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Trapped by crowds of angry immigrants bellowing and screaming hatred at 'Stalin's heirs'.


GEOFF Bubb was a young man working in Birmingham when Communist leaders Nikita Khruschev and Marshal Nikolai Bulganin visited the city from the USSR more than 40 years ago. The two men's arrival was greeted with disgust by hundreds of families who had fled eastern Europe to escape their evil tyranny. Today, in the latest of the Sunday Mercury's I Was There series, the 65-year-old from Kingswinford in the Black Country tells SIMON MOWBRAY of the anger that erupted as the two men arrived in Victoria Square for a civic reception on April 23, 1956.

IT could have been just another grey, April Monday lunchtime in the city of Birmingham - but it wasn't.

On that day the city centre crackled with hostility.

As a junior clerk working in the council offices in Edmund Street, my 'dinner hour' was, predictably, midday until 1pm.

I wolfed my sandwiches and joined the milling, murmuring, ever-growing crowd in Victoria Square which, along with many of the streets in the city centre, had long been cordoned off by the police.

I stood on the reservation opposite the main entrance to the Council House which at that time channelled traffic left around Galloway's corner and into New Street or right at the end of Colmore Row past the Council House entrance and into Paradise Street.

Police presence gradually increased, as did the crowd, until at about 12.30pm a grumble of voices far along Colmore Row gathered itself into a howl.

The domino effect raced towards Victoria Square as limousines, fronted by police outriders, came into view to stop outside the main entrance to the Council House and in front of where I stood.

Two men, small in stature, alighted from one to walk up the carpeted steps and disappear into the chandelier-lit, cavernous entrance amid rising shouts of anger.

It was just a short time later that emotions overflowed and Victoria Square erupted.

Hostile voices bellowed and roared and screamed. The noise was deafening.

Eyes bulged, noses flared, lips bared teeth, fists were raised and banners carrying slogans written in foreign languages were unfurled.

On the balcony, along with the Lord Mayor and the Civic Party, stood Nikita Khruschev, First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and Marshal Nikolai Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of Soviet Ministers.

Khruschev was a waving gnome. Bulganin, dapper beneath his white quiff and Vandyke beard, dangled a tiny hand.

They had visited the British Industries Fair - the BIF - held for many years at Castle Bromwich where they had headed a Soviet Trade Delegation before being feted at a Civic Reception.

I stood there in this crowd of people displaced from their eastern European homes, stateless refugees who knew all about 'Mother Russia' and the Stalin heirs.

Before them, perhaps seen for the first time, were two men who held the balance of world peace and the lives of millions of their compatriots in their hands.

The hatred and the baying shouts in languages beyond my comprehension had to be experienced to be believed.

The Soviet leaders left the hostility behind and later, at the reception, spoke of "Birmingham, a heroes' city in war and peace" and of "trade and industry as a smooth road to mutual friendship".

Their true colours - already known to the baying exiles - were, however, exposed some six months later when, on November 4, they were party to the Russian army's crushing of the popular uprising in Hungary and the wasting of Budapest in lives and fabric.

The anger of the crowd outside the Council House continued unabated and I was unable to make a move to escape the crush as the Town Hall clocked a sonorous 'One'.


SOVIET LEADERS... Nikita Khruschev and Nikolai Bulganin COUNCIL CLERK... Geoff Bubb
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Dec 19, 1999
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