Wednesday
May232018

State Department hosts exhibit Celebrating 100 years of U.S.-Baltic Diplomacy

The U.S. Diplomacy Center (USDC) will host an exhibit for the month of June highlighting diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from 1918 to the present.  The Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) and its parent organizations – the Estonian American National Council (EANC), American Latvian Association (ALA) and Lithuanian American Council (LAC) – were invited by the Department of State to prepare a display depicting the history of the U.S.-Baltic relationship.  The exhibit officially opens on May 30, 2018.

The exhibit consists of three panels, each covering one of the major periods in Baltic history and how the U.S. played a role in each era.   The first panel shows the period starting from 1918, when the nations first declared independence and enjoyed over twenty years of freedom.  The second panel starts in 1940 with the division of Europe and covers the Soviet era, ending with the first Baltic grassroots demonstrations for renewed freedom.  The final period is from 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union to the Baltic nations’ current status as members of NATO and significant players on the world stage.  The exhibit will also include a display case with artifacts from the three time periods.

Visitors to the exhibit are able to access the USDC lobby via the entrance at 330 21st St NW.  The displays are located in the back right corner of the lobby.  Hours of access are Monday to Friday, 9:00-5:00 and the exhibit will be on display through June 28th.  Groups of five or more people arriving together need to make an appointment; for more information, please contact Leslie Goodman, Nordic Baltic Public Diplomacy Desk Officer at 202-647-5624. 

The space for the USDC was dedicated in 2000 by then Secretary Madeleine Albright.  It was envisioned as a museum to “educate and inspire all visitors…showcas[ing] how diplomacy has shaped our nation’s history and how diplomacy continues to play a vital role in their lives,” according to its website at diplomacy.state.gov.  The project has been supported by every former Secretary of State since Warren Christopher.  Construction of the pavilion broke ground in September 2014 and was completed in January 2017, enabling completion of exhibition design and fabrication.

Credit for developing the U.S.-Baltic Diplomacy exhibit is shared by members of JBANC, its parent organizations, and other supporters.  The project was led by JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau, EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey, ALA Museum Director Lilita Bergs, and LAC representative on the JBANC board Henry Gaidis.  All were instrumental in gathering artifacts and photos, writing copy, and contributing to its design.  A large number of artifacts in the display case came from the personal collection of Mr. Gaidis and from the Latvian Museum in Rockville, Maryland.  The Estonian Archives in the U.S. were very generous in allowing access to their photo archives.  Finally, the graphic displays would not have been possible without the talent and dedicated work of Estonian American graphic designer Kristina Jõgi of Baltimore. 

JBANC will work with the State Department and Baltic embassies to find other locations for the exhibit once this showing closes.  All involved look forward to sharing the work with as many interested parties as possible and hope to see a steady stream of visitors through the USDC to learn more about the history of U.S.-Baltic relations.

Tuesday
May082018

Advocacy Day Draws Baltic American Activists

- Karin Shuey 5-8-18

Estonian Americans from Maryland, Virginia and Ohio joined over 80 Baltic Americans from across the U.S. on May 3rd for Baltic Advocacy Day 2018.  The event was coordinated jointly by the American Latvian Association, American Latvian Youth Association, Joint Baltic American National Committee, Estonian American National Council, and Lithuanian American Council.  The group held meetings with over 50 Congressional offices representing 18 states to discuss issues important to the region.  The day ended with panel discussions featuring experts on Russia sanctions and disinformation.

Participating constituents met largely with foreign relations and foreign affairs staffers in their Senators’ and Representative’s offices.  Their discussions highlighted the importance of continued support for NATO’s presence in the region, implementation of sanctions against the Putin regime, combatting disinformation, and securing the region’s energy supplies.  Participants also thanked the Senate offices for passing a resolution congratulating the Baltic nations on the centennials they are celebrating this year and asked their Representatives to support H.Res.826, a similar resolution working its way through the House.  Senators and Representatives were also asked to consider joining the Senate Baltic Freedom and House Baltic Caucuses.

The afternoon panel event, in the Rayburn House Office Building, was titled Prescriptions for the Information War and Sanctions Policy and was standing room only.  The first panel, on Using Sanctions to Force Change; Development, Implementation, and Enforcement Challenges in the Current Climate, included Latvian Member of Parliament and former ambassador to the U.S. Ojars Kalnins; Human Rights First Senior Vice President Rob Berschinski; and Kyle Parker, Chief of Staff for the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  They highlighted the effectiveness of exposing corruption and human rights violators and agreed that sanctions should do harm to regimes and oligarchs, not ordinary citizens.

The second panel, Hostile Influences at Home and Abroad; Fighting State-Sponsored Disinformation, featured Vladimir Kara-Murza, Vice Chairman of Open Russia; Vineta Mekone of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Latvia; and Brian Whitmore, Director of the Russia program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and author of the Power Vertical blog.  They stressed the need to counter disinformation through truth and exposure of propagators, education of media consumers, and legal regulations against bots and other modern propaganda tools.  The West should also do a better job of sharing the story of democracy, who we are, and what we stand for in terms that the target audience can relate to.  Understanding how opposing messages are delivered and received is another important aspect of creating an effective defense against disinformation.  The panelists recognized the great work happening in the Baltics to address the issue and encouraged teamwork at all levels, from local engagement to national governments and NATO, to make a difference in addressing the problem.

Participants were resoundingly enthusiastic and satisfied with the day’s results.  There was consensus that Baltic Advocacy Day should become an annual event.  EANC thanks the organizers, panelists, participants and offices that made time to meet with us for making it a successful day.  We will keep our readers informed on next year’s event and what can be done in the meantime!Over 80 Baltic Americans gathered in DC to advocate for the Baltics. Photo by Jonas Cyvas

Tuesday
May012018

President Kaljulaid Makes Second U.S. Visit

President Kaljulaid returned to the U.S. just two weeks after the April 3rd summit between President Trump and the Baltic presidents.  Her schedule for this visit brought her back to Washington, DC and then took her to Arizona for the prestigious Sedona Forum hosted by the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.

While in Washington, her main engagement was at the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Group’s Spring Meetings 2018, where she appeared as a panelist in the event’s discussion on universal health coverage.  The conference acknowledged Estonia as having one of the best health systems in the world and President Kaljulaid addressed the success Estonia has had with its online approach, along with innovations they have in development.  In describing Estonia’s fully digitalized public sector, she noted that “the only things [Estonians] don’t do digitally are…sell property and get married.” 

The president was also interviewed as part of the Spring Meetings 2018 Global Voices series, where she discussed a variety of subjects including health care, technology, gender equality, and the global digital economy.  Videos of the Towards Universal Health Coverage panel and the interview are available at live.worldbank.org by searching in the Event Finder for April 20th.  Her other appointments in Washington included an interview with Washington Post journalists Josh Rogin and Christian Caryl, and a visit to the Michael Sittow exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, guided by the museum’s curator John Hand.

President Kaljulaid then attended the Sedona Forum 2018, which took place on April 20th and 21st.   According to its website (www.thesedonaforum.org), the annual off-the-record event “convenes thought-leaders, decisionmakers, activists and diverse experts to discuss approaches and solutions to real-world problems.” The president joined Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Open Russia founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky as panelists addressing the question, Russia: Now What?  The panel examined expectations for Putin’s renewed term in power and options for responding to the Kremlin’s policies that continue to defy and attack the norms of national sovereignty, democratic rule, and international relationships. 

Posts to President Kaljulaid’s social media (twitter.com/KerstiKaljulaid and www.facebook.com/KerstiKaljulaid) indicate she had conversations with several other Forum contributors, including Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) on NATO issues and energy security, and actor/activist Ashton Kutcher on curbing the problem of human trafficking.   The full list of world-class participants and agenda for this year’s forum are available on its website.

The wide range of topics covered by President Kaljulaid’s second U.S. trip in a month again highlighted her ease with many complex challenges leaders currently face on the global stage.  During the summit and on this visit, she cemented her status as an intelligent, competent, caring leader of a nation that deserves attention as an example to follow for others seeking to modernize their governments and better serve their citizens in a digital world.  EANC looks forward to following her impact on the issues that define U.S.-Estonian relations and reporting on future visits.

Saturday
Apr212018

President Kaljulaid’s Visit – An Estonian American Perspective

- By Karin Shuey

Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid visited Washington, DC on April 3rd and 4th in conjunction with the summit meeting between President Trump and all three Baltic leaders.  Her busy agenda included meetings at the White House followed by a joint press conference; a U.S.-Baltic business summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; a dinner event at the Atlantic Council that featured outgoing National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s final address before leaving his post; President Kaljulaid’s first solo public speaking appearance in the U.S., also hosted by the Atlantic Council; a visit to Arlington National Cemetery; and finally a reception at the Estonian embassy.  EANC was represented at several of these events.  While reporting of the visit is widely available on the websites of the organizations that hosted the events and of many Estonian and U.S. press outlets, this article will focus on insights picked up by EANC’s Washington, DC Director as she moved through the week.EANC Washington, DC Director Karin Shuey before the White House press conference.

Everything EANC’s representative witnessed, from the press conference and business summit to the second Atlantic Council event and embassy reception, left an impression of President Kaljulaid as an intelligent, dignified, diplomatic leader.  She joined her colleagues in treating the summit as a meeting of equal partners on the transatlantic stage and demonstrated expertise on a variety of topics, including digital society, cyber security, artificial intelligence, genome mapping and global economics. 

The business summit showcased the Baltics as a great place to do business.  President Kaljulaid emphasized Estonia as the first stop for secure commerce, especially in the technology sector, finding it “weird” that all countries don’t require digital identification at both ends of transactions to ensure the safety of corporate and personal data.  She described the success of public-private cooperation in building Estonia’s secure internet backbone as a model for other nations to follow.  Panelists from U.S. companies doing business in the Baltics confirmed through their very positive experiences that the Baltics are open for business, citing work ethic, drive for innovation, loyalty, and resourcefulness as assets offered abundantly by business leaders in the region.  Also at the event, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, who attended the White House meeting, noted that the Baltic presidents developed a good rapport with President Trump, who was impressed with their candor on topics including defense, economic, and energy cooperation.  A video of the business summit is available at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website under Recent Events.

The Atlantic Council’s Conversation with President Kersti Kaljulaid highlighted Estonia as the world’s most digitized nation.  The president discussed artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, cyber security and Estonia’s creation of a borderless and secure digital society, and how all these factors impact Estonia’s digital government.  While addressing these very complex topics, Kaljulaid’s delivery made them surprisingly understandable.  She noted that there isn’t much Russian oligarchic money in Estonia because their digital economy is so transparent, and that the 2007 cyber attack didn’t meet the threshold for a NATO Article 5 response because it didn’t come close threatening Estonia’s security and sovereignty, having shut down certain services for only a few hours.  She also mentioned Estonia’s bid for the Eastern European non-permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council next year with a plan to bring discussion of the digital realm to the international table.  The full video is available at the Atlantic Council’s website under Events/Webcasts for April 4th.  The video of the dinner event, titled 100 Years of US-Baltic Partnership, is also posted on the same page.

The Estonian president’s visit to Arlington National Cemetery paid respects to three men with connections to Estonia.  She visited the graves of Robert Frasure, the first U.S. ambassador to Estonia after independence in 1991; General Aleksander Einseln, who retired from a distinguished U.S. Army career in 1985 and returned to his native Estonia in 1993 to become the chief of Estonia’s defense forces; and Private Jaak Kuri, who was born in Estonia, fought for the U.S. in Vietnam, and was killed there at age 24.  General Einseln’s full honors interment ceremony took place on April 2nd and was attended by the author on behalf of EANC.

President Kaljulaid’s final appearance of her U.S. visit was at the Embassy of Estonia, where she shared some thoughts about her trip to a gathering of Estonian Americans, government officials, and other friends of Estonia.  The reception also featured the presentation of the book, Sailing to Freedom, by Voldemar Veedam and Carl B. Wall.  It is the second printing of the 1952 account of the trans-Atlantic crossing in the small sailboat Erma from Sweden of Estonian refugees to find security in the US.

The president noted that every journalist who interviewed her during the week asked some version of the same question:  What did you get from President Trump?  Her response clearly illustrated her intent to hold equal ground with the U.S. leader.  She said she did not come to the U.S. “with an empty bag, [asking anyone] to fill it with goodies.”  She, along with President Grybauskaitė and President Vējonis, showed their mettle as world leaders and contributors to international security, standing side-by-side with their colleagues to solve global challenges together. 

EANC was honored to take part in this historic visit and extends its thanks to the Embassy of Estonia, the Department of State, the White House Press Office, the Atlantic Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for their successful execution of the week’s events.

Wednesday
Mar142018

Estonian Ministers Visit Washington

- Karin Shuey 3-14-18

Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser and Minister of Defense Jüri Luik were in Washington last week for meetings with their U.S. counterparts. 

Minister Mikser made a joint visit to the State Department with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts on March 5th.  They held a productive meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, where all agreed on the need to address with deeper cooperation the Kremlin’s malicious disinformation and cyber campaigns against the West.  Strategies to combat Russia’s threat to broader European security and Putin’s lack of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring nations were other important topics on their agenda.  They also discussed preparations for the Baltic summit President Trump will host in April and the July NATO summit in Brussels.  According to ERR News on March 6th, Minister Mikser highlighted the importance of  the U.S. as an ally in the Baltics, the need to strengthen the allied deterrent in the region, and hopes for progress on trade and stronger regional security as goals for the Baltic summit on April 3rd.

Minister Luik met with U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis on March 7th, where NATO, Russia, and cybersecurity were again main points of discussion.  Mattis’ appreciation for Estonia’s decision to support a larger NATO contingent in Afghanistan and Luik’s gratitude for continued European Deterrence Initiative funding were also emphasized.  More complete coverage of the meeting is available at ERR News for March 8th.

Minister Luik held a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a DC think tank, the following day, where he shared several insights.  He noted that there has been a mental change among NATO member nations since the 2014 and 2016 NATO summits that has led to increased defense spending among allies who had traditionally avoided it.  Estonia enjoys political consensus on its defense budget, which largely goes toward developing its self-defense capabilities and host nation support infrastructure to accommodate allied troops deployed to Estonian bases.  He observed that training in Estonia has added value to visiting British, Danish and French forces’ readiness.  Estonia offers unique forested military training grounds not found in other western European nations and that French troops have affectionately dubbed “the cold jungle.”   Minister Luik’s recommendations for improving NATO’s effectiveness in the event of conflict included better facilitating the movement of allied troops across borders, streamlining NATO’s command structure and decision-making process, strengthening nations’ political will to act if necessary, and better communication to the European public on the allies’ commitment to act as one.

EANC expects more developments on these topics as the U.S.-Baltic and NATO summits approach in the coming months.  Please follow this space for updates as U.S.-Estonian cooperation evolves.