Dear Members and Supporters,
Over the past two decades, the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL) has been a central force in defending the interests and concerns of the Baltic American community. You have played a major role in this. I commend you for the magnificent job you have done for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the United States of America. Your dedicated and tireless efforts to inform Congress and the Administration of Baltic American concerns have been most effective. You contributed substantially to the independence and security of the Baltic countries, and to the national interest of the United States. It is my earnest hope that you will continue this much-needed patriotic work.
I would like to cite author Studs Terkel’s recent statement on the Jim Lehrer News Hour about people such as YOU:
“They are people who are active. They are activists, which is why we were born to begin with. These people are those to whom I pay tribute, activists they’re called. And they’ve done stuff over and beyond their call of duty. They’re more than that. They want to have a meaning in the world. And as a result of their hope, the rest of us are imbued with hope. And they’re a prophetic minority…And later on that which they have worked for has come to pass.”
The accomplishment of goals has always been a hallmark of BAFL’s culture. It is the driving force for our success. With this heritage in mind, I reaffirm the Board’s commitment to never lose our dedication and ongoing commitment to our goals, and I proudly present the Annual Report for 2003.
In just a few months, next May Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will become full members of NATO. It signifies an end to the last vestiges of the Second World War, which began with the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 and the Yalta accords of 1945, and resulted in five decades of brutal and bloody occupation of our homelands. It is a crucial step in the Baltic return to Europe, but it took great sacrifice on the part of the Baltic people at home and abroad to accomplish this.
The Baltic American Freedom League played a pivotal role in reaching this goal. BAFL with other Baltic organizations initiated, provided input and supported legislation such as the European Security Act of 1996, the Freedom Consolidation Act of 2002, SCR 122, HR 116 and HCR 468 that paved the way for Baltic membership in NATO. Also, we monitored and worked with appropriate Congressional Committees to improve and secure additional funds for International Military Education and Training programs, Foreign Military Assistance programs and Support for Eastern European Democracy. We organized the House of Representatives Baltic Caucus, met with congresspersons and key Administration and White House officials in support of early Baltic membership in NATO.
As of today, 16 NATO member states have ratified NATO Accession Protocols. France and Spain remain the only countries still to ratify the protocols. They are expected to ratify them soon.
THIS IS YOUR VICTORY! It would have not been accomplished without your participation and your financial support for BAFL. Thank you.
Suspension and Resumption of Military Assistance to the Baltic Countries
On July 1, 2003, the Administration suspended military assistance to 35 countries including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for failure to shield Americans from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The court was set up to try persons accused of war crimes and acts of genocide. In 2002, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act prohibiting military assistance to countries which are members of ICC and do not sign an agreement with the U.S. not to extradite U.S. personnel to ICC. The Act, however, authorized the President to issue waivers if he finds that U.S. military aid to that country is in the national interest of the U.S. Because of pressure from France and Germany the Balts did not sign the agreement with the U.S.
BAFL led the campaign to restore U.S. funding. Repeatedly, we were told by high ranking Administration officials and Congressional leaders that it was “a done deal and not to waste or our time.” BAFL assisted Congressional staff with drafting Dear Colleague letters and recruiting co-sponsors for resolutions to exempt NATO candidate states from the suspension. The resolutions (S. 1373 and H.R. 255) were adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House International relations Committee.
Our arguments were that the Balts were already betrayed by Teheran and Yalta, that they were democratic countries, loyal friends and allies of the U.S., that they were under pressure from the European Union (EU) not to sign the agreement, that two-thirds of NATO members support their membership in NATO, they need the assistance to prepare for NATO membership, that they support NATO actions in former Yugoslavia and that they have troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With phone calls, e-mails and letters from Balts across the country, BAFL aided the Baltic Caucuses in raising and pressing the issue despite staunch resistance by the Administration. After more than six months of consultations with the Administration and congresspersons, BAFL contributed to the successful outcome of exemptions for the Baltics, described as the “most elegant outcome,” by one White House senior official.
On November 21, 2003 President George W. Bush lifted restrictions on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the four other prospective NATO members. Funds were released for the remainder of FY 2003 and for FY 2004. For FY 2004 Congress appropriated the FMF Program for Estonia at $6.25 million, for Latvia at $6.25 million and for Lithuania at $7 million. For the IMET program each of the three countries were allocated $1.2 million. Our persistence and hard work paid off. Thank you.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America Baltic and Eastern Europe Service Broadcasts
While we were successful in restoring military assistance funding to the Baltic nations, we have not been able yet to bring the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America 2004 appropriations to a satisfactory conclusion. Sometime in January or February of 2004, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian language broadcasts will stop unless we convince Congress to provide funding in the 2004 budget for the Baltic language programs.
Keeping the services in operation is in the interest of the U.S. Opinion surveys show that the same anti-Americanism so vivid in French and German policy is on the rise in the new Europe. The broadcasting of RFE/RL and VOA helps to counter this trend, presenting reportage that while not slanted toward the U.S., is not tilted against it, as is so much European journalism.
These broadcasts are perhaps the most powerful way of “showing the flag” to a large segment of the region’s citizens and its political leadership. Abolishing them would send a signal of slackening American interests and would play into the hands of anti-American leaders who have warned the new democracies to choose between close ties to the U.S. and integration into Europe. While the U. S. government is trying to abolish the broadcasts, the Russians have increased the Voice of Moscow German, English and Russian language broadcasts to Central and Eastern Europe by 18 hours a day.
Every congressional body that deals with foreign policy—the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee, the House International Relations Committee–has affirmed the value of the broadcasts and have endorsed their continuation.
As the Washington Post editorial (12/8/03) noted: “…the cuts to Radio Free Europe do not, therefore, really reflect a new administration’s push to control spending. Instead, they are yet another example of the administration’s poor choice of foreign policy priorities…the administration seems to have let whole chunks of the world fall of its diplomatic radar screen altogether. No iron law says that new democracies will remain democracies or even remain American allies. In this unstable part of the world, the sober presentation of the American point of view is still necessary.”
RFE/RL and VOA Baltic language broadcasts are in the U.S. national interest and in the Baltic countries’ interests. We ask you to support BAFL efforts to get Congress to appropriate $8.9 million to continue these broadcasts. For more information on the issue, please consult BAFL’s website at www.BAFL.com, check with the chairperson of your local organization, or contact me.
Congressional Baltic Caucus
The Senate Baltic Caucus and the House Baltic Caucus are comprised of senators and representatives who share a common interest in the Baltic countries. Their purpose is to help the Baltic countries develop as free, strong and viable nations, to promote their integration into western organizations and institutions and to maintain friendly and strong relations with the U.S. It provides the Baltic American community with a core of congressional members who are familiar with Baltic concerns and to whom we can turn to for support. BAFL has helped to recruit new members of Congress and has worked closely with the Caucuses on every issue that has confronted the Baltic community.
Caucus members have sponsored or cosponsored legislation, given speeches, sent letters to their colleagues and the President in support of Baltic issues. On many occasions, Caucus members have asked for BAFL’s input on legislation and other matters, statements and letters. Members of the Caucuses meet with visiting Baltic officials and assist Baltic Embassies in Washington providing them access to key congressional leaders. They alert us on congressional bills and issues that are of interest to the Baltic American community. Many have visited the Baltic countries on more than one occasion. The Cochairman of the House Baltic Caucus, John Shimkus will lead a congressional delegation to a visit the Baltic countries in May 2004. The trip will focus on trade and economic development. A number of the Caucus members serve on international organizations such as the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which are important to the Baltic countries.
Strong and active Senate and House Baltic caucuses are a great and valuable asset and resource to the Baltic American community. Its membership should be increased. The Senate Caucus has 13 members: Cochairmen Senators Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)** and Senators George Allen (R-VA)*, Robert Bennett (R-UT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA)*, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)**. Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)**, Ben Nelson (D-NE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH)*. The Senators with one asterisk are on the Foreign Relations Committee, those with two asterisks are on the Appropriations Committee. Both committees are vital to the Baltic American community. The House Caucus has 86 members, you may obtain their names and other information at BAFL’s website www.BAFL.com. If your Senators and Representative are not members, you should contact them ask them to join the Baltic Caucus.
Baltic Caucus Update and Baltic Bulletin
Because of a lack of funds, we were forced this fall to suspend publication of the Baltic Caucus Update (BCU). The purpose of the BCU was to inform Congress about events, news, issues and legislation pertaining to the Baltic countries. The material was written in brief, concise, and positive language. About 1200 copies were mailed ten times a year to all congresspersons and key staff members of important congressional committees and the Baltic Caucus.
Should BAFL’s financial situation improve, we’ll resume publishing BCU. In the meantime, we shall cover the void with the Baltic Bulletin. The Baltic Bulletin is published primarily to inform our members; a limited number of copies are sent to government officials and congresspersons.
If you are not a subscriber, I invite you to subscribe. I also suggest you subscribe as a gift for other family members, friends and YOUR CONGRESSPERSON AND SENATOR. The cost is $30 annually.
The Future of BAFL
Recent developments in Russia show that it is still a threat to the Baltic nations. Today the situation is considerably more villainous than it was just a few years ago. President Putin has made certain that freedom of the press no longer exists in his Russia. The erosion of democracy in Russia under Putin is now overwhelming. Since coming to power, he and his government have seized control of Russia’s independent national television networks and silenced the editorial teams of several major newspapers and weeklies. Reporters Without Borders recently published a worldwide index of freedom of the press that ranks Russia 121 out of 139 countries.
During recent elections three key phrases resounded repeatedly. The first was “a strong Russia.” The second was “liberal empire” and the third was “ethnic Russians.” Each of these phrases portends a far more assertive approach to neighboring countries, all of the components of the former Soviet Union, where ethnic Russians live. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) denounced the elections as “a regression in the democratization process.”
Mr. Walker of the United Press International notes: “For the three newly independent Baltic states, the new nationalist tone from Moscow carries more than chilling historic echoes; it also foretells mounting political and economic pressures.” In Colorado Springs in October of this year, Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Ivanov declared: “Russia reserves the right to intervene militarily in former Soviet states if the human rights of ethnic Russians were violated.” The New York Times columnist, William Safire recently wrote,” [Russia] remains a nuclear power with imperialist pretensions on its “near abroad,’” which of course includes the Baltic countries.
In light of recent events, we can expect Russia to try to reestablish its influence over the Baltics. Russia has never declared otherwise. On the contrary, it has always been open about their position that the Baltic countries are within their sphere of influence.
What is there to be done by the Baltic American community? It is a given that the U.S. will continue to do business with Mr. Putin’s government. Our job is to ensure that America is realistic in its dealings with Russia’s autocratic, repressive and imperialistic government; that the U.S. actively opposes any Russian pretensions to its “near abroad;” that America stands up to Mr. Putin when he threatens or violates the sovereignty of neighbors or when he imposes unfair, politically biased economic sanctions, boycotts or tariffs; and that U.S. relations with the Baltic nations remain solid and not distorted. We need to point out to Congress and the White House that such distortion is a degradation of our own western principles and ideals.
It would be naïve to ignore the formidable challenges that might still confront the Baltic countries and the Baltic American community in the future. BAFL’s work to defend Baltic American concerns must and shall continue.
BAFL’s priorities for the coming year are:
1. Secure funding for RFE/RL and VOA Baltic language broadcasts.
2. Support increased military and economic assistance to the Baltic countries.
3. Inform the U.S. government and Congress of issues and concerns important to the Baltic American community.
4. Counter and expose Russian disinformation about the Baltic countries and people.
5. Increase membership of the Senate and House Baltic Caucuses.
We Need Your Help
I want to thank you for your past financial support. The Board of Directors and I realize that our work could not be done without your generous and dedicated support. For BAFL to be effective, it must also have financial support from patriotic and caring people like you. Our only source of income is your contributions and your membership dues.
You have read BAFL’s accomplishments and what still needs to be done. I think you’ll agree: these things are worth fighting for. Any amount you are able to contribute, will be appreciated.
If you are not a member of BAFL, I invite you to join. By becoming a member you support us financially and strengthen our political clout. Whenever I talk with an elected or government official, the bottom line question is always the same: ”How many people are behind you on this issue?” That’s why I am urging you to add your voice to ours. The life membership fee is $100. For each additional $100 donation, you get an additional vote at the annual meeting.
The fee is the same for organizations.
I’d like to close by thanking all of you and my fellow Board Members for allowing me to serve you. The Baltic American Freedom League is an extraordinary organization and I feel fortunate to say I am a part of it.
Valdis V. Pavlovskis
Baltic American Freedom League