Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Interview for Izvestia

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Mr Laptev, Izvestia
Editorial comments:

1550-1740 for Izvestia and Soviet TV interviews.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3567
Themes: Foreign policy - theory and process, Economic policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Environment, Terrorism, British Constitution (general discussions), Foreign policy (Africa), Foreign policy (Middle East), Leadership, European Union (general), Foreign policy (Central & Eastern Europe), Religion & morality, Civil liberties, Arts & entertainment, Science & technology, Foreign policy (USA), Foreign policy (development, aid, etc)


My first question is to ask you to comment on the changes in the international situation over the last three or four years and in your view, how do you see the most important, main underlying impulses and reasons for the changes?

Prime Minister

I think there are three changes to which I would like to refer.

First, certainly in the Western world, there has been a very considerable increase in prosperity and standard of living. This has been brought about by the enterprise and talents and abilities of the people themselves against a political background which encourages that kind of enterprise. At the same time, we have all been striving - and have succeeded - in keeping the basis of our economy sound, that is, we have been careful how we ran the finances and we have not promised more than we could perform, because if you spend more than you earn or if you get inflation, it means that there will be trouble, so it is far better steadily to run your [end p1] finances soundly and steadily to improve, rather than trying to have a sudden enormous increase in production which often would lead to a reduction afterwards. And that increased prosperity and standard of living has enabled us not only to have more things in our own lives but also has created enough wealth to give us a higher standard of social services, but is basically on the system which I know you are trying to introduce into the Soviet Union: governments do not know how to run business, so we do not get involved in running business itself, but the people who have been used to running those businesses for years, are used to change, are used to creating new products and know what the people want, we leave it to them and the people who work in business to run the industry.

I think the second main, big, thing is the great improvement in East-West relations. I think that has been brought about first because of the vision of Mr. Gorbachev and people such as yourself - not merely a vision of what you want for your own country, but ideas as to how to bring it about, and ideas which to us are absolutely right, which involve the efforts of the people themselves, their responsibility, their choice, mobilising their talents. That is absolutely in keeping with what we believe and it is that plus the fact that we happened to have the right people at the top of each country at the time - Mr. Gorbachev, President Reagan, perhaps myself as well - that brought this relationship much closer. [end p2]

And it is not just a defence relationship. We both have a mutual respect for one another's right to defend ourselves, but it has been much more than trying to negotiate down armaments so that defence and security can happen at a lower level of weaponry. It has been a much wider involvement: more trade, more cultural visits, more visits between peoples, more people travelling out of the Soviet Union and into the Soviet Union. It has been a total relationship, accompanied in your country by much greater freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom to start up things and do things on your own, which has been marvellous to behold.

I think the third thing is the number of matters that go right across national boundaries has increased, for example, the environment. The environment does not respect national boundaries.

We think first of the world's fundamental systems, the whole atmosphere round the Earth. As you know, we have been talking about the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. If any of us damages that, it affects each of us and we cannot keep it intact and life-supporting unless we all play our part. That is one matter.

Then you get pollution of the seas and the great rivers of course and the acid rain. These are all things which affect all peoples.

And then we think of some of the problems of human nature: why do some people take to drugs or drink too much? It is one of the weaknesses of human nature, and those things cross borders too. [end p3]

And I am afraid that terrorism crosses borders and this, too, if you think of terrorism, is a kind of human pollution of the world in which we live and we have to band together to fight that.


We in the Soviet Union, of course, watched very attentively your comments on Mr. Gorbachev's speech in the UN. The picture of the world of the future that he painted seemed to us close to your image of the world of the future.

Where do you see the compatibility and the differences in the philosophical approaches of our two countries to the formation of this world of the future and which role would you give in that to the new political thinking? Forgive me, the question is very voluminous!

Prime Minister

Let me put it this way:

I recognise so very much in Mr. Gorbachev's speeches that he is right in tune with what I believe: that you have to involve people more, that freedom incurs responsibilities and so on.

Let me say this: it is easier to build new cities and things in bricks and mortar, new colleges, new houses, new roads - it is easier and quicker to do that than it is to change people's attitudes. People get used to doing things in certain ways and [end p4] there is always resistance to change and yet, unless you do change, you will not get the greater benefits which the world has to offer and I sometimes think that you are, within the Soviet Union, trying to do within a period of, say, five to ten years, things which have taken us over a century to do.

Here, the great Reform Act of 1832 really was the great beginning of each new group of people having a vote, but it went not suddenly - it went from the people who used to have the complete running of the country, then the next level said: “No, we want to be involved!” and then the next level down: “No, we want to be involved!” and so on, and so it took, really, quite a long time before we had one person, one vote, and we did it gradually accompanied all the time by increasing responsibility in industry, increasing responsibilities of management and increasing education as to what that responsibility meant.

The essential freedom which I hear Mr. Gorbachev talking about is freedom of choice. You choose which job you wish to take. You work hard and earn as much as you can and then you choose what to buy with your money when someone else is making a lot of goods and our problem is not to fill the shops. We can fill the shops with goods again and again. Our problem is we have so many, we wonder whether we will sell them all and, of course, if people choose not to buy something, then that is left on the shelf and [end p5] that manufacturer will be in trouble because he has not understood what people want to buy and not made the right thing. So it is this choice, responsibility, freedom, but you have to discharge your duties. Freedom incurs responsibility.

I think too - the second point - our views have converged on defence policy. Each nation must defend itself and has a right to its own security. Where the change has come about I think in the Soviet Union is that you have changed your approach similar to one of ours: it is a sufficiency of defence to defend yourselves against attack. It is not armaments to attack - it is defence. It is armaments sufficient to defend yourself against whatsoever attacks known or unknown that you can foresee.

I think that where we converge, too, is on dealing with some of the longstanding international problems, for example, the Angola and Namibian problem which has been a very longstanding problem. The Cubans in Angola, they are now going to leave and the people in Namibia will have the chance to choose their own government.

And we worked together with some of the Iran-Iraq problems but as you know, we have differed recently on one or two matters over Iran.

I think we have started the process of getting more trust between us. Trust takes a very long time to build up and you have to work at it. [end p6]

I think there tends to be in our people and very much in America, a natural goodwill towards others as all being members of the human race as we saw in the way in which our people responded very quickly to the problems in Armenia because we understood that you can have a natural disaster and then you need help and all the barriers fall and you go and give that help.

But I do emphasise the point which I made at the beginning: changing attitudes is the most difficult thing in politics. You have to be very patient. You have constantly to keep your vision before the people. You know, in our religion it says where there is no vision the people perish, so you have to have the vision before people and you constantly have to strive to work towards it - not in colossal strides - life does not happen like that. Progress happens day by day, week by week, month by month, not by miracles, but by continuous strenuous devoted effort, and I think to achieve that you need a kind of leadership and the capacity for management at every single level and I am constantly saying that no general can fight a battle unless he has got also lieutenant-generals, brigadiers, colonels, majors, captains, sergeants, corporals - each has a leadership role and the whole of society is like that. You have to have leadership among people at every level so that they can enthuse people to go on and even though things get difficult, still continue to go in the direction of your goal. [end p7]


You are, of course, aware that at some time in the past Europe was seen and given the role as an ageing centre, but the reality of today shows us that political Europe is a big and growing force. How do you, Mrs. Prime Minister, see the future of Europe? How strong do you think the uniting forces in Europe are and how could we open together the ways for the building of a common European home?

Prime Minister

Of course, the word “Europe” is much older than the European Economic Community. One talks about the European ideal. It is much larger than the European Community and historically much deeper, and if you look at the wider Europe where some of the capitals in the Warsaw Pact countries are just as much a part of Europe as some of the West. If you look at it historically, first Europe was obviously the first place where the great religions of Judaism and Christianity really took hold, from which sprung the idea - the secular idea - based on religion that each and every person matters. That is where your human rights really come from. Each person is important; not the system, but each person is important. That really was in Christendom, which was Europe, the fundamental basic idea which led to the development of democracy and it developed its own great cultures, whether it be in the fantastic art that we all know and the art was constantly developing and [end p8] changing. Heaven knows, it was some of your great Russian industrialists in the Tsar's time that recognised the modern art movement, the Matisse, and recognised that something marvellous had happened … this great artistic renaissance which happened in Europe and the great patrons of some of these artists, where they recognised this fantastic talent and ability and brought it on and gave us a fantastic heritage. The great architecture, too, and crafts developed at the same time and Heaven knows, you know all this because the Hermitage is one of the world's treasure chests and some of your great buildings in your great cities express the architecture of the age.

As a matter of fact, as I am constantly saying, I sometimes say whichever country I go to, if it is India it is three cheers for the Moguls - they built fantastic things; if it is the Soviet Union, it is three cheers for the Tsars - they built fantastic monuments, fantastic heritage, were patrons of the great arts of the Faberg&eacu;, of the great beautiful things; and these things were built with people of boldness, imagination, beauty, confidence and we have inherited that and what we have tried to do is to pass on what used to be the privileges and luxuries of the few to become the daily necessities of the many and the daily experience of the many. We have that fantastic heritage. That is the second thing. [end p9]

The third thing which I will say about the whole European ideal which embraces us all is the use to which science was put. The scientific method was begun in Europe: that you have your hypothesis about what is happening, you test it by observation and then you deduce the laws of science from the results of your experiment and if they do not fit in with the hypothesis, then you have to adapt your ideas. All of this method was developed in Europe, whether it be in the physical sciences or in the medical sciences, and - this is the point which I very much wanted to make - alone in the world, in Europe they turned this science to the advantage of the people.

In other parts of the world, they were discovering some of the things, for example in China, but they never turned their knowledge to the advantage and benefit of the people, so the great industrial revolution came first in the West and not over in the East nor in India.

So we have this marvellous heritage, whether it be in art, in science, in philosophical and political culture, which has gradually extended to all people so that people may choose the kind of government under which they live and have a much bigger say in the way ahead, and with all of this, we really should be able to take the path of friendship and cooperation within Europe and not build a fortress wall round Europe, but use it as an example of cooperating to the wider world because, as I have indicated, most of the subjects which we discuss these days between nations affect all peoples. [end p10]

So in that spirit, we will develop the European Community and, of course, we will have a fundamental, deep and abiding friendship with the United States which really, in a way, as I so often say, the United States is really the people of Europe the other side of the Atlantic. They are the same people. They are the same people, but they just went there from here, so there is an unbreakable bond.

And then, we have all of us to start to think of other parts in the world. Africa really has enormous problems. She has had the erosion of soil, she has cut down trees, she has not conserved her resources, she is subject to famine and drought and she still will look at some of the West and think that she wants the same kind of things that we have. It is going to take quite a long time, but we do strain to help them. It is not enough just to provide them with goods or food, otherwise they would just become dependent. They have to have the dignity and independence of knowing how to do things and build industries for themselves and we can steadily all help to do that.


We would not exaggerate if we say that your meeting at Chequers with Mr. Gorbachev in 1984 was the turning point in Anglo-Soviet relations. [end p11]

Prime Minister

We shall never forget it; Denis Thatchermy husband and I will never forget it, but the interesting thing was that one recognised there a kind of Mikhail Gorbachevunique person a strong personality, and we had the kind of discussion which is really quite rare between politicians. It was of great frankness, but both sides wanted to understand the other and most constructive and warm - it was a warm discussion and animated and on a basis of fundamental mutual respect.


Thank you for the kind words addressed to our leader!

As that was really the turning point in Anglo-Soviet relations, what really made you go for this change? What made you change your mind and change Anglo-Soviet relations and how do you judge their state today and what is your evaluation of their future?

Prime Minister

I do not quite know how you deal with things in the Soviet Union but here in this room, in this building, in Parliament, we are constantly turning our thoughts to the future; future developments in our own country, future developments in Europe, future developments in East-West and environmental problems.

We had an East-West problem. It was really very much on the basis of defence and arms control. We thought that we could not leave it on that basis and that the first thing was to try to have [end p12] more contact in pursuit of the Helsinki process, as you know, of 1975 - the Helsinki Agreement - and if we could get more contact between East and West and if we could get a better relationship going between us and genuine discussion of our different systems and I did two things: I decided to go and visit some of the East European countries with whom we have had relationships over the years and after all, we went to war because of Poland because Hitler invaded Poland and we have quite a long relationship with Hungary. So I went to Hungary and the Geoffrey HoweForeign Secretary went to visit a number of other countries because you get to know more about people if you talk together and if you get contact people to people.

Then we realised that the time was coming when there were likely to be changes in the Russian leadership and we thought that we would try to get to know people who looked as if they were going to be very influential in the future so that we could have a relationship of some length of time, not a short, brief one. And so it was a positive, constructive effort. We got a new strategy in foreign affairs which we worked towards. It was quite a positive thing and all the time saying: Our fundamental friends are America but just because you have got some fundamental friends, you keep your old friends but you try to extend your friendship, so it was a conscious effort and I had a number of round-table conferences, seminars - we got the academic people in, and so on. [end p13]

About twice year, I will take a longer look at some particular aspect. Maybe something in foreign affairs, East-West, European affairs, aid to the Third World, the environment which affects us all or some particular aspect of home affairs - maybe educational opportunity, maybe training for the new technological world, maybe the effect of new technology on people's lives - but we will take one of those subjects and try to cast a searchlight into the future so that we can prepare for things that we can foresee.


Please forgive me. I am probably abusing your time a little bit!

Prime Minister

Well, I will give you quick answers now because we have a lot. We have trade relations coming up and the target which Mr. Gorbachev and I set I think we are going to reach - 2.5 billion roubles - and we have a British Week in Moscow coming up very soon, British-Soviet Trade Month in Moscow. Then we have the British Week in Kiev in 1990 which we are very much looking forward to. Then, of course, we have many cultural visits over here and we have your schools coming to us and our schools going there. So often, the solution to problems in the future lies in people-to-people and that matters tremendously. [end p14]


Great work is being done and the results are already noticeable. One more question because of that:

We have all - and especially with the journalists - worked very hard to create here in the West and there in the Soviet Union the image of an enemy of each other and this “enemy” was the main protagonist of the Cold War. Now the protagonist is gradually leaving the stage and because this protagonist is leaving the stage, in your opinion, could we say that the Cold War itself is disappearing into nothing or do we still find elements of it around us?

Prime Minister

I have said the Cold War has been undergoing a very big thaw, but do not forget the real reason for the Cold War was the very hard-line Stalinist system. To us, Communism did not seem to offer the kind of freedom of the individual and the significance of the individual, that is absolutely fundamental to us and we could not have had the progressive improvement in relationships that we have seen without this unlocking reform and vision that Mr. Gorbachev and your top people have seen, that the political system which you had was neither producing the prosperity which he wanted for his people nor this freedom of choice because in each human being everyone has certain talents and abilities and it consists in harnessing that which gives you a different possibility and perspective and a very much better life, but it has to be worked for. Better lives do not come from wishful thinking - they come from enthusiastic, hard persistence and devotion to a goal which you can see. [end p15]

The Helsinki Agreements in 1975 opened up the possibilities but those possibilities were not really used - taken advantage of - really until Mr. Gorbachev's time. Until then, it seemed to us that the freedom of movement of people and ideas was not going ahead as we wished. It seemed to us that you wanted to keep your people in whereas our problem is not keeping people in, it is so many people want to come that we cannot take them all. That opened up a possibility, but that possibility was not really harnessed until Mr. Gorbachev harnessed it.

We are on our way now, we are on our way in a new era - and it is. It is a new era. It is nothing less than a new era and it is really worth working to achieve.

Thank you very much! I would just like to say through you that the visit which I paid to Moscow now two years ago was really one of the highlights of my life. I really felt the spirit and the warmth of the Russian people and I shall never forget it and I will hope one day to come again.


I wanted exactly to extend your thought. You might not believe me, but in Moscow somewhere you can find political leaflets in support of Mrs. Thatcher! [end p16]

Prime Minister

We are tremendously looking forward to welcoming Mr. Gorbachev and renewing our talks and cooperation.


Thank you for the interview, I know how busy you are.