“The future of democracy depends on the things that we do after we get up out of these seats today” is what Professor of History at Yale University, Tim Snyder, opened his speech with at the Open VISIONS Forum on Thursday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m. 

Snyder is a historian and active member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He delivers speeches across the globe, collaborates with organizations like the United Nations, acts as a specialist in certain crises on the news and has studied in Ukraine for years. As an expert on the Russia-Ukraine war that began in 2022, Snyder was asked to appear as a speaker at Fairfield University about a year ago. However due to his high stature and greatly demanded presence, he was difficult to acquire until this past week.  

The Bennett Center for Judaic Studies at Fairfield University worked in collaboration with the university’s History Department to book him. It took a great deal of planning and funding to achieve and their efforts were received extremely well, as the Quick Center’s entire theater was filled, with people trying to catch part of the speech by standing all the way in the back. Robin Bennett Kanarek, a member of the board for the Bennett Center for Judaic Studies said that “it’s amazing that we were able to get Tim Snyder to speak at Fairfield. He truly does great work and Fairfield students need to hear his message.” 

The Quick Center for the Arts hosted the event in its auditorium and Snyder delivered a 20-minute speech regarding the descent into tyranny that happened in Russia. As someone who studied in Ukraine and spoke with their president many times during the war, he has seen how tyranny can negatively impact the world. His speech centered around the high presence of propaganda and tyranny in the twenty-first century that many people cannot recognize.  

Before he began his talk, someone shouted from the audience, “Is this going to be depressing?” 

Snyder responded, “You may think it’s going to be because of the nature of the topic. But my goal is for this to be hopeful.”  That sentiment echoed throughout his entire speech.  

His actual speech started with an anecdote about his high school debate coach who told him that “your presentation is successful if when people leave the room they are somehow changed. And change in the sense that they might behave differently afterward. That is my goal tonight. The future of democracy depends on things that we do after we get up out of these seats today.”  

Since Russia is a fascist nation run by a tyrant who uses propaganda to control all of his citizens, their expansion threatens the livelihood of the entire world, Snyder warned students.  

While many United States citizens and Fairfield University students may seem unconcerned about the Russia-Ukraine crisis, Snyder urges everyone to become more aware of the situation. “The Ukrainians are struggling and most people around the world don’t care,” he stated. 

Students are specifically removed from the situation due to little access to cable news and low exposure to the real world, especially on a campus that is not very politically active. 

Snyder explained that when the Russia-Ukraine war first started, “Our first reaction was to give up and other people showed us that you don’t have to give up. You can win.” 

Ukraine fought back and has continued to do so over the past two years and the United States still has not intervened, Snyder discussed, pointing out that he believes this is part of the American nature, which take other people’s efforts for granted.

“While this attitude may have sufficed for the past few decades, it needs to change before November,” he continues, noting that the United States is also in danger of falling into fascism. Snyder explains that we have all of the ingredients necessary for this to happen. 

“We have the willing tyrant [Trump], we have the laws on the books that allow for emergency action and we have the precedent of a coup. In the history of coups, the failed coup is very often the precursor to a successful coup. All of that is ready. It’s all lined up for us.” 

This may be a terrifying idea for many, but Snyder believes that it is necessary for students to understand what is happening so that they can try to change this trajectory before it becomes a reality. 

He ended his speech by urging students, faculty members and others in the audience to remember the downfalls of former President Donald Trump; how many of his actions were fascist and how electing him in November could easily push the United States into tyranny. 

“The point I want to make is that it’s great to see you all here because in March of 2025 we will all be doing very different things. I sincerely believe that this November will be a turning point in the timeline,” said Snyder. 

This change in the timeline is avoidable if students get out and vote and Snyder urges every Fairfield student to vote against tyranny this November. “Even if you’ve never voted before, I encourage you to do so because it’s fun. There are some things that you only do once because you’re young, so try it. Tell your kids about it in Canada,” Snyder joked. 

However, “when we vote, we have to remember that there was an attempted coup d’etat in the United States three years ago. We have to remember that eight years ago there was a campaign by the Russian government to choose the U.S. president.” 

Begging for students and other audience members to remember the past and become more politically active in the near future, Snyder ended his speech and received an uproar of applause. The event then proceeded to have a Q&A section with three Fairfield University professors asking Snyder a series of questions. After this portion ended, the audience was able to ask Snyder questions, as well. 

One student, Dimitri Skafidas ‘25, said that he “found the talk very sobering rather than inspiring. Tyranny and authoritarianism are often overlooked by Americans because they don’t know about history or the international community.” 

Skafidas believes that tyranny and authoritarianism are on the rise across the globe and warns Fairfield students that they need to become more engaged in the topic to stop this from happening. He also said, “Snyder’s talk was very good because he is extremely knowledgeable on the topic and Fairfield students should most definitely be exposed to more information about this and events like this because they often fail to know about the historical implications of authoritarian regimes and have a surprising lack of exposure to international media.” 

Skafidas shares the opinion of many of his fellow classmates when he stated that he hopes to see more influential figures, like Dr. Snyder visiting Fairfield’s campus and encouraging students to become more involved in the political climate of the world. “We can create our own history. We simply have to do something,” which Snyder shouted many times, hoping for it to sink in. 

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Junior | Head News Editor | Political Science Major | International Business, Spanish Minors | Boston, MA

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