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                                                 E-Newsletter: December 1, 2020
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Belarus update

Nearly four months of continuous protests


Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (source Belsat)

As November came to an end, we mark the 115th day of mass citizen protests since the fraudulent election of August 9 in Belarus. The Lukashenka regime clings to power, but the foundation has been crumbling all around. While mass arrests and incarcerations of peaceful protestors continue, the opposition gains broader and deeper recognition and sympathy. 

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, representing the Coordination Council for the Transfer of Power, has relentlessly pursued engagement with Western governments for support. Currently, she has met with about twelve heads of state of European countries, and the list is expanding. International recognition of her as the true democratic representative of Belarus and her inspirational leadership has also grown, as evidenced by her being named to the list of the BBC's 100 Women, as announced on November 23.

In the meantime, on November 6 the European Union broadened its list of sanctioned Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka. The EU threatened new sanctions after the November 12 death of pro-democracy protestor Raman Bandarenka, after he was beaten by plain-clothed security forces. Indeed, on November 19, the EU foreign ministers agreed to do just that, and now intend to also target Belarusian companies. 

To hold the Lukashenka regime accountable, a People's Tribunal has been announced by the Tsikhanouskaya team, and a Unified Crime Record Book has been established. This will allow Belarusian citizens and other witnesses to record violations in detail, paving the way to register and to initiate criminal proceedings against state security officials.

In the United States, the House of Representatives passed a bill on November 18 (see more below) which "expands the President's authority to impose sanctions related to Belarus to include activities surrounding the disputed 2020 Belarusian presidential election and subsequent government crackdown. The bill also expands authorized assistance to Belarus."   

Besides the unabated daily protests in Belarus, global solidarity rallies continue regularly, including in the Baltic countries.  


November 29 rally in support of Belarus in Riga, Latvia

Lithuanian American Youth Association focuses on Belarus

JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau joined political scientist and energy expert Agnia Grigas for an online chat with members of the Lithuanian American Youth Association on November 8. The two guests gave an overview of developments in Belarus and joined in an open discussion about what Baltic-American youth can do to support the ongoing protests there. 

For daily updates about the situation in Belarus, please follow Infocenter Free Belarus 2020 on Facebook and also the Belsat website

Also, an instructive article from Orest Deychakiwsky, a former key congressional staffer who worked on Belarus-related legislation  - "Belarus on my Mind.

#StandWithBelarus    #FreeBelarus    #SolidarityWithBelarus   

Baltic Youth Organizations & virtual Baltic Advocacy

 ALYA Meets with Vytas Auktuolis

Earlier this month, JBANC colleague and friend Vytas Aukstuolis addressed ALYA (the American Latvian Youth Association) about the Baltic advocacy website Baltivist. Though Baltivist itself was launched two years ago, Vytas has taken the time to develop the website into a one-of-a-kind social media site for grassroots Baltic advocacy. He has also recently written about why advocacy is so critical right now in support of the people of Belarus. 

Vytas began the discussion by outlining his grandparents’ immigrant stories coming to the United States after World War II and how those stories became the inspiration for Baltivist. He then followed with a brief outline of the website itself. 

In total, 15 people participated in the event including JAV-LJS President Marija Cyvaite. 

Participants of the meeting with Vytas (top left corner) 
 
Baltic-American Youth Organizations Hold Annual Elections Virtually for the First Time
 
This past month ALYA (the American Latvian Youth Organization) held their 68th annual Kongress and their very first virtual Kongress. Orginally, this year's Kongress was planned to take place in Los Angeles but it has been postponed to next year.  Typically, the annual Kongress is held over Thanksgiving weekend but this year, lectures and board meetings were held the whole week of Thanksgiving.  

The first evening's lecture was a conversation between Kārlis Druva, Nikolais Pone, ALYA member and Kriss Putniņš, ALYA board member, about Mr. Druva's immigrant story and his time serving in the U.S. Air Force. On the second night, ALYA member, Larisa Medne, gave a lesson on cooking classic Latvian recipes using vegan ingredients. On the third and last night of the lecture series, ALYA board member, Daiga Cera spoke with former ALYA member Imanta Nigale about her experience making final edits and revisions on the song book "Līksmības Zizlis," originally published by Roberts Mattisons, and which ALJA will republish in the new year.  

On Thanksgiving Day, ALYA took a break and reconvened on the 26th to discuss last years work. On the final day of Kongress on the 27th, ALYA voted on next years resolutions, to determine ALYAs future work, and new board members. One notable resolution voted for favorably stated that ALJA would participate in the first virtual Baltic Advocacy Day, during early March. Congratulations to all those elected to ALYA, including our very own Madelena Miniats to the Cultural and Events representative position, and Lija Lusis, who was re-elected as ALJA's political representative of ALJA Action. 

Earlier this month, the Lithuanian American Youth Association (JAV-LJS) also held their elections of new executive board members. Congratulations to Marija Cyvaite as President, Maja Chiapetta as Vice President, Lukas Urbonavicius as Secretary, Agne Siupienius as Director of Marketing and Public Relations, Gerda Simkeviciute as Director of Cultural and Social Affairs, Laura Kilius as Director of Membership Affairs, Ringaile Barysaite as Director of Educational Affairs, and Jokubas Gucius as Treasurer. 

In the new year, ALYA and JAV-LJS will be working more closely together on virtual events. Stay tuned!
 

New and former ALYA board members 

       

How Baltic Caucus Members Fared in the
2020 U.S. Election

The nail-biting 2020 U.S. election has produced plenty of drama. While the result of the presidential election was not certain for a few days after the election, there are some things that are certain. That is that Baltic Caucus members in the House and Senate fared very well.
 
In the Senate, of 14 current Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus members, four Democrats and three Republicans were up for re-election. SBFC founder and co-chairman Richard Durbin won handily in Illinois, while Jeff Merkley won in Oregon. Newest SBFC member Jeanne Shaheen, who joined the caucus in March this year, fought off early challenges for a resounding +15-point win in New Hampshire. Senator Gary Peters barely squeaked by in his race in Michigan, with results not evident until 24 hours after polls closed.

On the Republican side, Susan Collins won perhaps the most nationally visible race in Maine, while Tom Cotton (Arkansas), and Mike Rounds (South Dakota) were also victorious.   

While Democrats needed to flip a cumulative three (with a Joe Biden win) or four Senate seats to take over the Senate majority, they have done so in only two races (in Arizona and Colorado), while losing in Alabama. The Peters’ victory in Michigan is essential for their hopes, coupled with another two wins, possibly in Georgia runoffs in January. 

In the House, it is already certain that the Democrats will retain their majority, but at the expense of perhaps up to a dozen seats, which include many first-term incumbents who had flipped seats in swing districts in 2018. As of the early afternoon, on November 5, Ballotpedia said that five Republicans had managed to flip seats, and the Democrats two, but there were dozens of races which were still undecided and some of them favoring challengers. As of the election, the Democrats held a 232-197 majority in the 435-seat body.  

For more on the story, please see the article here
 
 

Lithuania’s Female-Led Government: The Center-Right and Coalition Formation

 


Ingrida Šimonytė (at right), with Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, and Aušrinė Armonaitė.
Photo Credit: LRT (Lithuanian Radio and Television)

On Wednesday, November 25, the President of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, named Ingrida Šimonytė of the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD), as Lithuania’s new prime minister.  President Nausėda announced that Prime Minister Šimonytė will be given 15 days to submit an official list of ministerial candidates and a government program to the Seimas, which will then vote to confirm the government

JBANC Contributing Writer Willa Davis digs deeper here

 World Latvian Economics and Innovations Forum Features Discussion on
Three Seas Initiative
 
 

On November 19, the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL) hosted the fifth annual World Latvian Economic and Innovation Forum (PLEIF), which took place this year in Riga with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and WFFL partners. The forum, which was attended by nearly 2,000 listeners and viewers from 25 countries, took place online. The chief organizer and host was WFFL (and American Latvian Association) Vice President Mārtiņš Andersons.

In a video address, President of Latvia Egils Levits welcomed forum participants and emphasized the need for Latvia's economic recovery from the crisis caused by the pandemic, adding that more than two billion euros will be allocated to Latvia for such economic recovery goals in the near future.

One of the event's main panels was on the topic of "The Three Seas Initiative: What it Means for Latvia and the Baltic Region." Speakers were Andris Pelšs, the State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Richard L. Morningstar, Board Director at the Atlantic Council, and Reinis Bērziņš, Chairman of the Board of the development finance institution ALTUM, and JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau, who discussed both Baltic perspectives on the project and the view from the United States. Mārtiņš Andersons moderated the panel. 

The event came exactly a month after the successful Three Seas Summit in Tallinn, and a day following the passage of a U.S. House resolution supporting the Three Seas Initiative. 

Video of the panel.
Summary of the Forum (in Latvian).
PLEIF website.
Source material courtesy of the World Federation of Free Latvians. 


Legislative Update



 
Two notable votes which took place on November 18 in the U.S. House of Representatives were the passage of the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020 (H.R.8438) and a resolution (H.Res. 672) to support the Three Seas Initiative. 

See November 18th remarks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by primary resolution sponsor Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), and Republican colleagues Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Greg Pence of Indiana. 

Please also see the November 18 remarks Rep. Chris Smith regarding the Belarus Democracy Act.

We are pleased that the House has passed the resolution supporting the Three Seas Initiative. It is vital to our Baltic allies, enabling integrated development of energy, transportation and digital infrastructure. We're also pleased that Belarus Democracy Act has passed, as the people of Belarus are fighting for their freedom. Support from the West is critical to their cause for democracy. With little time to spare, and no Senate action predicted before the end of the session, it appears that the bill will need to be reintroduced in 2021. It will be a priority for JBANC. 

Key requests remain for this year, starting with FY2021 appropriations bills, in which JBANC is supporting the following requests as proposed by H.R.7608 and H.R.7617. This funding is crucial for deterring Moscow’s aggression against the Baltics:

* $11.4M in Foreign Military Financing for each Baltic NATO ally;
* $150M for the Baltic Security Initiative;
* Full funding for the European Deterrence Initiative.

Secondly, the House and Senate Armed Service Committees are resolving differences in the National Defense Authorization Act prior to the end of the current fiscal year, which is currently funded until December 11. We have been asking Members for:

* Support for coordinated action to ensure the security of our Baltic allies;
* Sanctions against Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline being built by Russia’s Gazprom via the Baltic Sea to Germany. The pipeline would entrench Russian dominance of the European gas market, significantly strengthening Moscow’s political, economic and military hand;
* Prohibition of funds for withdrawing U.S. troops from Germany. U.S. troop reduction in Europe would curtail our operational military presence there and signal vulnerability in the NATO alliance.

To sign up for action alerts, we suggest signing up with ALA's Call to Action UNIT. It's an easy way to inform our elected officials and policy makers about American interests in the Baltics, especially on matters of defense and security, and on a bi-partisan basis. Together with other colleagues, we work with ALA’s UNIT Management Team to identify and develop strategies for these Calls to Action. We hope you will join us in keeping the Baltic voice active and relevant in Washington, DC.
 
Congressman John Shimkus Set to Retire at End of Year

Congressman John Shimkus, co-chairman and co-founder of the House Baltic Caucus, is preparing to leave Congress after serving twelve terms in Congress, starting in 1997. He was honored with a tribute in one of the first resolutions of the new parliament (Seimas) of the Republic of Lithuania. The resolution was sponsored by senior parliamentarian Emanuelis Zingeris.  

More on the Lithuanian resolution honoring retiring Congressman John Shimkus (R-Illinois) is here.

JBANC thanks Rep. Shimkus for his service, leadership, and dedication in supporting the Baltic relationship with the United States. He will be missed! 
 

Facebook page of Rep. John Shimkus: "Workers came by this morning [November 19] to remove my nameplate and Illinois seal from the office. Over the next few weeks the space will be prepared for a new Member of Congress to move in." 


JBANC congratulates Congressman Gerald Connolly, who was recently elected as President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. More here. The NATO PA serves as the consultative interparliamentary organization for the North Atlantic Alliance. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Virginia), represents Virginia’s 11th congressional district. He was elected in 2008 and sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; the Economic and Consumer Policy subcommittees; the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; the Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism subcommittees. Rep. Connolly is the chair of the Government Operations subcommittee. Before becoming a member of Congress, Rep. Connolly worked from 1979 to 1989 with the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
 


JBANC featured on Latvian television news


On November 10, JBANC's Karl Altau  and Madelena Miniats met with Latvian Television News correspondent Ina Strazdina to give an interview on U.S.-Baltic relations, the U.S. elections, and a peek at the foreign policy outlook of the Biden administration. The story was carried in a segment on Latvian television (in Latvian). 

The entire interview was also played during a break in the program for the Rīga Conference 2020, organized by the Latvian Transatlantic Organization (starting from about 1:55:50). 
 
JBANC NATO Project Update



JBANC is preparing items for an online exhibit on "The #Baltic Journey to #NATO: Exploring the role of civil society, diaspora, governments, and media." Here's a 1997 JBANC letter to President Clinton urging better definition of U.S. policy objectives in relation to the CEE countries.

Thanks to a generous grant from NATO, we are preparing a virtual interactive platform that looks at the time and events which led to a successful NATO enlargement and membership for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The exhibit will feature a timeline of key dates and events that led to the Baltic inclusion into NATO in 2004, and will also look at the aspect of Russian disinformation during the process, as it remains relevant today. Our goal with the project is to promote and expand the knowledge of the NATO enlargement within the general public in the United States and other transatlantic community countries, highlighting how the admission of the Baltic countries has made the whole transatlantic community safer and more prosperous.

This Giving Tuesday, help support JBANC's
Baltic advocacy in the United States!


 
For over 59 years, the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) has served in Washington, DC as the primary advocacy organization representing Baltic-Americans.

On this #GivingTuesday, we ask for your help in assuring that the Baltic voice stays active and strong with the United States Congress and with the Administration, and policymakers.

Our actions have helped to achieve positive results for Baltic security and democracy, such as military support for the region, keeping sanctions in place against the Putin regime in Russia, and supporting the fight against disinformation.

Your donation today can help us to remain as active and effective as possible in helping to promote the cause of Americans of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian heritage in the United States.

Please donate here. Please note that donations to JBANC, as a 501c4 organization, are not deductible for federal income tax purposes as charitable contributions. Thank you!

 

For over 59 years, JBANC has served in Washington, DC as the primary information and advocacy organization representing Baltic-Americans. We ask for your help in assuring that the Baltic voice stays active and strong on Capitol Hill and with the Administration. Please consider a donation to help in our mission. Thank you! 
 
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