MANILA, Philippines – They didn’t always agree when it came to politics and policy, but on Monday, April 8, world leaders were one in mourning the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The “Iron Lady” was a polarising figure in Britain and beyond during her time in office, but foreign leaders were unanimous in acknowledging her place in 20th century history. Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron led tributes to Britain’s first and only woman prime minister.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said Thatcher was a “formidable leader on the world stage.”
US President Barack Obama said America lost a “true friend,” after Thatcher died Monday, April 8 following a stroke. She was 87. Obama also hailed Thatcher as among the “great champions of freedom and liberty.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thatcher “defined contemporary conservatism” with her economic policies.
Role in EU
European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso honored Thatcher for her “contributions” to the growth of the union, despite Thatcher’s own reservations about its merits.
Expressing his “deepest regrets” to the UK government, Barroso said she had been “a circumspect yet engaged player in the European Union” who “will be remembered for both her contributions to and her reserves about our common project.”
The German Socialist head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, also hailed Thatcher as “a figure of historic significance” while alluding to “clear political differences.”
“No matter whether one agrees with her policies or not, Margaret Thatcher showed that politics still has the capacity to be a force for change,” he added.
German Chanchellor Angela Merkel hailed Thatcher as an “extraordinary leader.”
In Spain, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Thatcher‘s “firm determination to make reforms” was an inspiration to European leaders who are currently “facing very complex challenges that require great efforts and political courage.”
French President François Hollande lauded Thatcher as a “great figure” who left a profound mark on Britian.
Gorbachev, Cold War
Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev hailed Thatcher as a “great politician” who will go down in history.
Thatcher was the first Western leader to reach out to Gorbachev in 1984.
“Our first meeting in 1984 gave the start to relations that were at times difficult, not always smooth, but which were serious and responsible for us both,” he added.
After meeting him, Thatcher declared “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together.”
Her Cold War judgment was not always so forward looking, though, as she told Gorbachev that “we do not want a united Germany,” just two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. (Read: The life and times of Margaret Thatcher)
Differences in views
Even those with reason to remember a sometimes divisive figure less fondly were quick to pay tribute to her huge personality.
In South Africa, a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) recalled the differences between Thatcher and those fighting against Apartheid in the 1980s.
“She failed to acknowledge the ANC as the rightful party of governance, but was out of touch with the British people on that issue. It’s water under the bridge,” said spokesman Keith Khoza.
But he added: “Margaret Thatcher was a leader of note, despite disagreements in policy between her and the ANC.”
Outside Europe, Israel’s conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first world leaders to speak publicly of Thatcher’s passing, saying that “she was truly a great leader”. -with reports from Agence France-Presse, Rappler.com