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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