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Soviet Paper Details 1953 Arrest of Beria

February 25, 1988|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A Soviet newspaper Wednesday published the first account to appear in public here on how the late Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev ordered the arrest of Josef Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenti P. Beria.

An article in the weekly Literary Gazette quoted Khrushchev's account of the dramatic 1953 downfall of Beria, Stalin's heir-apparent, who was later shot.

The details have long been known in the West, but the Soviet press and history texts have said nothing about this turning point in the country's history.

Once the ruthless Beria was executed in December, 1953, after a secret six-day trial before a special supreme court commission, the way was open for Khrushchev to become the Soviet leader. Khrushchev, who later led a de-Stalinization campaign in which millions of victims were released from prisons and labor camps, remained Soviet leader until his ouster in 1964. He died, a virtual non-person, in 1971.

Danced at Stalin's Dacha

The Literary Gazette article, written by former Khrushchev speech writer Fyodor Burlatsky, notes that "for 20 years, even Khrushchev's name was taboo." Burlatsky portrays Khrushchev as a complicated figure who once literally danced for Stalin at the dictator's dacha , yet was bold enough to organize the removal of the hated Beria from the Kremlin's top ranks.

Burlatsky describes Khrushchev as a moderate who favored less Draconian economic policies, more democratic methods and less isolation from the outside world.

But he says Khrushchev also felt guilty because of his personal role in persecutions in the Ukraine and in Moscow, where he was city party leader. For that reason, he said, Khrushchev was never able to expose all of Stalin's crimes.

Burlatsky quotes Khrushchev as saying that he and Anastas I. Mikoyan, then a senior member of the Politburo, discussed Beria at Stalin's dacha on the day in 1953 when Stalin died.

He quotes Khrushchev as saying: "Mikoyan told me, 'Beria has gone to Moscow to seize power.' I told him, 'As long as this scum (Beria) sits in his place, no one of us can feel safe.' "

Burlatsky says Khrushchev paid visits to other Politburo members, including then-Premier Georgy M. Malenkov, known to be a friend of Beria's. He says Khrushchev told Malenkov: "While he holds the security organs in his hands, our hands are completely tied."

Burlatsky says that Khrushchev later told him about Malenkov: "He stepped over his personal friendship with Lavrenti (Beria). Probably he himself was afraid of his friend. . . . By the end of the conversation he said, 'You're right; we can't avoid that (the removal of Beria).' "

Burlatsky says Khrushchev told him that at the Politburo meeting where Beria was to be arrested, Beria arrived with a thick briefcase that Khrushchev assumed contained a gun.

"For that, too, I had something on me," Khrushchev said, patting a large pocket in his tunic.

When Beria demanded to know the agenda for the unexpected session, Khrushchev said he prodded Malenkov with his foot and whispered to him to open the proceedings.

'White as a Wall'

"Malenkov was white as a wall and simply could not speak," Khrushchev said. "Then I just jumped out and announced in a loud voice: 'The agenda consists of only one question--about the anti-party factional activity of an imperialist agent, Beria. There is a proposal to oust him from the Presidium, from the Central Committee, to expel him from the party and bring him to trial. Who is for the proposal?' "

Burlatsky says Khrushchev told him he raised his own hand first, and then: "All the rest, one by one, raised their hands. Beria turned green all over. . . . He started mumbling something, and that's him--such a hero when it came to grabbing others and putting them against the wall."

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