Lessons of the Past for Understanding the Future


The “Lessons of the Past for Understanding the Future” panel is distinguished from the others by offering the opportunity to reflect on lessons learned, both recently and in the more distant past. Anne Applebaum and Charles Gati from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of Oxford University and Timothy D. Snyder, Professor of Yale University discussed how we can reflect on, and utilize lessons from history. The moderator was Heather Grabbe, Open Society European Policy Institute, University College London. They examined the following questions during their discussion:

  • How do authoritarian power grabs use history, racism, and nationalism, especially in Eastern Europe?
  • How can membership organizations like NATO and the EU deal better with members that go down the route of domestic authoritarianism, but still have a vote and a voice in powerful international institutions?
  • What is still relevant, what should change and what must evolve to save liberal democracies?

Main takeaways

  • Turning against democracy is possible anywhere, anytime and it is happening at the same time in different parts of the world.
  • The modern business model of media is capitalizing on emotions like fear and anger:
    • The time we spend on social media tends to divide us politically and racially. It does not only lead to polarization, but also to action and violence all around the world.
    • This creates and consolidates two different senses of catastrophe: Fear from climate change on one side and from demography/racial balance on the other.
    • It allows for racist victim-flipping: seeing refugees as the aggressors, while they are the victims of climate change, wars, and catastrophes.
  • Loss of agency that comes from globalization. Problems are global and international and representatives inside countries are less influential. Therefore, they cannot deliver for their citizens. The distance between government and taxpayer/voter is getting bigger inside states, but it is ten times worse at the EU level.
  • Loss of US leadership when other powers are rising with alternative models and values. Chinese and Russians are offering different models for developing nations and it is eroding faith in democracy and civic values.
  • The European Union is an empire which denies it is an empire, formed from the remnants of other empires. Although it has leverage and power, the EU does not use it to defend its While it does not allow diversity in economic models, it allows diversity in democratic models.

Policy recommendations

  • The EU should not try to appease autocrats like Orbán, it should create a functional linkage between European values and money Taking responsibility for taxpayer’s money could increase confidence in the European Commission. It should enforce less diversity in democratic models.
  • Increasing the power of the European Parliament could increase the legitimacy of the European Union.
  • If liberal democracies want to sustain themselves, their defender must learn to use normative language again, and maybe even a naïve principle that their system is ultimately You can only respond to autocrats by doubling down on your values.
  • The liberals in Eastern Europe should look back for examples of great reforms and think about the lessons. We can examine the past and talk about what we learnt from it, and it can generate better