Host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, began discussing Thatcher’s close relationship with President Ronald Reagan before declaring that the two conservative leaders “brought down the Soviet Union.”
I snorted my own morning joe through my nostrils.
This is a persistent myth the right wing has touted ever since Reagan left the White House in 1988. With Thatcher’s death, the right is rerunning its favorite movie, the Gipper and the Iron Lady teaming up to destroy the Evil Empire. And like most movies, this one is based on pure fantasy.
I arrived home the day before Thatcher’s passing from a trip to Sochi, Russia, where, in my capacity as Cobb County’s commissar, I attended a Communist Party Central Committee meeting … just kidding, conservative fans.
I was actually there to tour venues being readied for the 2014 Winter Olympics on behalf of clients sponsoring the Games.
Sochi is the old Black Sea resort in southern Russia once favored by the Soviet dictators who ran the show here for 75 years, a murderous reign of terror unsurpassed in human history.
There is no doubt that Reagan’s irrepressible charm made us feel better. Thatcher threw off Britain’s economic malaise. But the two leaders were not surgeons who excised the Soviet cancer as right wing media types like Scarborough want us believe.
Yes, they were tough on the Kremlin, but the first big cracks in the Soviet foundation appeared in Poland in 1980, and even as early as the revolts in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, both uprisings mercilessly routed by Moscow.
Shortly after Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland became Pope John Paul II in 1978, he visited his homeland, where he called for religious and human rights while denouncing violence, the last aimed at the Kremlin.
Encouraged, shipyard workers in Gdansk led by Lech Walesa went on strike in August 1980. Western observers were certain the Soviets would follow precedent, crush the strikers and execute Walesa. But Moscow did nothing and the Polish workers formed Solidarity, the first non-communist trade union in the Soviet Bloc.
Meantime, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to save its faltering puppet regime in Kabul. The 10-year war that followed was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, which poured its treasure into Afghanistan while Mujahedeen fighters slaughtered 14,000 of their young men.
By the early ’80s, the Russian economy was staggered by the cost of the war and the expense of propping up client states. With the aging hard liners dying off and discontent growing among Russians, a young, reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary, initiating “glasnost” (transparency) and “perestroika” (restructuring) while opening arms talks with the West.
Interestingly, while I was in Russia, Gorbachev gave a speech calling for renewed glasnost and perestroika. His comments were scornfully dismissed by President Vladimir Putin, who rules the country today with an iron fist the old school Communist leaders would admire.
Americans once worried about “the domino theory” during the Red Scare of the ’50s and ’60s, when we were sure the Soviets and their ally Red China were going to topple governments like dominos around the globe.
The domino theory came to pass, alright — for the Soviet Union.
Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania and all the rest fell one after the next until, finally, Communism in Russia collapsed under its own brutish, unwieldy weight.
Thatcher and Reagan maybe gave the dominoes a nudge, but the conservative claim that they alone toppled the Soviet Union is fiction.
Kevin Foley is a public relations executive, author and writer who lives in Kennesaw.