Greenpeace behind the iron curtain

Greenpeace Russia is celebrating the anniversary of its founding this week.  Of course, when it was founded it wasn’t Greenpeace Russia, it was Greenpeace USSR: Gorbachev had just introduced glasnost but the cold war was still on and within Greenpeace, especially among our US colleagues, the idea of putting roots down in what Ronald Reagan had termed the “Evil Empire” was a very controversial move.

Which was probably part of the attraction for my boss at the time and the founder of Greenpeace in Russia, David McTaggart. There was nothing he loved better than a good scrap, whether it was taking his tiny ketch, Vega, into the French nuclear weapons test zone around Moruroa and then hammering the French for years until they gave in, or picking a fight when the organisation resisted his ideas.  Sometimes he’d even manufacture or provoke dissent, to ensure a crisp battleline, an epic proportion, and a “which side are you on?” clarity.

It was Ted Turner that first got McT into Moscow as part of his “Goodwill Games,” a project the Turner had created to protest the cold-war politization of the Olympics, which had led to a US boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the Soviet Union to counter boycott the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  Turner and McTaggart were two peas in a pod. Both empire builders, both difficult personalities, both autocrats, both fond of women and drink. 

When they met they were both fond of smoke as well, though Turner gave up his cigars when he started dating Jane Fonda, banned smoking at CNN, and bet David a ridiculously large sum of money that he couldn’t quit the cigarettes.  This tormented McTaggart for a couple years as his competitiveness drove him desperately to give up, his rebelliousness drove him to keep smoking, and the uneasy compromise he reached was to claim he had quit and just not smoke in front of Turner or any CNN employee, who McT was convinced were all in on the bet and monitoring his movements worldwide to catch him smoking. (Did I mention paranoia as one of his personality traits?)

Spending a week in Moscow with Turner was too much, though: he finally cracked and lit up, prompting Turner to double the stakes.

But if his first trip behind the iron curtain didn’t force David to quit smoking, it did lay the groundwork for Greenpeace in Russia. Which I guess I’ll need to write about tomorrow, as I’ve now rambled away my time, and there are kids to take to school.  Let’s call this Part I, there’s a few stories to tell here.

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