Prince Charles stirred up international controversy when he reportedly told a Holocaust survivor that Vladimir Putin was acting like Adolf Hitler, with respect to his behavior in Ukraine. In a caustic remark, the prince told the woman, who had lost relatives during the Nazi rule, “…Putin is doing some of the things Hitler was doing.” Many international observers and political pundits have drawn parallels between Putin’s power play in Ukraine and Hitler’s expropriation of Poland and the erstwhile Czechoslovakia.
The Prince of Wales made the comment during his visit to an immigration museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was one of the stops during a three-day whirlwind celebratory trip to Canada by Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. The prince spoke to Marienne Ferguson, a 78-year-old Polish refugee who came to Canada in 1939, just before the Nazis took over the country. Ferguson was 13, when she fled the city of Gdansk in Poland with her grandmother, her parents, and her two sisters. They were able to get immigration permits to enter Canada but many others in her family were unable to escape before the arrival of the marauding German army. Though she survived the ordeal, several of her family members were rounded up and killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Gdansk was a major flashpoint during World War II. It was deemed a free city under the Treaty of Versailles but was taken over by the German army in 1939. An estimated 600 Jews from the ill-fated city, were sent to their deaths in concentration camps.
The prince’s statement is likely to be seen as a critical swipe at the West for failing to challenge Putin over his seizure of Crimea, the first annexation in Europe by a major power since 1945. However, Ferguson, who is a volunteer at the museum, was far from condemning Prince Charles. She stated that she was surprised by the remark since the royal family usually refrains from making political statements but completely agreed with Prince Charles’ sentiment, calling it “very heartfelt and honest.”
The comment by Prince Charles comparing Putin to Hitler comes as an inopportune time since the heir to the British throne is supposed to meet the Russian premier during events scheduled to honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day next month in Normandy.
Commenting on the off-the-cuff remark by the prince, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg asserted that the royal was free to make private remarks and express his opinions. He told BBC Breakfast, “I’m not going to start comparing one period of European history to another, but…I have never been of the view that if you are a member of the royal family somehow you have to enter into some sort of Trappist vow of silence.”
Under unwritten protocol, members of the royal family are discouraged from openly expressing opinions on political issues, especially about tinderbox situations like Putin’s aggression and the Ukraine annexation. A spokesperson for Clarence House, which handles media affairs for the British royals, refused to make any comment, saying that it was a private conversation between Prince Charles and Ferguson.
Prince Charles is not the first person to compare Putin to Hitler. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton came under similar criticism when she lashed out at Moscow’s plan to issue passports to ethnic Russians in Crimea and said, “…this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 1930s.”
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay