The Return of Geopolitics

30 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, past power struggles are returning to international politics. What can the history of European reunification teach us about current challenges of European security policy? Historian Mary Elise Sarotte illustrated this during her keynote, which opened this year’s Körber History Forum on May 13.

A wide range of topics were tackled in international and interdisciplinary discussions during the Körber History Forum from May 13-14, 2019 at the Humboldt Carrée in Berlin. They included the relationship between authoritarian leadership, populism and liberal democracy in the past and present; the legacy of the transformation experience in Central and Eastern Europe and its current importance for the European project; limitations and prospects of compensating colonial injustice as well as lessons that can be drawn from the past for dealing with propaganda and “Fake News” today. Speakers included former Polish president Bronisław Komorowski, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian and columnist Anne Applebaum, Kenyan economist James Shikwati, the American historian Timothy Snyder, the chairman of the Munich Security Conference Wolfgang Ischinger and the American philosopher Jason Stanley.

One of the key elements of this year’s conference was the historical turning point of 1989 and its consequences for Europe. In the opening keynote on May 13, Mary Elise Sarotte, professor of historical studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, looked at the development of the international order after the end of the Cold War and explained how current challenges in European security politics are connected to the fall of the Iron Curtain and NATO enlargement in Eastern Europe.

The conversation with former Polish president Bronisław Komorowski focused on the transformation experience in Central and Eastern Europe following 1989 and the price Poland and other countries had to pay in order to join the European Union. From a Central Eastern European perspective, what are the values that can help bind the European project together in the future?

The chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, and historian Eckart Conze discussed lessons that Europe can draw from the failures of the Paris Peace Order established after 1919 and the diplomacy of the interwar period.
The importance of Europe’s colonial past regarding today’s inequality and conflicts between “North” and “South” and how former colonial powers and colonies can have an international dialogue on equal terms were discussed, among others, by the Nigerian-American historian Nwando Achebe, the Kenyan economist James Shikwati and the British historian and director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Philip Murphy.

“The power of manipulation” was the title of the final panel, on which the historian and columnist Anne Applebaum,  historian and propaganda specialist Jo Fox and philosopher Jason Stanley talked about how propaganda and “Fake News” was handled in the past and what lessons can be learnt for present challenges.

“One can barely, if at all, understand current political challenges in Europe without the knowledge of the past. With its international and interdisciplinary approach, the Körber History Forum wants to counteract the tendency to exploit history for political gain” explained head of the department History and Politics at the Körber Foundation, Gabriele Woidelko.

Video Mary Elise Sarotte

Agenda (PDF)

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