Margaret Thatcher remembered

Margaret Thatcher, photo: CTK

Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of Great Britain for 11 years and iconic 20th century politician, is being remembered worldwide, following her death on Monday at the age of 87. A largely polarising political figure at home, Thatcher was nevertheless highly-regarded by many abroad, not least opponents of communism who ranked her in importance alongside US president Ronald Reagan or Pope John Paul II. Radio Prague reports on how Mrs Thatcher is being remembered in Prague.

Margaret Thatcher,  photo: CTK
To the world she was the “Iron Lady” a nickname given to her by the Soviets for her opposition to socialism which she referred to proudly throughout her career. She was given the nickname in an article in defence ministry newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda by Captain Yuri Gavrilov in 1976. In response, the Tory leader and future prime minister said this to supporters in a famous speech at her party’s convention that year.

“The Iron Lady of the Western World. A cold war warrior, an Amazon philistine, even a Peking plotter... Yes, if that’s how they wish to interpret my defence of values and freedoms fundamental to our way of life, they are welcome to call me what they like...”

In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher was known for her uncompromising approach and tough politics. Under her watch, Great Britain forged closer ties than ever with the US and she had a close understanding with then President Ronald Reagan. Thatcher was among the first western politicians to back the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev and, like Mr Reagan, reforms that would eventually spiral into the collapse of communism in Europe.

Michael Žantovský,  photo: Petr Novák,  CC BY-SA 3.0
In 1990, after the fall of communism, Thatcher became the first British Prime Minister to visit Czechoslovakia, where she was highly-regarded by the country’s new president, former dissident and playwright Václav Havel. The Czech ambassador to London Michael Žantovský on Monday recalled details of their meeting:

“I think that they understood each other well even though they differed on a number of issues, as Mr Havel himself said. Even so, he had a lot of respect for her principled approach and how she defended her views, regardless of whether they were popular. He also held her in high regard for her contribution in helping end the Cold War, to secure the victory of freedom and democracy in Europe.”

But Mrs Thatcher arguably had no bigger supporter in former Czechoslovakia than finance minister, prime minister and finally president, Václav Klaus. He shared – and no doubt still shares – many of her political views, meeting with her personally on numerous occasions. Mr Klaus used to feature a portrait of Baroness Thatcher on his book shelf during televised presidential addresses and on Monday he suggested that in her departure Europe had lost one of its most important political figures.

Václav Klaus,  photo: archive of the Czech Government
Former Czech president Václav Klaus:

“The gap that has been left by her departure cannot be filled by anyone, including her successors in Great Britain. I fear that someone like her is missing in Europe... I don’t think her politics or views are dead but there is no one with her qualities – strong opinions, uncompromising approach and required toughness. Those are absent and that is unfortunate.”

In the 1990s, Mrs Thatcher visited Prague a total of four times; she received the Czech Republic’s highest order, the Order of the White Lion, on her last visit in 1999.