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Anne Applebaum wins German peace prize for 2024

June 25, 2024

Polish-American historian and journalist Anne Applebaum has won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for 2024. She has been cited as a frequent critic of authoritarian regimes.

Anne Applebaum at an event in Madrid, Spain in 2021
Anne Applebaum has written extensively about Central and Eastern Europe and won a Pulitzer Prize for her history of the Soviet Union's Gulag system Image: Alberto Ortega / Europa Press/abaca/picture alliance

Historian and journalist Anne Applebaum has been named by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association as the winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for 2024.

"At a time when democratic values and achievements are increasingly being caricatured and attacked, her work embodies an eminent and indispensable contribution to the preservation of democracy and peace," the award citation said of Applebaum. 

The Polish-American journalist is a writer for US magazine The Atlantic, and has written extensively about Central and Eastern Europe.

She also "warned early on of Vladimir Putin's possible violent expansion policy," as stated in her biography.

Appelbaum is the author of "Gulag: A History" (2003), "The Iron Curtain" (2012), "Red Hunger" (2019) and "The Lure of Authoritarianism" (2021), in which she delves into authoritarian power.

She has received several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and the Carl von Ossietzky Prize in 2024.

The Peace Prize is presented annually at the end of the Frankfurt Book Fair and will be awarded this year on October 20. 

Last year, the award went to British-American author Salman Rushdie. Previous recipients include, among others, Margaret Atwood, Orhan Pamuk, Susan Sontag, Amos Oz, and Vaclav Havel.

A journey through communist and post-Soviet history 

Born in Washington, D.C. to Jewish parents in 1964, Anne Applebaum studied Russian history and literature at Yale University and later international relations at the London School of Economics and Oxford.  

Her journalism career began in 1988 when she worked as a foreign correspondent in Poland for The Economist magazine. She was just in time for the collapse of the Iron Curtain and reported from Berlin following the fall of the Wall.  

After working for several British newspapers like The Spectator, The Evening Standard, and as a columnist at The Daily Telegraph, she moved the US to write for The Washington Post before joining The Atlantic magazine — where she remains a columnist.  

In recent years, she has become a foremost chronicler of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  

"This is a war that has changed Europe forever," she told DW in 2023, a year after the invasion. "Assumptions that we had about Europe being forever safe [are] now over. This is a war that moves us into another era." 

"We weren't paying attention when he said he was interested in recreating the Soviet empire," she added of Putin.

Renowned German historian Karl Schlögel, who, like Applebaum, specializes in Eastern European and Russian history, told DW that the Polish-American's work was the "rare case" of "deep academic research combined with the ability to tell a story."  

The esteemed Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was "well-deserved," he said, because Applebaum's research had importantly "updated" the history of the Soviet gulags in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book from 2003; while her extensive research in Ukrainian archives made her "one of the best observers and commentators" of the situation in the country since it was invaded.    

Meanwhile, Applebaum's upcoming book, "Autocracy, Inc.: The Dictators Who Want to Run the World," to be published later in 2024, is described as "an alarming account of how autocracies work together to undermine the democratic world, and how we should organize to defeat them." 

Russia’s battle for influence: From Ukraine to Georgia?

Wide praise for work warning of Putin's aggression 

Anne Applebaum won the German Book Trade's Peace Prize for her contribution to the preservation of democracy and peace. 

A core part of her work has been to illustrate the fragility of democratic societies, especially when, in the statement of the jury, "democracies are eroded from within by the electoral success of autocrats." 

"Magnificent. Heartfelt Congratulations!" wrote Netherlands historian Pieter Gerrit Kroeger of Applebaum's win on Twitter/X, while calling the prize "the most prestigious cultural award in Germany." 

Kroeger had spoken with Applebaum about Vladimir Putin’s particular threat to democracy.   

"Putin was really the modern inventor of what the Russians have called managed democracy," Applebaum said in an interview with Kroeger on his podcast in 2018. "Which is essentially fake democracy."   

She also warned of an unprecedented level of "hateful rhetoric" in Russia against Europe and an alleged NATO threat.  

"European civilizations is dying, NATO wants to destroy Russia. It's extremely aggressive," she said of the “propaganda” emerging from the Kremlin. A little more than three years later, Russia invaded Ukraine under the pretext of protecting itself from NATO.  

But Karl Schlögel noted that Applebaum never indulged "in a kind of triumphalism" when her prophecies about Putin and the revival of Stalin-like Russian authoritarianism were fulfilled.  

Instead, she too had a "self-critical" view regarding the corresponding "weaknesses" of western liberal democracies.  

In all her commentary, journalism and academic work that strives to uphold democracy, Applebaum has benefited from "knowing the situation on the ground," Schlögel added.  

The writer is the latest recipient of a prize that began in 1950 when the German Publishers and Booksellers Association first awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade to demonstrate its “commitment to serving international understanding between nations and cultures.”

Now with prize money of 25,000 euros ($26,730), which is raised by the publishers and booksellers, the Peace Prize has gained worldwide recognition and is traditionally awarded on the Sunday of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. 

Protesting Putin: The Russian opposition in exile

with dpa

Edited by Tanya Ott

Stuart Braun | DW Reporter
Stuart Braun Berlin-based journalist with a focus on climate and culture.