Publisher Alexander Tomsky: Margaret Thatcher had an avid interest in East European affairs

Alexander Tomský, photo: Alžběta Švarcová

Publisher Alexander Tomsky is an expert on East European affairs who fled Czechoslovakia after the 1968 Russian-led invasion. He spent many years of his life in Great Britain where he lectured at London’s Keston College in the years between 1979 and 1986, heading its Central European Affairs department. It was there that he met the former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in person. In a brief phone interview for Radio Prague he recalled the late Mrs. Thatcher’s interest in Central and East European affairs.

Margaret Thatcher,  photo: CTK
“She supported all the Eastern European dissidents. In every meeting with officials of the Soviet Union she insisted that jailed dissidents be released. She was very keen on that cause. Maybe she felt that the Cold War was coming to an end and eventually she found Mr. Gorbachov somewhat receptive to her ideas in a strange way. She used to come to Keston College where I worked and wanted to read books in English by those people (dissidents) and she read a considerable amount of literature coming from Central and Eastern Europe. In fact she made a resolution to read one book every month by the banned writers of Eastern Europe.”

You met her in person. In what capacity did you meet her?

“I met her through one of her advisors George Urban, who later became head of Radio Free Europe. He was a member of Keston College where I worked so I met her at Keston College when she came – I think she came twice there – and then through George I met her privately as well.”

And what impression did she make on you?

“My impression was very good. You see she was extremely intelligent. She came to Keston College to give a speech about Christians in Eastern Europe and it was so excellent and so well prepared. It was amazing. And she was like that with everything. Wherever she went she always gave little speeches. She behaved like a teacher in a sense in public. She was always giving little speeches everywhere but she was extremely well-prepared on every occasion. According to rumors – I don’t know whether it’s true –she only slept about four hours a day. And she was extremely hard-working. I heard her speak in public on several occasions and each time the speech was so well done. So she had that rhetorical talent, but she also worked very hard.”

Alexander Tomský,  photo: Alžběta Švarcová
How was she perceived in this country after the fall of communism –was it with uncritical admiration?

“Yes, in this country indeed, because after the fall of communism the leading idea here was that we would establish a free-market capitalism, that we would join the West and become affluent like the West because the country was poor after those 42-years of a centralized, planned economy. So in this way her ideas were of the utmost importance here. Her image here was the image of a woman who helped to bring down the Iron Curtain, she was perceived as the winner of the Cold War, together with president Ronald Reagan, and that image was only blackened eventually as the left wing became more and more important in this country.”