British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher turned a deaf ear to Poland’s debt problems today and assailed its communist economy for being “fettered by price controls.” But later, she went shopping and marveled at the cheapness of the goods.
Surrounded by a huge throng of curious shoppers, the 63-year-old British leader borrowed zlotys from Ambassador Stephen Barrett to buy jars of jam, honey and pickled mushrooms and fresh apples and tomatoes.
Referring to the huge jar of mushrooms which cost her 6,000 zlotys ($12), Thatcher said: “I try to get things that will travel. It’s a Polish delicacy.”
As she bought the apples, she told the stall holder in the covered market: “It’s cheap here.”
On the second day of a three-day visit, British officials said Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski told Thatcher that Poland’s $37-billion international debt was a “noose” around the country’s neck and he was looking for Western help to ease the burden.
But, an aide added: “The prime minister did not respond to this.”
Britain has said that it will not act unilaterally over Poland’s debt, currently costing it $2 billion a year in service charges, until it reaches agreement on rescheduling with the Paris Club of creditor nations and new stand-by credits with the International Monetary Fund.
The officials said Thatcher told Rakowski she believed Poland’s centralized economy was a “false” one because price controls made people “less free in what they could buy and sell.”
The aide said: “The prime minister said she felt there was a need for an incentive system.”
Rakowski, who has pledged to bring in limited moves toward a Western-style market economy, told Thatcher that state monopolies on a wide range of goods would be ended from the beginning of next year.
He added that he accepted that Eastern Europe trailed the West economically, but said Western nations did not have the same problems such as acute labor shortages.