Timothy Garton Ash CMG FRSA (born 12 July 1955) is a British historian, author and commentator. He is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University. Much of his work has been concerned with the late modern and contemporary history of Central and Eastern Europe.
He has written about the Communist regimes of that region, their experience with the secret police, the Revolutions of 1989 and the transformation of the former Eastern Bloc states into member states of the European Union. He has examined the role of Europe and the challenge of combining freedom and diversity, especially in relation to free speech.
Garton Ash was born to John Garton Ash (1919-2014) and Lorna Judith Freke. His father was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge and was involved in finance, as well as being a Royal Artillery officer in the British Army during the Second World War. Garton Ash was educated at St Edmund's School, Hindhead, Surrey, before going on to Sherborne School, a well-known public school in Dorset in South West England, followed by Exeter College, Oxford where he studied Modern History.
For post-graduate study, he went to St Antony's College, Oxford, and then, in the still divided Berlin, the Free University in West Berlin and the Humboldt University in East Berlin. During his studies in East Berlin, he was under surveillance from the Stasi, which served as the basis for his 1997 book The File. Garton Ash cut a suspect figure to the Stasi, who regarded him as a "bourgeois-liberal" and potential British spy. Although he denies being or having been a British intelligence operative, Garton Ash described himself as a "soldier behind enemy lines" and described the German Democratic Republic as a "very nasty regime indeed."
In the 1980s, Garton Ash was Foreign Editor of The Spectator and a columnist for The Independent. He became a Fellow at St Antony's College in 1989, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution in 2000, and Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford in 2004. He has written a weekly column in The Guardian since 2004 and is a long-time contributor to the New York Review of Books. His column is also translated in the Turkish daily Radikal and in the Spanish daily El País, as well as other papers.
In 2005 Garton Ash was listed in Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people. There it is mentioned that "Shelves are where most works of history spend their lives. But the kind of history Garton Ash writes is more likely to lie on the desks of the world's decision makers."
Garton Ash describes himself as a liberal internationalist. He is a supporter of what he calls the free world and liberal democracy, represented in his view by the European Union, the United States as a super-power, and Angela Merkel's leadership of Germany. Garton Ash opposed Scottish independence and argued for Britishness, writing in The Guardian: "... being British has changed into something worth preserving, especially in a world of migration where peoples are going to become ever more mixed up together. As men and women from different parts of the former British empire have come to live here in ever larger numbers, the post-imperial identity has become, ironically but not accidentally, the most liberal, civic, inclusive one."
Garton Ash first came to prominence during the Cold War as a supporter of free speech and human rights within countries which were part of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, paying particular attention to Poland and Germany. In more recent times he has represented a British liberal pro-EU viewpoint, nervous at the rise of Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and Brexit. He is strongly opposed to conservative and populist leaders of EU nations such as Viktor Orbán of Hungary, arguing that Merkel should "freeze him out", evoking "appeasement." Garton Ash was particularly upset about Orbán's move against George Soros' Central European University. Anti-Soviet themes and Poland remain topics of interest for Garton Ash; once a promoter of the anti-Eastern Bloc movement in Poland, he notes with regret the move away from liberalism and globalism towards populism and authoritarianism under socially conservative political and religious leaders such as Jarosław Kaczyński, in a similar manner to his criticisms of Hungary's Orbán.
Garton and his Polish-born wife Danuta live primarily in Oxford, England, and also near Stanford University in California as part of his work with the Hoover Institution. They have two sons, Tom Ash, a web-developer based in Canada, and Alec Ash, a writer living in China. His older brother Christopher is a Church of England clergyman.
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