“I want to be able to say anything I wish to say”

The following conversation took place in Russian in 1995 at Headington House, Isaiah Berlin’s home near Oxford. ADAM MICHNIK: What do you consider yourself to be: an Englishman, a Jew, or a Russian? ISAIAH BERLIN: I have lived here for seventy years now and people see me as an Englishman. After all, Oxford is the essence of Britishness. But though I have become a bit Anglicized, I am still a Russian Jew. I am a Jew simply because one cannot cease being a Jew, not because I cultivate a Jewish culture or a Jewish tradition. Those are important things; however, we Jews have paid too high a price for them. If I were sure that by drinking this cup of coffee I could, just like that, turn all Jews into Danes, I would do it. I don’t know of a single Jew, converted or not, who is free of anxiety; it is as if all Jews feel a vague sense of unease. There are millions of Jews in the world whose children grow up with such a feeling.Assimilation was not successful. Many Jews cannot assimilate. They are a minority, and minorities suffer, and they strive to be better than the majority. If one lives in a foreign country and doesn’t like it there one can go back to the country one left, either one’s own or the one that one’s parents left. Only Jews cannot do this, because there is no such country. ADAM MICHNIK: And Israel? ISAIAH BERLIN: For those who were newcomers there, it was not home. True, those Jews who were born in Israel have their home. But Arabs, their enemies, are there too. They force them into war. Then perhaps it is better to live in New York? In any case, I would not be able

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