Kunin opens summer term's symposium

by Alex Shartsis | 7/8/98 5:00am

Madeline Kunin, U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and former governor of Vermont, kicked off this year's Summer Symposium -- "Understanding New England" -- last night, with a speech which surprisingly focused on the effect of the Holocaust on U.S.-Switzerland relations.

The Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, which runs the symposium, chose "Understanding New England" as its topic this year. Kunin, however, did not let the title prevent her from discussing what she now knows best during her speech in front of a packed crowd of graduate and undergraduate students in the Rockefeller Center.

Kunin, who was the Symposium's keynote speaker, began the lecture with a brief discussion of her past experiences, characterizing her experience as the first female governor of Vermont as "clearly big fish in a small pond."

Although she briefly touched on her gubernatorial position, and also her former post as deputy secretary of education, her talk focused primarily on Switzerland and the repercussions of the Holocaust in U.S.-Swiss relations.

She said that there is a "raised level of frustration" among the Swiss with regard to the issue of dormant Jewish bank accounts, mainly because of the persistence of the U.S.

"The Swiss are in the process of doing an extremely thorough job," she said, and she added that she thinks the Americans are being too harsh. "The Swiss feel beleaguered by criticism [because] we're picking on them."

Despite the way the U.S. media is portraying the situation, the Swiss, according to Kunin, have made much headway. Swiss banks plan to distribute 250 million Swiss francs ($60 million) to Holocaust victims and their families.

However, she added that the progress would not have happened without intervention on the part of the World Jewish Congress and the U.S.

She also discussed the position of Swiss women, in both politics and society, as well as Swiss environmental policies, which she said could be extrapolated to New England, and particularly Vermont and New Hampshire.

When asked what else brought her back to the U.S., Kunin quickly responded, "My children and grandchildren."

She said she plans on returning to her post in Switzerland on July 18, after stopping by the State Department in Washington, D.C.

The former Montgomery Fellow and Rockefeller Fellow closed her speech by looking to the future yet speaking of the past. "It's been interesting so far."

The symposium itself is an annual event which changes its focus each year. It is an integral part of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program -- a graduate education program run by the College which predominantly enrolls teachers.

The symposium will continue to host a discussion every Wednesday throughout Summer term at 3:00 P.M. in 3 Rockefeller until August 19.