British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ended her remarkable five-day visit to the Soviet Union on Wednesday much as it began--by wading into crowds and shaking hands with those who had gathered to see her.
Large crowds pressed around her as she moved through the old town of this ancient capital of what is now the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia.
At one point, an onlooker reached out, grabbed her hand and kissed it. Others smiled, waved and greeted her with polite applause.
Before leaving Moscow for Tbilisi, Thatcher paid a brief, ceremonial farewell call on Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev at the Kremlin and also met with Jewish activist Josef Begun.
A British official said that Gorbachev, who held lengthy talks with the British leader during her visit, pledged a willingness to cooperate with her.
Wants to Cooperate
“I absolutely share that view,” Thatcher reportedly responded. “We’re wanting to cooperate.”
The presence of Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa, at the ceremony was considered unusual by Soviet standards and, according to British officials, reflected the unusual cordiality of the visit.
At a private dinner Tuesday evening, Thatcher and the Gorbachevs discussed life here and the social attitudes held by Soviet citizens.
Reports of Thatcher’s extended, often intense talks with Gorbachev and the days of heavy television exposure--including reports of how she survives on four to five hours’ sleep a night and cooks scrambled eggs for her aides when working late--appeared to alter the mood of those who gathered on the streets here to greet her.
In contrast to the initial curiosity that marked her first visit to a Moscow suburban residential area last Saturday, Wednesday’s encounters here seemed to carry a genuine warmth.
A guide at a city museum who showed her the crown of a 19th-Century West Georgian princess seemed to catch the mood. He suggested she try it on.
Thatcher laughed and declined the offer.
‘Rent-a-Crowd’ Era Ends
Of the prime minister’s reception in the city, one local citizen who had waited to see her explained: “We think she is a strong leader. She’s an iron lady. People respect her.” Another Soviet official connected with the trip explained the warmth by saying that the “rent-a-crowd” era, in which the Soviet government recruited greeters for official visitors, has ended and that those on the street were there because they wanted to be there.
As Thatcher moved from a wreath-laying ceremony to a museum, she appeared at one point to falter from fatigue, but she quickly regained her pace.
She greeted onlookers with the Georgian word “gamarojobat"-- which means both “hello” and “victory over your enemies,” an apt salutation in a city that faced over 40 invasions before being absorbed into the Russian empire in the early 19th Century.
Before leaving Moscow, she also breakfasted with Begun and another Soviet dissident, Rosa Yoffa, one of 11 women members of a Moscow group of so-called refuseniks, those whose applications to emigrate have been denied.
Later, after dinner with regional officials, Thatcher departed in a motorcade for the airport and her return flight to London, landing there after an uneventful flight.