Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Two Men Who Brought a Thaw to the Cold War

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Two Men Who Brought a Thaw to the Cold War

Article excerpt

Byline: A Londoner's Diary Evgeny Lebedev

AS IF England wasn't cold enough last week, I headed off to Iceland to interview the excellent mayor of Reykjavik. Surprisingly, the temperature in the land of the Vikings wasn't far off that in London, and Reykjavik itself was a jolly place for a break -- it's not every day you get to tuck in to smoked puffin back in London.

We filmed the mayor, Jon Gnarr, in a building so steeped in Soviet history it made the hairs prickle on the back of my neck. Although Gnarr joked that it was a 19th-century Ikea house, the three-storey Swedish style mansion was, in fact, the former French consulate where Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev held the famous 1986 summit that laid the groundwork for nuclear nonproliferation.

The meeting room had been left pretty much untouched as it was back then. You could still feel the sense of power in there. Full nuclear disarmament -- Gorbachev's dream -- was not quite achieved due, I was told, to Reagan's dementia.

Cartoon network I phoned Mikhail to tell him where I was, and it cheered him up immensely -- "That place holds a particularly good place in my heart," he enthused. It felt great to make him so happy -- the last time I'd seen him was when I interviewed him for this month's US Vogue (shameless plug, I know), and the burden of being in and out of hospital had been weighing on his spirits.

As ever with historic places, the stories they tell of the ordinary people can be just as profound as those of the great men. In this case, it was the basement room, where Reagan's and Gorbachev's security men sat together watching Tom & Jerry cartoons while their bosses laid out the path towards world peace a floor above. I can imagine the Russian guards lapping up those American cartoons like I did when I first saw one: we had nothing like it in Soviet days, apart from the Nu Pogodi! show, which starred a chainsmoking wolf trying to catch a rabbit (inset above). It was pretty funny, actually -- you can still check it out on YouTube.

May the force be with him The Icelanders are an unusual and fascinating people. Their country is so remote, their number so small -- little more than 300,000. They are resilient to the climate, proud of their tough Viking heritage. Little wonder, then, that they should elect such a remarkable politician as Gnarr. I say politician, but he really isn't a politician at all, in our sense of the word. Gnarr was always a rebel, and still is. He left school at 16, became a punk rocker, then got into TV and radio. He used to do stunt phone calls on his radio station. After the Iraq war when the hunt was on for Saddam, he phoned the White House and the CIA on his show 20 times claiming to have seen him walking around Reykjavik. America didn't see the funny side: pretty soon he got a call telling him to desist or face the "consequences". …

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