By Kevin Schaffner, ECSU Polisci Senior
On October 16th at The University of Saint Joseph’s Crystal Room I had the honor of attending a discussion between Robert J. Shiller, Ph.D., winner of the 2013 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, and Ambassador of Lithuania Žygimantas Pavilionis, Ph.D. The goal of the event, titled The New Europe, was to discuss the political and economic challenges facing Europe in the wake or Russian advances in the Ukraine.
Expecting a promising night of economic discussion and consequence of Russia’s aggression, the night quickly became a public relations campaign for Lithuania and a night of hearing Dr. Shiller’s uncertain opinions on what Russia ought to do. Deviating from the topic at the beginning of the event, both esteemed candidates traded comments on how great Lithuania is and how bad Putin is. It can be generally agreed on that Putin is not the greatest leader but the already distracted discussion took a turn off the highway when Dr. Shiller and Ambassador Pavilionis started comparing Putin to Adolf Hitler.
The Audience being mostly composed of distinguished members of the West Hartford community did not take lightly to these comments. Being part of an email thread that was meant to discuss the event, the overwhelming topic was about the insensitive comments. One email by James Sodder stated that “(the comment), Putin is worse than Hitler, explicitly devalues the Holocaust”. Another attendee, Havital Miltz commented, “I found the remark about Putin being worse than Hitler inappropriate”, she continued, “West Hartford has a large Jewish population, some of which are Holocaust survivors or descendants”. Though there may be arguable comparisons between the rise of fascist Europe and the consolidation of power by Putin as described in Robert Shiller’s article titled Parallels to 1937 online on Project Syndicate, the presentation of this theory was poorly done.
Much could have been done to present this comparison in a more professional manner, but instead the audience expecting to hear insight on the economic consequences of Putin’s aggression, found themselves hearing unsupported and rather insulting comments for the sake of promoting Lithuania’s anti-Putin agenda.