Few things make the bien pensants more uneasy than talk of right and wrong. They flinched when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet bloc, rightly, the “evil empire”. Sometimes that fastidiousness was simply based on wilful ignorance. Reports of Stalin’s terror, the Gulag, persecution of dissidents or the bullying of the captive nations were dismissed as tendentious or inaccurate. More often it was based on a feeling that the West’s own shortcomings were so appalling that we were in no position to judge anyone else. Amid the ruins of communism in Czechoslovakia in late 1989, I sat through an excruciating dinner with my then foreign editor where I explained that the Czechs wanted to become a “normal country”. He couldn’t share my enthusiasm. “What’s ‘normal’ about Britain?”, he asked scornfully — a country where mounted police charged striking miners, where a quarter of the population lived in poverty, and where you could be locked up for a decade just for having an Irish surname.
Yet the Czechs were right, and my distinguished boss, whose liberal conscience was tingling so painfully with the shortcomings of Mrs Thatcher’s Britain, was wrong. Their enthusiasm for welfare capitalism and political freedom was based not on a naive belief that everything we had was wonderful, but a realistic appreciation: when things went wrong in communist countries, you were powerless. In Western countries, you had a chance, either through politics, the law, or the media, to get something done about it.
I was reminded of this at another dinner last February in London, where a frail but determined Baroness Thatcher enjoyed a lengthy standing ovation from hundreds of Lithuanians gathered to celebrate the 90th anniversary of their country’s founding. The Lithuanian ambassador to London, Vygaudas Usackas, with a moral clarity and historical perspective that are seldom found in our own diplomatic service, explained eloquently how Mrs Thatcher’s tough talking had given hope to him and three million other Lithuanians, a captive nation in the Soviet empire. The Iron Lady beat the Iron Curtain. She may be the object of easy derision on the London stage and at the dinner table, but to those who tasted totalitarian rule, she is still a heroine.
If the political elite in the West found it hard to grasp that the old Cold War was a struggle of good against evil, they find it almost impossible to understand the moral dimension of what is going on now, particularly with regard to Russia. Readers will need little to remind them of that country’s descent into autocracy at home and bullying abroad. The events—it would be unfair on countries with real political freedom to call them “elections” — of December and March produced a sycophantic legislature and a docile successor, Dmitri Medvedev, in the Kremlin. But it is clear that real power will stay with the man — and the system — that has ruled in Russia for the past nine years.
- ONLINE ONLY: Thoughts from a Hospital Bed
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future