The other day I had the pleasure of speaking with Julian Nundy, a veteran journalist who was likely the last westerner to speak to Nikita Khrushchev before his death in 1971. You can watch the story here.
A life in the bylines
Nundy was in Moscow as a correspondent for Reuters, a job that later took him to cover the Lebanese civil war, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and Algeria to cover the release of hostages following the attack on OPEC headquarters in 1975. He would later move on to senior positions at Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, and the Independent, covering the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. But his story took him back to the beginning of his career, shortly after a degree in Russian studies and a year-long stint at Kiev State University in the USSR.
A life after the “end of history”
As someone who was born in 1985, I became aware of the Soviet Union through the history books. My first memories of the Russian-speaking world were of the debauched Boris Yeltsin embarrassing himself at an international conference. While I was raised amid the triumphalist euphoria that prompted Francis Fukuyama to ask if we had reached the end of history, Nundy was on the forefront of a protracted Cold War when nothing could be taken for granted, and the shadows of mutually assured destruction loomed large over all of society.
Even if recent events in Georgia and Ukraine signal a resurgent Russia and have triggered a faceoff between Moscow and Washington, the world has changed forever, moving towards a multipolar balance of power. I cannot fully understand the low-boil existential anxiety that must have marked that period, occasionally rising as the two superpowers confronted directly or indirectly.
This is why it was a true pleasure to be able to talk to Nundy, who lived in the thick of the action and was able to meet a Soviet leader responsible for many of the reforms following Stalin’s death, before he was deposed as First Secretary. Finishing our interview, I had so many more questions: what was life like in Moscow for a Western journalist? how did the totalitarian authorities attempt to limit your movement and communication? how had things changed as when you returned years later? I hope I will be able to talk to Nundy again to find out more about the Soviet Union, and his travels to other parts of the world, like Algeria or Beirut, that have gone through many extraordinary changes. This interview left me with a better understanding of history, but it also many more questions burning in my mind.
In the meantime I will sit down with a book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an author that was briefly mentioned in our interview. After the interview Nundy recommended reading Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 book, which Khrushchev allowed to be published despite its criticisms of Stalin and the brutal Gulag system. This is what I love about Tell History; it’s not just about sharing an interesting story. When you take the time to sit down with a person who has led an interesting life, you inevitably go beyond the story and broaden the world you live in. You can’t help this from happening, and it is thrilling to experience as your natural curiosity takes over.
If you have a story about life during the Cold War, we would love to hear it. You can do your own interview and submit it to us here. If you have a story yourself, write us here and we can set up an quick and painless interview.