On October 12, 1960, then-leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, removed his shoe and used it to pound a table in protest of a speech critical of Soviet policy in Eastern Europe. The incident is believed to have occurred in the middle of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Though widely popularized and almost a legend, this incident doesn’t have any documented proof, other than scattered testimonies by many people who claim to have witnessed it. It is very likely, however, that such scandalous facts have added to Khrushchev’s biography, as the leader was always known for his extraordinary actions and love for genuine, but untranslatable statements, which always made their way into history.
The most popular version suggests that Khrushchev delivered his planned speech, fervent as they always were, denouncing colonial tendencies in the world and criticizing colonists. After Khrushchev, the floor was taken by the representative of the Philippines, who charged the Soviets with employing a double standard, pointing to their domination of Eastern Europe as an example of the colonialism they were criticizing in their resolution.
Listening to the translation of such insolent speech, Khrushchev literally exploded. He wanted to take the floor to respond to what the Philippine delegate had said. As Khrushchev’s personal translator, Victor Sukhodrev recalls, “Khrushchev had a habit of taking his watch off and meddling with it. In the UN, he took it off and started to drum his fists on the table, protesting against the speech from the Philippine delegate. In his hand was the watch that had merely stopped. Then Khrushchev, infuriated, took the boot off his foot, or rather, it was a wicker summer sandal, and started to pound the table with it.” This moment made its way to history as the famous “Khrushchev’s boot”. The UN General Assembly had never before, and never again, witnessed anything of the kind.
The chaotic scene finally ended when General Assembly President Frederick Boland broke his gavel calling the meeting back to order, but the image of Khrushchev as a hotheaded buffoon was indelibly etched into America's memory, as the picture of Khrushchev with a boot in his hand appeared in the “New York Times” captioned, “Russia is once again threatening the world, this time – with its leader’s boot.”
Khrushchev’s son called the picture a falsification, as he claimed to have been present at the legendary meeting and had his own version, “At some point father was caught by the journalists in a circle, someone stepped on his foot and his boot dropped off. He was a big man and didn’t want to bend down to put it back on. Instead, he just sat it down on the table next to him. At some point he wanted to get a word into the debate. He started to wave his hand, with the boot in it. That’s all.”
As the years went by new versions emerged, as the details and even dates of the event varied greatly. One version says that Khrushchev threw a tantrum during a UN session that occurred on September 23, 1960; another suggests that he lost his temper discussing the admission of China into the UN on September 29; according to the third version, the issue of the Soviet presence in Hungary infuriated him on October 4, 1956, or it could have been the plausible transfer of the UN headquarters that made him so angry.
Still, it is questionable whether the incident was true or not, but it remains one of the most extraordinary facts Khrushchev is remembered by.