It is, after all, rather late to return to the Thatcher story. Yet reading about her death in Russia while trying to follow the events in the UK (the celebrations, the funeral and the hectoring attempts by Tories to canonise her, the banning of the song from Wizard of Oz) there was a strange feeling of disconnect. As someone whose adolescence was spent in the shadow of Thatcher I couldn’t help recalling those years of disgust at her authoritarian reign. Her visit to Pinochet a decade after her political demise meant that her poisonous legacy lasted well past her resignation. Yet Thatcher’s death also came with a reminder of the kind of disconnect that Russia’s intelligentsia can immerse itself in. Yet there were thankfully a few exceptions.
I recall how after Pinochet’s death in 2006, Alexei Pankin wrote a piece for the Moscow Times entitled Pinochet Junta in High regard. In the article he stated: “Augusto Pinochet has died. He was the old idol of Russia’s democrats and liberals.” Alas, with a few noble exceptions, the story repeated itself with Thatcher. Miriam Elder, the Guardian journalist, was to tweet “Quite amazing. Have not been able to find one Russian critical of Thatcher. Anyone? Алло?”.
Here, however, are a few names she missed. Eduard Limonov was to write, quoting Danny Morrison that Thatcher “was the greatest bastard we’ve ever known” and giving examples from her rule which ended in bloodshed (the Maze hunger strikes and the sinking of the Belgrano) to back up his assertion. The poet Olga Sedakova also recalled how as a Russian poet in residence at Keele University in the 1990s no-one she spoke with at the university had a good word to say about Thatcher.
Boris Kagarlitsky wrote a more balanced (but very critical) account for rabkor Here Kagarlitsky tries to explain the way that Thatcher destroyed a certain kind of working class culture that he saw personified in a character from Charles Dickens, namely Sam Weller and went on to state that:
Surpressing the miners strike and other union activity in the early 1980s, she destroyed something in mass consciousness, deprived millions of a belief in themselves, self- respect and a confidence in their own strengths He explained how this transformation of millions of people from organised workers into various types of service personnel, salespeople in the best of cases or in petty bureaucrats, clerks and security personnel in order to create a “post-industrial economy” signified not merely a change of profession but a massive and intended moral and cultural degradation, the tragic scale of which is only now becoming clear to European (and Russian) society .
Another journalist who was equally critical of Thatcher was Dmitry Olshansky whose comments on his Facebook wall were quoted in an article yesterday by one of Russia’s more commercially minded newspaper ‘Kommersant’. His comment was terse but to the point:
“I find the fans of Thatcher, Pinochet and Ann Rand in the best of cases unpleasant lunatics and in the worst of cases- should they come to power – a phenomenon similar to the plague, anthrax or atomic war”
In short, in Russia the number of commentators who ‘get things right’ when it comes to writing about Britain (and especially Thatcher) maybe few and far between. But thankfully they do exist.