books and then Russian books. That was our approach, it resulted in very poor spoken English and very good reading abilities. We were interested, though, in the music itself. It was new, it was how it was created. That was something that was missing in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union produced classical music, produced very good movies by the way, for Russians in Russian, and absolutely stupid Soviet music. Soviet music was like Soviet TV – awful. That was a big mistake of the Soviet leaders I would say, they invested money in films because they thought it was direct propaganda, and the best movies appeared at that time. All Soviet popular music was doing was adapting some melodies and standards that were established in the UK and France and in the States, but to my mind, when it came to influencing people’s minds, music was one of the most important things. Having access to foreign music was, for intelligent people, of really high importance. It was much more important than say food; we didn’t have many restaurants then.
When you started working, did you go abroad?
Yes, that was in 1983. I went to France to represent the Soviet Union at a technology conference. It wasn’t that easy getting permission to go, finally they decided that I should be accompanied by our boss. It cost twice as much money, but they didn’t want me to go there alone. For me it was a fantastic experience, and I gave a presentation on the opening day at the Palais de Congrès, after the Olympic Games in Grenoble. I had to make that speech in English. I remember I was introduced as, “Dr Sergei Tarasov, Head of Computing Laboratory, Academy of Sciences of the USSR,” it was quite nerve-racking. I had no idea why they put me on the list of speakers during that three-day conference with 100 delegates. Just because I was from the Soviet Union I suppose. For them it was really interesting to see somebody working on computers from the Soviet Union. There were questions, because we were working on 64-bit computer systems with 16 core processors. Each processor was quite large. It had water cooling, just like now; the most professional systems are using water cooling. It was terribly expensive.
I was proud that they understood what I was doing, second that they asked me questions. I had not spoken at any conferences before where foreigners had participated, that was probably the largest scientific conference where I made a technical speech, to a business and scientific audience. When it came to France itself, I visited the museum of the Impressionists. I came to the conclusion that the Hermitage and the Pushkin Museum had better impressionist paintings.
What was interesting for me was to visit offices and see people at work; I saw how different the working environment was, and how the open plan style affected the way people work. This was new for me. That was the strongest impression, also I was able to meet with superstars of the computing world. To me, they were like Newton and Copernicus, and it was amazing for me to find out, after talking to them, that they were normal people. Actually, meeting them even destroyed my faith in them and the publications they were published in a little bit, because suddenly I realised that I knew a little bit more about computers than they did. What was going on the UK and France at the time was not ahead of what we were doing. There was a company – ICL, which was very advanced but even they didn’t have enough funds at the time to produce those systems. I was amazed that there seemed to be a general disbelief that the Soviet Union was creating supercomputers at that time which were more advanced than what they were doing. Probably they thought that the reason we were using water cooling systems was because our technology was primitive or something like that. When I left, I thought it would be the last time I would be able to visit France. Little did I know that I would go back about 20 times in the future!
The most useful part of my first trip to France was finding out that in France they do not speak English. My second language was French, but for some reason I was sure that computer in French is computer but it’s not, it’s ordinateur.
So your first trip abroad didn’t make you want to defect to France?
No. Because I wasn’t really interested in France at the time. After I found out that French computer systems were not up to the same standard as our own, I lost interest. Surprisingly for me, I discovered that the way that they depicted France in our movies did not correspond to reality. There were good people, bad people, stupid people, clever people, and that was strange for me because I had a kind of image about how French people were from our films about the country. But in fact, I discovered that people were diverse. They dressed casually, and there was no vertical control as was so common in the Soviet Union and still exists in Russia. So that lack of the vertical, which means that in order to speak to somebody on the higher level you should task somebody from the lower level, was probably the most surprising and impressive thing. I was very impressed by the fact that people didn’t think they needed to get the permission of the boss’s secretary to be allowed to speak to their boss, like I did in Moscow.
At the same time, not at that time, but when I visited schools and institutes abroad especially institutes in the United States, I was very disappointed because on their second-year course at one prestigious university I gave a lecture at, they were studying things that we had learnt at school. The difference is, I realised, that Russians are good at acquiring knowledge, but they are bad at transferring their knowledge into skills and making money out of that knowledge. It’s still the case today.
Still, the lack of professionalism in France then was quite visible. I came to the conclusion that they were writing 10 articles a year just because they have to make 10 applications a year, for some grant or something. They are doing that for money. It’s another approach, which was different from ours. Unfortunately, I found that the substantial part of those papers that were in French scientific journals at that time were similar to Soviet speeches, they were produced for effect with little actual content.
That was the time when many dissidents stayed in The West, particularly in France. As for myself, I saw that the production technology in France was better than what we had, but our development of the project itself, that is the development of supercomputers was ahead of what was happening in France. That made me feel that we were doing something useful, and not just academically. At that time, I started to differentiate between scientists and engineers. Engineers use the knowledge of scientists, but there are not that many scientific inventions that change everything. There are a lot of cases of prejudice against people. For example, Anatoly Chubais (architect of privatisation), he is a person who is hated by the whole of Russia, but he is an extremely intelligent person.
What was the single one event that meant the most to you in the 1970s and 1980s?
One of the most important moments of my life was in 1988 when Gorbachev managed to mention my project in a speech, he made in 1987. That speech was published in all the newspapers, in Pravda, and Izvestia, and that was really something. It was a milestone in my career. After Gorbachev, life changed dramatically. That’s another story.
 The pilot was the American Gary Powers whose U2 plane, on a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union, was shot down near Sverdlovsk (Yekaterinburg today). Powers had been instructed to destroy his plane if it was about to crash land, something that but he did not manage or refused to do. The crash gave Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ((CPSU)) 1953-1964) an irresistible opportunity to criticise the US at the height of the Cold War. The Americans initially reported the incident as a loss of a civilian weather research aircraft operated by NASA, but were later forced to admit the plane’s true function when remains of the U2 were put on public display. Gary Powers was released from prison two years later in exchange for Soviet spy, Rudolph Abel.
 Manezh (built as horse/cavalry stables) is the name of the large building adjacent to the Kremlin.
 Gorky Park (Park Gorkogo) is a central park in Moscow, named after writer Maxim Gorky.
 Amerika was a Russian-language magazine published by the United States Department of State during the Cold War for distribution in the Soviet Union. The magazine has been described as ‘polite propaganda’ and featured high-quality photography and articles about everyday life in America. 454 issues were published.
 Anglia was produced by the British Foreign Office for distribution in the USSR from 1962 to 1992.
 ‘The USSR’ was a Soviet-produced monthly magazine published from 1950 to 1990 in 14 languages.
 These countries were often called ‘non-aligned,’ which refer to countries which were keen to avoid both US and Soviet dominance, such as Egypt, Indonesia and India.
 VDNKh; ‘The Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy,’ covered roughly 700,000 square meters (larger than the principality of Monaco), and was constructed during Stalin’s period in office in North Moscow. The complex was created to be a showcase for the achievements of the Soviet Union and contained pavilions representing particular industries or specialities(engineering, space, atomic energy, ‘the People’s education,’ Soviet culture, and many others). It was a place that schoolchildren were taken to see and where newly-wed couples posed.
 The Vostok rocket was a family of rockets derived from the Soviet R-7 ICBM and was designed for human spaceflight.
 The ‘6th World Festival of Youth and Students’ was opened on 28 July 1957, in Moscow. The festival attracted 34,000 people from 130 countries. This became possible after the political changes initiated by Nikita Khrushchev.
 The ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ refers to the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were relaxed, and millions of political prisoners were released from Gulag labour camps due to Nikita Khrushchev’s policies of de-Stalinization and ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ with other nations. The term was coined after Ilya Ehrenburg’s sensational 1954 novel The Thaw.