Berlin centennial raises Jewish and intellectual awareness

  • 2009-05-28
  • By Monika Hanley

RIGA - Philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, one of the most influential people to have been born in Latvia, is being commemorated with a week long celebration, including debates, documentary film premiers and workshops, which bring together leading academics, economists, historians and thinkers from around the world.

Former President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, patroness of the event said: "He is also our country's son, therefore it is fitting that we commemorate his centennial and host this international event."
"The winds of revolution pulled the family to St. Petersburg and England were he finished school, career and stayed to the end of his life," Vike-Freiberga explained.

One of the organizers of the event, Robert Cottrell of The Economist and Financial Times said that he hoped the events would help bring back awareness of a golden intellectual age in Riga.
"I think it's important to stress the Jewish history of Riga as well as Isaiah Berlins'. Much of the Jewish community here was destroyed," he told The Baltic Times. 

The Soros Foundation of Latvia is sponsoring the events, all free of charge for the public.
Berlin's work was centered on liberal theory and the difference between positive and negative liberty. He published over 40 volumes, many of which are used as textbooks in university classes.  
Though relatively unknown in his native land until now, Berlin was highly influential, both in the West and in Russia. Poet Anna Akhmatova of Russia received a visit from Berlin in 1946. Upon learning of this, Stalin's Culture Associate labeled her "half harlot, half nun" and had her poems banned from publication.

Berlin went on to found a college at Oxford and was knighted by the Queen in 1957, and awarded the Order of Merit in 1971.
Beginning May 29 and culminating on June 6, events will be held at the University of Latvia, the Small Guild, and the Stockholm School of Economics. A premiere of the film by Gints Grube, "Isaiah Berlin" will also be shown in Kino Riga.

A complete list of events and speakers can be found at