Thatcher comes to aid of party in Russia

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The Independent Online
TIMES ARE tough in Russia. Inspiring leaders are hard to come by. But one group of political visionaries believes it knows what the country needs: Margaret Thatcher.

Not the former prime minister herself, of course, but her philosophy. Strange as it may sound, the Thatcherites of Russia have sprung to life and will hold their inaugural meeting in St Petersburg next week. Soon, they say, they hope to be operating in 20 Russian cities. Their ultimate goal is to run the country the Thatcher way.

Of all the possible political role models, why did this group of Russian conservatives pick Britain's Iron Lady, who was prime minister from 1979 to 1990?

"Who else?" responds Ruslan Federovsky, one of the founding members of the group.

"First of all, you know, Lady Thatcher is probably one of the uniquely popular people in Russia. She is probably as popular as ... Arnold Schwarzenegger. At a time when we couldn't speak for ourselves, she was not fighting against us, she was fighting on our behalf, because she knew in detail, in logic, the whole situation."

Anyway, he added, Lady Thatcher embodies a conservative political philosophy that should appeal to Russians.

"Russians are thinkers as well as doers," he said. "They need reasons and ideas, and we have that in Thatcherism."

Mr Federovsky, who described himself as a businessman and former commodities trader who has lived in England for the past decade, said he formed the group four months ago with other Russian business executives and students in both Britain and Russia. The group claims 4,000 members, although Mr Federovsky admitted that not all are actively involved.

It has published a slick manifesto that features a photograph of Lady Thatcher inregimental regalia. The group has also produced posters of her that proclaim "Thatcherites of Russia" in both English and Russian.

Although it has sent letters to Lady Thatcher to keep her informed of its activities, it has not explicitly asked for her support, Mr Federovsky said.

A spokesman for Lady Thatcher said in London that she was not commenting on the Thatcherites of Russia.

The group's manifesto describes a dire situation that would sound familiar to all Russians: "Empire disintegrated. Economic collapse, factories at a standstill ... There seems to be no hope."

But, of course, what they are describing is Britain of the 1970s. "And then in Britain, Margaret Thatcher came to power."

Lady Thatcher's good friend Ronald Reagan embodied a nearly identical political philosophy in the United States. Why didn't the group name itself after him?

"You cannot use Reagan in Russia," Mr Federovsky explained. "He's not popular."

And what of Tony Blair, whose popularity in Britain is at least comparable to Lady Thatcher's at her high-water mark, and, some would argue, is more in tune with the Nineties?

"What's Tony Blair done, really?" Mr Federovsky said. "You cannot compare the two. There's no comparison." (AP)