by Lauren Burgess
“The New Europe” program, held on October 16th, was a unique insight into the economic possibilities and challenges that many European countries face today. The event featured two experts, Nobel Prize winning Yale economics professor Dr. Robert Shiller, and the Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States and Mexico, Zygimantas Pavilionis.
Dr. Robert Shiller
Dr. Shiller began the presentations with “The New Economic Reality for Eastern Europe and the Baltics.” He was especially excited to discuss this topic due to his link to Lithuania; both sets of his grandparents immigrated to America from Lithuania in the early 1900s. Dr. Shiller sees one of the main reasons for the Russian invasion of Crimea as a self-esteem crisis. Those in Russia question why the country is not faring well economically, despite a lack of Russian manufacturing of useful, non-oil products. Economic failure leads to anger and intolerance, which can fuel crises such as the one currently in Ukraine. Compared to Lithuania, which has experienced GDP growth following the global economic crisis, Ukraine and Russia were not able to recover as well.
Dr. Shiller discussed some of the data from his 1991 study on opinions in the U.S., Russia, and Ukraine with Maxim Boycko and Vladimir Korobov. The results from this study, he explained, showed an environment in Russia that might facilitate the rise of a powerful leader like Vladimir Putin. Dr. Shiller ended his portion of the talk by quoting Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 and his regrets on the economic direction that the Soviet Union decided to take. These quotes, combined with his role as a supporter of dissident press in modern-day Russia, point to a blueprint for a change in Russian policy and direction.
Ambassador Pavilionis’ presentation “Lithuania, Startup Nation” was an in-depth look at Lithuania’s stunning growth as an economic power and an important ally and member of several international organizations. He discussed the important diplomatic link between Lithuania and the United States throughout history, including the role of Lithuania’s “Freedom Embassy” in Washington, DC that remained intact during the occupation of Lithuania.
The ambassador stressed Lithuania’s role in Europe and the world as a rising economic power. Lithuania is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with the fourth largest GDP growth per capita in the world and the second fastest projected GDP growth in the European Union. The amount of startups in Lithuania is rising rapidly due to the favorable financial environment. Entrepreneurs from around the world are moving to start businesses in Lithuania, and the country also has several successful startups operating in Silicon Valley. Lithuania leads the Baltic States in bilateral trade with the United States and also profits from large amounts of U.S. investment. As a member of the European Union, Lithuania hopes to benefit even more from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which is in negotiation between the US and EU members.
Ambassador Pavilionis also stressed the threat that Russia’s actions towards Georgia and Ukraine signal for Lithuania and its neighbors. To help some of these countries to reach economic success, Lithuania signed Association Agreements with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The new terminal for gas in Lithuania, called Independence, will help European nations fulfill their oil needs without depending on Russia. Ambassador Pavilionis highlighted the need to fight for the rights of the Russian people, and pointed out several examples of biased Russian media being disseminated globally.
The New Europe was a fascinating opportunity to learn more about current events in Europe and to emphasize the important relationship between Lithuania and the US. The audience included members from various communities in the state, including Model UN students who were able to meet Dr. Shiller and Ambassador Pavilionis before the event and ask them questions.