Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

TV Interview for Soviet TV

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: No.10 Downing Street
Source: Thatcher Archive: COI transcript
Journalist: Vsevolod Shishkovsky, Soviet TV
Editorial comments:

1550-1740 for Izvestia and Soviet TV interviews.

Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 2953
Themes: Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Trade, Foreign policy (Middle East), Foreign policy (Africa), Environment, Science & technology, Defence (general), Civil liberties, Foreign policy - theory and process, Foreign policy (International organizations), European Union Single Market


Thank you very much indeed for this new opportunity of interviewing you for the Soviet television.

Mrs. Thatcher, in a few days you have a fourth meeting with Mr. Gorbachev. What are your feelings as you approach this appointment?

Prime Minister

I am looking forward to it very much. I remember the first time I met Mr. Gorbachev when he came to Chequers which, as you know, is the country house of prime ministers, we got on very well together right from the start. We debated the world's issues frankly in a warm way, in a very lively way, and it was a very constructive meeting and I felt then that somehow one had a deep instinct that that was the beginning of a quite new relationship and sometimes you know, things change because of the leadership you get from your leading politicians and I think at that time we were very [end p1] fortunate that the three of us got on extremely well together, Mr. Gorbachev, President Reagan and myself, and I really think that managed to set things on a new and more hopeful course and it sprang from that first meeting.

As you know, at other times I have met Mr. Gorbachev in Moscow and that visit which I paid to Moscow I shall never forget. I shall never forget the warmth of the reception from the people and I remember very well a television interview I had, you will remember, with three people questioning me and it was quite fast-moving and quite lively and then it was duly reported to me the next day that one of the taxi drivers in Moscow had said to someone who he was taking on a journey: “Well, if we can have an interview like that with Mrs. Thatcher, glasnost is really here!” Wasn't that lovely?


How do you see the current and future Anglo-Soviet relations?

Prime Minister

They are growing progressively more close because I think that Mr. Gorbachev has set the policy for the Soviet Union on a new course because he has had the wisdom to see that the old course was not producing either the prosperity for the people of the Soviet Union or the kind of freedom of choice that he would wish them to have and you really never get the prosperity unless you have the [end p2] greater economic and political freedom and he had the wisdom to see that too.

It was a tremendously courageous decision. I understood why it came about, because I think he had looked back at the history and had perhaps seen the hopes that Lenin had right at the beginning. I think he thought that things would have taken a different course had Lenin survived longer and I think that he said: “Look! What we have is not good enough for what I, Mr. Gorbachev, want for the people of the Soviet Union, all of them!”

A change is quite a difficult thing to bring about and changing attitudes is the most difficult thing of all. So many people want things to stay as they are and to change can often have a period of uncertainty before you make the real breakthrough. But nevertheless, he had this great vision. It was as if he was casting a great searchlight into the future that could come about and as I read his speeches and listened to this, it really has far more in common with the system that we have worked towards over the years and which has given us our prosperity, our freedom, for which we have fought and which we will always defend, and I think it is that change which has really been instrumental in bringing about the great improvement in relations - the closer relations, the greater warmth - and also has brought the Soviet Union to a new peak in world affairs because we realise that by working together instead of being stand-offish towards one another, with this new Soviet Union we can also help to solve some of the rest of the world's problems and bring the world's peoples closer together. [end p3]


In which areas, in which fields, can Soviet-British relations develop?

Prime Minister

Soviet-British relations are developing very well. First, they will get closer in trade. If you want to develop the ordinary things of life and want to develop a warmer relationship, then trading is a very good way to do it.

We have quite a lot of joint ventures - I think eighteen or nineteen and we are considering thirteen or fourteen more, so that by example you can know how we do things and see if you have anything to learn from us and then we will buy some of your things and there is a British-Soviet Trade Week coming up very shortly and there is a British Week in Kiev coming up shortly. This is on what we can learn from one another about good management, about freedom of choice, about how to get the shops full of goods and people choose what they want so if manufacturers do not produce the goods people want they are left on the shelf and then they learn what to produce next time.

So trade is very important. Also the cultural relations are very important. Your people come over here, we enjoy it enormously and our theatres, our dancers, our musicians come over to you - that too is enjoyed. [end p4]

What pleases me very much is something which has really developed much more spontaneously: visits of one school to another. Your school will come over to one of our schools and see how we live, but perhaps the most significant thing, because you always get significant reactions from people - that is the touchstone of how things are going - was when we heard about the terrible earthquake in Armenia - the response was enormous.

I heard it on the early morning radio, at six o'clock I was listening, and I had heard just before I went to bed that there had been an earthquake. We had no idea of how bad it was. I heard it at six o'clock and I heard the commentators on our early morning radio discussing what would be the Prime Minister's reaction, etc., so I just picked up the telephone. I said: “Please get me the BBC! Please get me the early morning programme, because they are asking what I think. I really would rather like to tell them!” and the question was would Mr. Gorbachev come here and he had announced that he simply must go home and I said: “Yes, of course I understand. When you have a terrible tragedy like that, Mr. Gorbachev must go to be with his people and we are very disappointed not to see him, but of course he must go and we will do everything we can to help!” and later that day, the telephone calls of help came in. There was a team of doctors - they were specially good at crush industries and please could they put a surgical team together; there were teams of [end p5] firemen that had experience; the people who wanted to get earth-moving equipment and one thing after another and did the people need food, did they need blankets, did they need tents? This was a spontaneous movement of people and we organised the whole thing and you know, I think that did such a lot to get people together, and we allocated quite a large sum of money for aid and then when it was not wholly used up, we were not going to say we will switch to someone else. Kenneth BakerMy Secretary of State for Education, who had been with us when Mr. and Mrs. Gorbachev came to Brize Norton and had taken Mrs. Gorbachev to see a school, came in and said: “How about rebuilding one of the primary schools for the people of Armenia?” so that is what we are going to do and again, this spontaneous reaction could not have happened some years ago, but it was an actual practical example of how, when one group of people in one country are in trouble, all the political barriers go down and the only thing is to try to get help to those people.


In this connection, I would like just to ask you what global problems do you think can be solved by the mutual efforts of East and West? [end p6]

Prime Minister

Certainly, some of the political global problems can be solved by cooperation. For example, we did cooperate together because there are five Permanent Members of the Security Council - we are one and the Soviet Union is another - and we all cooperated together to try to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq War.

In my view, we shall still have to cooperate together, the Five, in solving the Middle East problems, the Arab-Israel problems, because it needs an international framework. People say: “Look! Now is the time to negotiate!”

We have tackled together - particularly the Soviet Union and the United States in that case - Angola. As you know, the Cuban troops were in Angola and they will be leaving and there will be freedom for Namibia. That could not have come about without cooperation.

There are now very considerable problems elsewhere in Africa with Mozambique and we also gather that Mr. Gorbachev and some of your academic people have let it be known that they do not wish the problems of South Africa to be solved by violence but by negotiation.

These are all examples of where other global factors in the world have been brought about by cooperation. [end p7]

There is something else that affects us all - the environment in which we live, the world's atmosphere, the atmosphere surrounding the Earth which keeps us all alive. We know that there are things happening up there because of the enormous increase in population, the enormous increase in production that is polluting that atmosphere and that is going to affect us all and we have to take steps to stop that. We cannot say that because we are doing things on a scale that has never been ever at all in the world's history that we are going to destroy the systems that keep us alive and so we all have to cooperate: these things - the Earth's atmosphere, the pollution of seas, the pollution of the great river systems of the world. The pollution will blow from one country to another. We learned how far it goes after Chernobyl.

These things make us realise that we are all citizens of one world and it offers a challenge and science will solve it if we follow what science tells us what we will do. Science created some of these problems by its success, but it will help us to solve them, so we have to cooperate on the science, get the scientific answers, but we have got to put them into practice and it is no use two or three countries doing it unless we all cooperate, so it is both a challenge and an opportunity and I think that is very practical.

I think there is a third thing: we all have to look after our own security and our own defence, but we are now doing it on the basis … we have always been a nation which believed in defence but [end p8] we do not naturally attack other people … our alliance is a defensive alliance and the Soviet Union has changed its old philosophy to sufficiency of defence to defend, because you never know what is going to happen in the world, so you always have to keep your own security.

But again, we are cooperating in keeping our security at a lower level of weaponry and we are cooperating on some of the African problems and on the problems of the seas too. These are the great highways of the world, so we have to cooperate; we have to conserve the fish in the sea - they are part of the world's systems. All of this is making us realise that as well as being separate countries each with our own pride, our own culture … there are many different cultures in the Soviet Union … that we are also citizens of the world and we have things in common, so it is going to require much much closer cooperation and we shall also obviously learn how each country treats its own citizens because that is very important. We believe there are certain fundamental human rights which every person has and which really cannot be taken away from you by governments.

So in all of those ways, we can cooperate. [end p9]


You were one of the first Western leaders to say that you could do business with Mr. Gorbachev. The international climate and the East-West relations in particular have undergone tremendous significant and positive changes in the last three to four years. How do you see the future prospectus of this process and Britain's role in it?

Prime Minister

We have the chance steadily to go forward and make much more progress between us.

It has been fascinating to me, having been here now for ten years, that all of a sudden things are becoming possible which were unthinkable ten years ago. They have become possible because of changes in attitudes on the part of the world's leaders which then have to be translated to the people as a matter of leadership and persuasion.

And so you get a change of course, but that does not bring about itself enormous changes. You have to work at it really very hard. The hardest thing is to bring about the change of attitudes and you have to tackle it at every level: the levels of leadership, the levels of contact between people, the levels of how you run and manage your industry, the levels of how manage to get much greater agricultural production, how you manage to trade with one another to mutual advantage. So there is more hope for the peoples [end p10] of the world than there has been for all the time which I have been in Downing Street, but - we use a colloquial expression: you must not take your eye off the ball - you must always work towards your goals and when sometimes you think that in one area the danger has been reduced, which I think it has, you still have to be prepared always to preserve your own security and you always have to watch to see that there are not troubles happening elsewhere in the world and when they do now, the cooperation we get in the United Nations between these Five Permanent Members of the Security Council really that too is a new thing and again, it has come about because of the many contacts that we have so that if there is trouble, we can get in touch quickly and have a meeting or get the Javier Perez de CuellarSecretary General of the United Nations onto it.

All of that is good and may I say this: the most exciting thing of all is happening in the Soviet Union. You are telescoping reforms within a few years which we did over a much longer period of time and it is not going to be easy, but the goal upon which you have set your hearts is really worth achieving and really worth working for.


We believe that the positive trends in international affairs were to a large degree made possible by perestroika in the Soviet Union. [end p11]

Prime Minister

Oh yes indeed! I agree. Perestroika preceded by the glasnost because the whole freedom of discussion, the debate, out of that often come solutions which you could not have thought of otherwise and then, too, it involves all people so it is a new significance for each person and a new involvement and it is that which I think has helped to bring about much much better world relationships.


What is the attitude in this country to the changes in the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

We are very interested in them. We with all our hearts hope they will succeed and everything we can do to help them succeed will be done.


What, in your view, are the main questions and issues facing the British people?

Prime Minister

We have both East-West relations which are very very important - we always have a close relationship with the United States. We immediately have belonged to the part of Europe called the European Economic Community. That is drawing together more [end p12] close in trading matters and we are setting similar standards throughout the twelve countries of Europe for our products - similar standards for electrical goods, similar standards for anything and everything that you buy in the shops, similar standards for cars, similar standards of safety at work, so that we have this basic framework so that all our people can then produce goods in competition with one another. But that really is meant to be within the Community, an example of how you could get down some of the artificial barriers as an example to the wider world. So we get down some of our barriers, get down some of the tariffs, and then we will be able to say to the rest of the world: “Now, let us negotiate between us to get down those barriers to get much freer trade!” because the world prospers when you have much greater freedom of trade and it is then much easier also for people to move across borders.

If you have your own passport, you will have a Euro-passport belonging to each country but in common form so that you can move more freely around Europe and we will have similar qualifications for the professions. So this is meant to be an example of how to get the citizens of the world moving more freely from country to country and opening up trade and possibilities that have not been thought of before.


What do you possibly expect of the visit which Gorbachev is going to make to this country? [end p13]

Prime Minister

I hope that we shall talk about the ordinary things like trade and the visits of the kind which I have been discussing. I shall be very anxious to know how things are going in the Soviet Union because politically you are making enormous strides and how the joint ventures are going and the tremendous efforts you are making to get more goods in the shops so that people may have a higher standard of living.

And we shall discuss some of the problems of the wider world because these days, if I might put it this way, foreign affairs are not foreign affairs any more - they can affect your standard of living at home - and we really are working very hard so that we can live in a peaceful world so that we never again have to suffer the terrible privations which we and the Soviet Union knew in the last War and in the previous War, so that our efforts can be directed towards building the peace and I think perhaps is the most important thing of all.

And may I say to the people of the Soviet Union: may I wish you well! May I wish you that great prosperity which you seek and which you will surely find and the great satisfaction which you will have when you have achieved it and the great satisfaction you will have when we get increasing cooperation between all peoples of the world. Our very best wishes to you all!