KHARKIV, UKRAINE – Prison is always a place of mourning. But perhaps learning of Margaret Thatcher’s death in this place is grimly appropriate, because it made me remember the imprisoned society of my youth that Thatcher did so much to set free.
For many of us who grew up in the Soviet Union and its satellites in Eastern Europe, Margaret Thatcher will always be a heroine. Not only did she espouse the cause of freedom – particularly economic freedom – in Britain and the West; by proclaiming Mikhail Gorbachev a man “we can do business with” (at a time when almost every democratic leader was deeply suspicious of his policies of perestroika and glasnost), she became a vital catalyst in unlocking our gulag societies.
Indeed, for everyone in the former communist world who sought to build a free society out of the wreckage of totalitarianism, the “Iron Lady” became a secular icon. Her qualities of courage and persistence – of being “not for turning” – provided a living example for us of a type of leadership that does not buckle at moments of political peril. I have certainly taken inspiration from her fidelity to her principles and absolute determination to fight, and fight again, when the cause is just.
One of the true joys of my life in politics was the opportunity to have a quiet lunch with Thatcher in London some years ago, and express my gratitude to her for recognizing our chance for freedom and seizing the diplomatic initiative to help realize it. Throughout my premiership, I kept a quote of hers in mind: “I am not a consensus politician; I am a conviction politician.” Her rigorous sense of the true duty of a politician always gave me comfort during a political struggle, for our duty as leaders is not to hold office, but to use our power to improve people’s lives and increase the scope of their freedom.