12 July 2019

Free Exchange: Anne Applebaum on populism, Poland and Putin


With the support of the Atlas Network, CapX is publishing a new series of essays, podcasts and interviews on the theme of Illiberalism in Europe, looking at the different threats to liberal economies and societies across the continent, from populism to protectionism and corruption.

Our guest for this week’s instalment is the world-renowned historian and journalist Anne Applebaum.

Anne is a regular columnist in the Washington Post, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics and the author of a number of critically acclaimed books on the Soviet era, including Gulag – A History, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

Applebaum on… Donald Trump

We’re in a strange moment for the United States – the damage that he’s done to the United states in all kinds of ways is going to be pretty long-standing.

Applebaum on…parallels with the 1930s

We have political leaders now who seek to divide and polarise people and create antagonism inside society, one group against the next group – it’s not just the US and UK, you see it in Poland and other places as well. That’s all reminiscent of the 1930s. But what we don’t have is violence, and that makes it profoundly different.

There are echoes in the present, but it’s all going to take different forms this time.

Applebaum on…Poland

At least half the country is extremely worried by the government, by its attacks on the Polish constitution and the judiciary, by the potential for future attacks on free media – there’s already talk of “re-Polonisation” of the media.

The Polish government are nationalist in their language and quite profoundly socialist in their economic policies.

Applebaum on…the threat of Russia 

One of the reasons I’m not worried about the Russian military is that I think the deterrent of British troops in Lithuania and American troops in Poland is working.

We don’t think we’re at war with Russia – Russia barely figures in our daily lives – but the Russians do think they’re in conflict with us. And so we don’t really have a choice.

Russia’s goals are to break up the EU and to break up NATO….They are seeking to undermine us, they are seeking to undermine our democracy. It might sound like science fiction but it’s real, this is their foreign policy, and so we have an obligation to take it seriously.

Applebaum on…Fake news

Are we ready to regulate disinformation and start to think about what a democratic public space looks like in a world where most people get their information from the internet?

John Ashmore is Acting Editor of CapX