ZZ: What advice would you give to women activists who are on the forefront of a lot of pro–democratic movements across Europe?
AA: While we still live in democracies, the way to get power is to influence political parties. And so ultimately what I would like to see women in Poland doing, for example, as well as women in other Central and Western European countries, is beginning to stand for political office – run for local government, run for mayorships, run for parliament. And whether that means working within existing parties or finding ways to constructively create new parties, it doesn’t really matter. Participate in actual democratic politics and not just in civil society or street demonstrations – this is how you’re going to get real change.
If you are in charge of the government, or even if you’re in charge of a local government, you have way more influence than you do as somebody holding a protest sign. That’s not to devalue the importance of holding protest signs, I believe in that too.
But at the end of the day, if you really want to change something, you need power.
Participating in politics, being part of a party, helping to reform existing parties, and then helping to reform the government – this is how you’re going to get real change.
ZZ: This is what the women’s movement in America is pioneering now, with some success.
AA: Absolutely. If you care about these issues, be in your local government, run for mayor, be a member of Parliament. That way, if you’re an elected official, you can do a lot more than you can as somebody on the outside. And it’s very tempting, particularly in Poland, to think “Oh well, all these parties are awful, I don’t like anybody...”
ZZ:... “Politics is corrupt...”
AA: OK, you don’t like them. Then you should be in the party changing it from within. And this is what women in the United States are trying to do inside the Democratic Party, this is what Polish women should be doing inside existing parties, whether it’s Platforma or Nowoczesna.
The important thing is that it be a party that has a chance of winning power. And this is how to change things.
ZZ: Many activists fear that the political system will force them to compromise away their resolve.
AA: Making compromises, learning how to work with other people, being in coalitions, this is what being a grown-up means. You want to change something, you’re going to have to find ways of bringing people over to your side. You’re going to have to win the arguments, but it’s much better to win the arguments on the inside than on the outside. And this is not to say, I repeat, that I’m against street protest – you can change things from the outside, you can change the conversation.
But if you really want to change the law, if you want to change the political system, if you want to improve it, then you need to be inside.
I feel that really strongly.
ZZ: What else do you feel strongly about in Europe today? Is there a European news story are you keeping a close eye on?
AA: I’m watching very closely the story about the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury in England. It’s important because it illustrates the degree to which Putin’s Russia is now willing to break all kinds of rules.
During the Cold War, for example, we didn’t murder spies who had already been traded. He was pardoned by the Putin regime and, until now, the understanding was: “Hands off, he’s now living in Salisbury.” Secondly, the fact that the Russians are willing to use a military-grade chemical warfare weapon in a provincial English town shows that they’re just no longer afraid of British law or British retaliation. And I think that this, alongside the interference in the U.S. election and interference in other European elections, shows that we are dealing with a genuinely arrogant regime that is simply not afraid anymore of breaking laws all over Europe. I think that this is the time for a much more vigorous response.
ZZ: What kind of response do you think the British government should have to this situation?
AA: So far, they’ve done some very standard things – they’ve kicked out some diplomats, they’ve announced, vaguely, that they’ll be pursuing people, and so on. But I think that what this really needed is to lead European governments to the realization that we have, for far too long, allowed Russians – and others, frankly – to abuse and manipulate our financial markets and our bankers, our accountants, our lawyers, to launder their money and then use it, often for political causes and for corrupt causes.
A real response -- a real effort to end money laundering in Britain altogether -- would be just to stop the use of anonymous shell companies, which are a major factor in London property market, to stop the use of tax havens.
Lots of money goes through London on its way to the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and other places. Put real financial restrictions on Russians who are close to the regime and who live in London and whose wives and children are often in London, and simply put an end to this whole symbiotic relationship.
Anne Applebaum is a columnist for the WASHINGTON POST and a Pulitzer-prize winning historian. She is also Professor of Practice at the London School of Economics’s Institute of Global Affairs where she runs Arena, a program on disinformation and 21st century propaganda.