Primary Sources

Prime Minister Thatcher's Press Conference in Moscow


In the spring and summer of 1989, Chinese protestors occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing in order to achieve some political concessions from the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time, the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev continued to follow along their path of political reforms with glasnost' (openness) and perestroika (restructuring). In September 1989, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom visited Moscow. During that visit, the Prime Minister held a press conference to discuss the contents of her talks with Gorbachev. She was clear in her support of Gorbachev's reform efforts, as seen in the following question and answer. In response to a reporter, Thatcher contrasts the reaction of China against political reform with Gorbachev's continuing support for his reform movement. This contrast allowed her to simultaneously criticize the Chinese actions while pressuring Gorbachev to continue to support glasnost and perestroika.


Margaret Thatcher, interview by the Financial Times, September 23, 1989, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, Archive, Thatcher Foundation (accessed May 15, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt


Prime Minister, bearing in mind the way that the democracy movement in China was so suddenly put down, do you think that the progress towards perestroika is now irreversible in the Soviet Union?

Prime Minister

I think the two are very, very different.

In China, they started on limited economic reform first but it was beginning to succeed in producing more goods for the people—on a limited scale certainly, but it was beginning to succeed.

You cannot get economic reform really going well and with a future unless you get political liberty. That was what they found. We have always known it.

Here, I think it was perhaps the wiser way to start: to start with the political reform, the thorough discussion. After all, new ideas come out of discussion and free interplay of ideas and discussion between one and the other. The glasnost as it is called, has gone very far very quickly, far further, far faster than we thought and I think that plus the communication of the ideas will in the end lead to much greater prosperity.

I think the point that I have to make again is that although the politicians at the top—led by Mr. Gorbachev—could bring about the glasnost, it requires the practical and willing cooperation of the people to enlarge their responsibility and their activity to bring success in economic reform. I believe that will come about.

I believe that the changes—the glasnost—really have become permanent because they have gone so much further than anything we thought and they have given a so much better atmosphere and less tension—the fear seems to have gone—and so I believe that perestroika is now set upon its course and that it will go through to success.

How to Cite this Source

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, "Prime Minister Thatcher's Press Conference in Moscow," Making the History of 1989, Item #69, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:24 pm).