Michael Ignatieff: “If Putin wins in Ukraine, I don't think there will be a Europe in 25 years”

He was at the airport in Vienna, the city where he teaches at the Central European University, when this Wednesday morning he received the call announcing that he was the new Princess of Asturias Prize for Social Sciences.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 May 2024 Wednesday 04:22
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Michael Ignatieff: “If Putin wins in Ukraine, I don't think there will be a Europe in 25 years”

He was at the airport in Vienna, the city where he teaches at the Central European University, when this Wednesday morning he received the call announcing that he was the new Princess of Asturias Prize for Social Sciences. The Canadian historian, thinker and former politician Michael Ignatieff (Toronto, 1947) arrived precisely from Madrid, where he had spoken the night before at the Ramón Areces Foundation. And, he says, amidst the noise of the airport he was surprised by the award. And excited, he lists, upon seeing the list of names that precede him in the award: “The Nobel Prize winner Esther Duflo, Amartya Sen, whose seminars I attended, the philosopher Michael Sandel, whose work on democracy has influenced my views, Howard Gardner... And I also know that in Asturias there will be a party when I go with my wife in October," he says with amusement in an improvised press conference via videoconference in which he talks about Spain, Canada and nationalism – "a problem that can be managed, but not fixed” – of the populist wave and that Putin cannot win.

Son of a Canadian diplomat of Russian and noble origin, Ignatieff, who in his work has addressed the dangers of the rise of nationalism after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is today one of the great exponents of liberal thought. In every sense. He was a disciple at Oxford of the great teacher Isaiah Berlin, to whom he would dedicate a biography, and from a young age he would be a member of the Canadian Liberal Party, in which two decades ago he attempted the old Platonic dream of the philosopher king: he became a candidate for prime minister. The dream ended in defeat and he did not even get his seat. Appointed in 2016 as rector of the Central European University created by George Soros, Ignatieff was a victim of the populist wave sweeping the world and the illiberal democracy of Hungarian leader Víktor Orbán: he experienced the upheaval of having to leave his headquarters in Budapest and move it to Vienna, from where he spoke to the press.

To begin with, on the nationalist issue in Canada and Spain, for which he believes there is only one way: “We must put an end to the idea that there is a permanent solution to nationalist issues that puts these problems to rest and takes them off the table. They are very old aspirations, we must relax a little and understand that these historical identities will accompany us for a long time and the best we can do is manage them in a civil and responsible manner, talking, talking and talking and understanding each other. The problem is when you look for a radical solution that solves the problem. These are problems that cannot be solved, they can be managed.”

Regarding the current polarization in Spain and the world, he highlights that “the policy of defamation and insult is an issue that worries many Spaniards. For some, it is a return of the repressed civil war, of the internal divisions of society. I don't believe it. Spain has had 50 years of fantastic success since the end of the Franco regime. It is one of the great European success stories. But despite that, there is polarization. I am liberal, but it is not the only thing in me and I believe that we all need to discover the multiplicity of our identities, of race, age, class, generation, and thus rediscover the common points. what we have".

Less with Putin. "We are in war. Europeans are dying. The question is whether the war will spread. If we do not stop Putin in Ukraine, we cannot be sure of the safety of the rest of Europe. We have to stop it here. Tell him that the borders on this continent cannot be changed by force. And if you try, we will stop you. If he manages to violate the sovereignty of a European State and crush a democracy, 50 million people who want to live in freedom as the Spaniards do, I do not believe that within 25 years there will be a Europe.”

Of course, it also speaks of the populist wave. And Donald Trump. “The real risk to democracy is not populists, nor people who rebel against the system. The danger is the people who have left the constitutional order. Giorgia Meloni has not done it. The problem with Trump is not that he has right-wing views or that he says terrible things about Europe. The question is simple. Will he accept the result of the 2024 election if he loses? If not, it is a threat to the constitutional order.”