In 1990, IWM organized the landmark conference Central Europe on the Way to Democracy, bringing together leading intellectuals and politicians from across Europe, North America and the Soviet Union to discuss Europe’s future prospects at a time of dramatic change. It was a milestone in the history of IWM, crystallizing its mission of offering a space for discussions that transcend “any ideology, church, bureaucracy, or political party,” as founding rector Krzysztof Michalski put it in one of his interventions at the conference.
One of the participants invited for the conference was the young and already widely known British historian Timothy Garton Ash. In his remarks during the conference, Garton Ash highlighted the epochal meaning of the democratic changes throughout Central and Eastern Europe. He also warned, however, against the inner fragility of democracies, stating that what is needed to sustain them is a good and powerful spirit, “a certain combination of irony and courage.” Garton Ash quoted iconic Czech philosopher Jan Patocka and his maxim that there are things worth suffering for. This statement could hardly be better suited to the present moment, as Ukrainians fight for their country and on behalf of democratic values.
In his talk, Timothy Garton Ash reflected upon the years 1989 and 2022 as dramatic events that “change the face of Europe for ever,” as the title of his Guardian column put it. The presentation was followed by a discussion with Polish historian Dariusz Stola (like Garton Ash a member of the IWM’s Board) and IWM Permanent Fellow Ludger Hagedorn. The event was moderated by IWM Permanent Fellow Katherine Younger.
Timothy Garton Ash is the author of ten books of political writing or ‘history of the present’ which have charted the transformation of Europe over the last half century. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His essays appear regularly in the New York Review of Books. He writes a column on international affairs in the Guardian which is widely syndicated in Europe, Asia and the Americas.
Dariusz Stola is Professor of History at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Former Director of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
Ludger Hagedorn is Permanent Fellow and Head of the Patočka Archive and Program.
Katherine Younger, Permanent Fellow and the Research Director of the Ukraine in European Dialogue program at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, moderated the event.