Anne Applebaum: The future of Central Europe

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Anne Applebaum was in Edmonton this month delivering an incisive address at the 25th Anniversary Signature Event of the Wirth Institute.

by Eric Schloss

(AJNews) – On the evening of April 23,2024, the Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies, based at the University of Alberta, hosted their 25th Anniversary Signature Event with a talk by internationally respected Pulitzer Prize winning historian and journalist, Anne Applebaum. The Timms Centre auditorium was packed for the event. The Wirth Institute has been well-known in the Edmonton Jewish community as the sponsor for the annual Toby and Saul Reichert Holocaust Lecture Series.

Ms. Applebaum explained that the preferred designation for formerly termed East European countries is now Central European countries. She said that it was difficult to talk about the future of this region without delving into the past histories which she has effectively covered in her many books and articles.

A main theme in her talk was the contrast between those countries which have achieved variable success in becoming liberal democracies, as contrasted with the development of autocratic regimes.

She particularly focussed on the present autocratic regime in Hungary, and the possibility that, if not effectively opposed, such autocracies could destroy more moderate and liberal countries. Now living in Poland, she portrayed that country as achieving more democratic success. Ms. Applebaum also stressed that the European Union must take a strong anti-autocratic stance, to achieve the desired more liberal future of Central Europe.

Following her lecture, a small panel discussion was held, chaired by Wirth Institute Director Alexander Carpenter, where Ms. Applebaum provided informative answers and comments to many questions. Audience questions, many from former citizens of Central European countries, were also handled with ease by the featured speaker.

Unfortunately, the event was held on the second day of Pesach, which limited the number of Jewish people in the audience. Ms. Applebaum should be on a future list of important speakers to our Jewish community, as many of her previous books and articles had significant themes such as the Holocaust, including a major history of the Gulag, and antisemitism in the central European countries.

“We were honoured to bring Anne’s incisive and illuminating commentary on the past, present, and future of Central Europe to Edmonton,” stated the Wirth Institute on their Facebook page. “Her ability to navigate the region’s complexities with clarity and depth inspired deep engagement from our audience. Against the shifting geopolitical backdrop of Central Europe, her message is resolute: it is more important than ever to pay attention.

“We are profoundly grateful ​for Anne’s commitment to addressing pressing global issues through her journalism, and for her unwavering dedication to fostering dialogue and understanding beyond international borders.​ Thank you, Anne Applebaum, for sharing insight that continues to shape our understanding of Central Europe and the world!”

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