At the National Academy of Sciences in central Washington last Tuesday, a group of Soviet and American officials waited patiently beside a statue of Albert Einstein. A few blocks away, at the Lincoln Memorial, about 100 reporters and cameramen were also waiting. Both groups were clearly hoping to meet the sightseeing Raisa Gorbachev. But both were disappointed. To the evident surprise of even Soviet press officials, the motorcade carrying the Soviet leader’s wife sped up and roared away when it neared the two memorials. Said a dejected member of the academy, who had been told to expect a visit from the Soviet first lady:
“In a word, it was gross.”
Secret: Sudden shifts in plans and attempts to keep her schedule secret marked Raisa Gorbachev’s first visit to Washington. Her controlled appearances were in sharp contrast to her star performance during last year’s summit in Reykjavik.
There, she attended a series of public events covered by Western television. But last week Gorbachev avoided the camera, and officials at the Soviets’ summit press centre gave similar replies when asked about her movements.
Said one: “Mrs. Gorbachev’s schedule is not published.
Perhaps you have a more important question to ask?”
Raisa Gorbachev faced the same question on the few occasions when reporters managed to get close to her: what were her relations like with First Lady Nancy Reagan. In the days leading up to the summit, White House sources said that Nancy, a former actress, felt little warmth for Raisa, who was once a professor of Marxist philosophy. According to an excerpt from a forthcoming book by former White House spokesman Larry Speakes, Nancy was miffed by Raisa’s appearance in Reykjavik last year, despite an informal agreement that neither superpower leader would bring his wife. Then Washington sources said that Nancy was angry because Raisa kept her waiting two weeks before replying to her invitation to tea at
the White House. Finally, after the White House sent her a cable, Raisa agreed to come, but for morning coffee, not afternoon tea.
Nervous: When Raisa did visit the White House for her televised tour—the only private meeting between the first ladies during the summit—a visibly nervous Nancy tried to downplay reports of a rift.
“It’s so silly, so silly,” she said. But the behavior of the two women indicated that there was indeed some ill feeling between them. Raisa seemed quite willing to upstage her hostess, while Nancy seemed determined to control events. When the Soviet first lady stopped to answer questions from reporters stationed around the tour route, Nancy intervened with her own answers and, taking her guest’s arm, drew Raisa away.
At the same time, Raisa seemed unimpressed by the public rooms of the White House and their collections of historical memorabilia. “This is an official residence,” she said through her
interpreter. “I would say that a human being would like to live in a regular house. This is a museum of American history.” In private, administration sources said, Nancy wanted to talk about combating drug abuse, one of her favorite issues. Instead, Raisa—to Nancy’s dismay-offered a lecture about the problems of homeless and black Americans.
Despite their philosophical disagreements and their very different backgrounds, the two women share one common experience. Like Nancy during the first years of her husband’s administration, Raisa is undergoing domestic criticism for her high profile and regal style. Critics have nicknamed her “The Czarina” in the same way that Nancy was once called “Queen Nancy.” Apparently to deflect domestic criticism, Raisa refrained from the credit-card shopping splurges in Washington that had been a feature of her earlier foreign tours. And privately, some Soviet press spokesmen acknowledged that the withholding of details during her Washington schedule was intended to lower her profile at home.
Coffee: Still, Raisa did hold an impromptu press
1 conference just hours before
2 returning to Moscow. After 'I coffee with six influential i= American women and a So| viet envoy’s wife at the x home of Pamela Harriman, I widow of the Second World
War U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Averell Harriman, Raisa crossed the street to talk to journalists instead of entering her Zil limousine. She told them that the signing of the INF accord at the summit was “a victory for the people of the United States and the U.S.S.R.” But before the Soviet leader’s wife began talking to the reporters, her KGB bodyguards took one last precaution. They ordered the only Soviet newsman present on the scene to leave immediately. Raisa Gorbachev’s views on superpower relations, it seemed, were not for domestic consumption.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.