April 16, 2013 8:01AM

Margaret Thatcher and Eastern Europe

A week ago, my colleague Marian Tupy wrote movingly about his personal encounter with Lady Thatcher. Although I never had a chance to speak with her at any length, I echo his sentiments in my recent piece for the Spectator (U.K.), where I argue that both the substance of her policies and the symbolic value of her actions — such as her visit to Gdańsk in November 1988 — played an important role in post‐​communist transitions:

Symbols matter. In Czechoslovakia, the communist party newspaper, Rudé právo (‘The Red Law’) chose to ignore the Gdańsk episode, providing instead a short notice about her talks with the Polish government about ‘the need to energise economic cooperation between the two countries’. But there was no coming back. In Poland it took less than two months since Thatcher’s visit for the Polish regime to recognise that it was fighting a losing war and start talks with Solidarity, which would lead to dismantling of communism in the country. Czechs and Slovaks had to wait for another year.

The concluding paragraph:

In short, her success in fixing the British economy gave Eastern Europe an example to aspire to. Thanks to her example, Eastern Europeans of the early 1990s understood well that bold and sometimes painful reforms were a necessary condition for Western levels of prosperity. Somehow, I doubt that the current generation of Western leaders are inspiring the same sentiments in citizens of emerging democracies of the world.