Welcoming Remarks Delivered During Baltic Unity Day at Priedaine (Latvian Club) in Freehold, NJ on October 13, 2018.
Greetings fellow Balts and Baltic-Americans. We, as humans, often package things into groups of three, or we find them in nature and faith. We like trios. Triumvirates. Think of a three piece suit; the atom consisting of protons, neutrons, and electrons; the holy trinity consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and of course, the heavenly New Jersey breakfast sandwich consisting of pork roll, egg, and cheese.
And here we are today, citizens, descendants, and friends of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia – the three Baltic countries. Three countries, independent once again. Three peoples, distinct, and yet very similar. And three languages, for today at least, normalized with English as a common language.
English today, because collectively, we are the diaspora living in the United States. And although today Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians freely emigrate abroad for various reasons and opportunities, and become part of the diaspora in that manner, many of us are diaspora of diabolical events. Many in this room, or as in my case, our parents or grandparents, were purged from their homeland by Stalin’s maniacal aspirations. In the tumultuous years after Molotov and Ribbentrop signed their pact – a gentleman’s contract of cooperation in their minds, but a criminal pact of suffering as shown by history – many Balts were faced with a most difficult decision. Stay or flee.
Those that fled to the light in the west as the Red Army darkened the sky in the east, hoped to return when the smoke cleared. As we gather here today, we know the triumphant return was not to be. Instead, they were relegated to refugee status. For a period of time after the war, they lived in displaced persons camps. There, they continued their traditions and spoke in their mother tongues. Nervously and with a deep yearn, they
periodically glanced toward the east and silently wondered.
Eventually, after years of uncertainty, many arrived on the shores of the United States and became productive members of society. They became laborers on farms. They tried to rekindle their trades practiced in their homelands. They pursued higher education and put that knowledge into use for the betterment of their communities, and ultimately, for the United States. They became hyphenated Americans, or if you prefer, simply Americans.
Some became freedom fighters in their spare time. Maybe not Hollywood-esque freedom fighters carrying a bazooka with a broken and blood-stained arm.
But, whether it was those that donated countless hours to the Lithuanian American Council, the Estonian American National Council, the American Latvian Association, or the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC), they made a difference. Speeches were written and delivered. Rallies were held. Legislators were solicited and educated. Then, in the thankful waning scenes of the Soviet tragedy, the Iron Curtain fell to a most welcome crash and the Baltics were rightfully independent once again. And your efforts, our collective efforts, played a small but significant role.
And so, today we convene in a day of unity. A day of solidarity, because we want to
celebrate our common heritage and freedom. We want to mingle and eat ethnic food not available in local restaurants. But we also gather because we are all concerned about current geopolitical events to the east of the Baltic common border. Not to the level of pure fright in the midst of World War II and during the subsequent illegal occupation. But nonetheless, there is a general unease.
But Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia can take comfort in the triangle – the geometric riumvirate. Three sides, which apropos to today’s theme, form the strongest shape. It is the most rigid shape, more so than any other two-dimensional polygon. Think of the triangles that make up a crane boom or bridge spans. Or, the shape of a roof truss. Three sides, in various angular configurations, forming a solid structure. We represent three countries, in geostrategic configuration, forming a solid alliance.
Conversely, if we were just three individual line segments, we could be easily pushed over flat on our backs. Dominoes, as opposed to a pyramid. In this sense, we are wise to stick together, and join those line segments into an equilateral triangle.
In reality though, triangle or not, the Baltic countries are tiny and no match for a menacing larger threat. So, our common strength is also derived from a greater common – NATO inclusion. NATO, of course, symbolizes a grand military alliance. But, as importantly, it embodies a cooperative of Western values and a defense of John Lockeian individual freedoms.
I’m sure everyone in this room smiled broadly on March 29, 2004 when the three Baltic flags were raised in front of NATO headquarters. Today, when discussing NATO, we often focus on Article 5, which paraphrased, states an attack on one is an attack on all. An important article indeed. However, in keeping with the theme of three, the Baltic countries are wise to also heed NATO Article Number 3. As explained by NATO:
Each NATO member country needs to be resilient to resist and recover from a major shock such as a natural disaster, failure of critical infrastructure or an armed attack. Resilience is a society’s ability to resist and recover easily and quickly from such shocks and combines both civil preparedness and military capacity. Robust resilience and civil preparedness in Allied countries are essential to NATO’s collective security and defense. (end quote)
Resilience and self-reliance. Given their rustic histories written with sweat, followed by decades of struggle against unmerciful occupation, followed by the current rapid modernization, the Baltic people are the very definition of Article 3. We know how to
resist and to rebuild. We know how to do things ourselves and take care of our own. Selfsufficient, and today thankfully, self-governing.
In closing, although our respective countries of heritage are free today, Putin continues to threaten the Baltics. Maybe not in the most overt ways, well, except to us… th e perils are obvious on the account of our common history. We know the tricks – the mass misinformation campaigns, the cat and mouse games, the planting of little green men. Clearly, our alliance, born of proximity, strengthened through friendship, and cemented by a brutal recent history, must remain strong.
As such, I am reminded of another famous triad – The Three Musketeers, authored by Alexandre Dumas. The motto of the Musketeers, and one we should hold dear among ourselves, goes like this: “All for one and one for all, united we stand, divided we fall.”