The Annual Isaiah Berlin Lecture in Riga


The centenary of Isaiah Berlin's birth, in 2009, was marked by a six-day commemorative event (1–6 June) in the city of Riga, where he was born.  It involved a series of public lectures, discussions and talks, and was organized by the Riga-based Foundation for an Open Society DOTS, then funded by the Soros Foundation. The commemoration of Berlin's connection with Riga subsequently became an annual event there, with a keynote lecture as its centrepiece.  The honorary patron of the event is Dr Vaira Viķē-Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia, 1999–2007.  The content of an exhibition, 'Isaiah Berlin and the Riga of His Time', which was created for the centenary event, can be viewed online here.

The 12th Lecture in the series is to be delivered in person - the first since the pandemic began - by the Israeli academic, writer and politician, Yuli Tamir on 17 June 2022.  The lecture series is organized by the Isaiah Berlin Association of Latvia.  Information on the previous lectures in the series can be found below.

By Chatham House -, CC BY 2.0,
Margaret MacMillan, 2020

Professor Margaret MacMillan: Isaiah Berlin, History and the World of Today

The 2020 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture in Riga was given by the Canadian historian, Professor Margaret MacMillan, via video link on Thursday 26 November.  The lecture, the first held under the auspices of the Isaiah Berlin Association of Latvia, was entitled 'Isaiah Berlin, History and the World of Today'.  The former President of Latvia, Dr Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, gave the opening remarks. Margaret MacMillan was Warden of St. Antony's College, Oxford, 2007–17, and is the author of many works, including War: How Conflict Shaped Us (2020).

Stephen Kotkin at Princeton
Stephen Kotkin, 2018

2018: Stephen Kotkin: Turning Points: Yesterday's World, and Tomorrow's

The 2018 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture in Riga, 'Turning Points: Yesterday's World, and Tomorrow's', was given by Professor Stephen Kotkin, on Thursday 13 December. Kotkin is the John P. Birkelund Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton, and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. The second volume of his biography of Stalin, Waiting for Hitler: 1929–1941, was a Sunday Times History Book of the Year 2017.

Timothy Snyder
Timothy Snyder, 2017

2017: Timothy Snyder: From Inevitability to Eternity: The New Politics of Unfreedom

The 2017 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture, 'From Inevitability to Eternity: the New Politics of Unfreedom', was given by Professor Timothy Snyder on Tuesday 26 September.  Professor Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale, and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin (2010), and The Road to Unfreedom (2018).

Anatoly Naiman, speaking at the 2016 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture in Riga, photo credit Alfreds Ulmanis
Anatoly Naiman, 2016

2016: Anatoly Naiman: The Impact of 1945 on Isaiah Berlin's Attitude to Russia

The 2016 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture, 'The Impact of 1945 on Isaiah Berlin's Attitude to Russia', was given by the Russian poet and writer, Anatoly Naiman, on Thursday 9 June (in Russian, with Latvian and English translations).  Naiman was a member of the Leningrad group of poets, and in the 1960s served as literary secretary to Anna Akhmatova – whom Berlin famously visited in 1945, remembering their encounter as 'I think, the central event of my entire life'.  Naiman is the author of Remembering Anna Akhmatova (1989), and a study on Isaiah Berlin, Ser (2001).  The lecture was preceded by a screening of the British diplomat and broadcaster Peter Jay's interview with Isaiah Berlin for London Weekend Television in 1975.  (In the video linked to above there are no subtitles, and the first part and end of the lecture are missing because of technical problems on the day.)

Henry Hardy, editor of Isaiah Berlin, and author
Henry Hardy, 2015

2015: Henry Hardy: Isaiah Berlin on Human Nature

The 2015 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture was given by Berlin's editor, Henry Hardy, on Thursday 4 June.  He spoke on 'Isaiah Berlin on Human Nature'.  Henry Hardy is an academic and editor, an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford, and a Trustee of the Isaiah Berlin Literary Trust.  In addition to editing or co-editing eighteen volumes of Berlin's works and the four volumes of his selected Letters, he is the author of In Search of Isaiah Berlin: A Literary Adventure (2018).  He has given many lectures on Isaiah Berlin to British and international audiences.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, 2014

2014: Toomas Hendrik Ilves: 'The Liberal Democratic Order'

The 2014 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture was given by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia 2006–16, on Wednesday 4 June.  He spoke on the theme of the challenges faced by the liberal democratic order.  Ilves was born in Stockholm, educated in the United States (Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania), and pursued a career as a diplomat before entering politics: he was leader of the Estonian Social Democratic Party in the 1990s, and later an MEP.

John Gray, 2013 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture in Riga
John Gray, 2013

2013: John Gray: Isaiah Berlin and the Meaning of Freedom

The 2013 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture, 'Isaiah Berlin and the Meaning of Freedom', was given by Professor John Gray on Wednesday 9 October.  John Gray has held academic posts at a number of universities, including Oxford, Harvard and Yale, and was Professor of European Thought at the LSE in London until his retirement in 2008. In addition to articles in the press he has written widely on liberalism and liberal philosophers, and his works include Isaiah Berlin (1995), reissued (with a new introduction) as Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought (2013).

By Michael Ignatieff - Flickr: [1], CC BY 2.0,
Michael Ignatieff, 2012

2012: Michael Ignatieff: Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Empire and the Captive States

The 2012 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture was given by Berlin's biographer, the Canadian author, broadcaster, and academic, Michael Ignatieff, on Wednesday 6 June.  Ignatieff lectured on the subject of 'Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Empire and the Captive States'.  The former President of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, gave the introductory remarks.  Michael Ignatieff was the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, 2008–2011.  He has held senior posts at Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, and Toronto universities, and is currently rector and President of the Central European University.

Buruma (on the right) is pictured with Martin Amis at the 2007 New Yorker festival.
Ian Buruma, 2011

2011: Ian Buruma: The Pleasures of Liberalism

The 2011 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture was given by the US domiciled Dutch writer and editor Ian Buruma on Monday 6 June.  He lectured on 'The Pleasures of Liberalism'.  Ian Buruma was Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism at Bard College, NY, 2003–17, and briefly editor of the New York Review of Books, 2017–18, in which post he followed the founder co-editor Robert Silvers.  Buruma (on the right) is pictured with Martin Amis at the 2007 New Yorker festival.

Anne Applebaum
Anne Applebaum, 2010

2010: Anne Applebaum: The New Authori­tarianism

The 2010 Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture, the second to be held (after the inaugural lecture the previous year), was given by the American journalist and historian Anne Applebaum. She lectured on Monday 7 June on 'The New Authori­tarianism'.  Applebaum has written for The Economist and the Spectator, and joined the Atlantic as a staff writer in 2020.  Her study Gulag: A History (2003), on the concentration camps of the Soviet Union, won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

Timothy Garton Ash
Timothy Garton Ash, 2009

2009: Timothy Garton Ash: Isaiah Berlin, Europe, and Diversity

The inaugural Isaiah Berlin Memorial Lecture in Riga, 'Isaiah Berlin, Europe, and Diversity', was given by Timothy Garton Ash, on Monday 1 June 2009 – five days before the centenary of Berlin's birth, in that city.  Garton Ash, whose career focus has been on the history of Central and Eastern Europe, is Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford.  The 2009 centenary celebrations took place in Riga during the week of Monday 1 to Saturday 6 June, and they concluded in the National Library of Latvia with the unveiling, by Dr Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia 1999–2007, of a bust of Isaiah Berlin by the sculptor Anthony Stones.

 Riga, Freedom Monument, by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0
The 2009 Centenary events

Among the other events staged during the Centenary celebration, there were the following (all linked to video recordings)