The Annual Isaiah Berlin Day 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 Isaiah Berlin Day in Riga subsequently became an annual event, centred on a keynote lecture. Its honorary patron 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.
Because of organizational reasons there was no lecture in 2019: the 11th Lecture was due to be delivered on 13 March 2020, by the Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan, but it was postponed because of the COVID pandemic until Thursday 26 November, when Professor MacMillan lectured by video link on 'Isaiah Berlin, History and the World of Today'. The lecture was organized by the newly reconstituted Isaiah Berlin Association of Latvia. Information on the eleven lectures in the series can be found below.
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).
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Among the other events staged during the Centenary celebration, there were the following (all linked to video recordings)
- Introductory remarks by: Ian Buruma; Dr Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga; Mārcis Auziņš, Rector of the University of Latvia; Inta Brikše, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Latvia; Andris Aukmanis, Executive Director, Soros Foundation Latvia. These remarks were followed by a lecture: Henry Hardy, ‘Isaiah Berlin in Person’ (which begins at 19.10 in the video)
- Avishai Margalit, ‘Isaiah Berlin: Home and Homeland’
- Ian Buruma in conversation with Bill Emmott, ‘Isaiah Berlin as a Public Intellectual’, and Justin Cartwright, ‘The Song Before It is Sung’ (Cartwright at 52:46)
- Steven Lukes Q & A, ‘Isaiah Berlin the Liberal’
- Aryeh Neier in conversation with Charles Grant, ‘On Positive Liberty’
Image of the Riga Freedom Monument courtesy of Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0