The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) held its 13th conference in Washington, DC on November 9, 2019. The opening address was given by Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (pictured above with the ambassadors from Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia) who remarked on the vital cooperation of the Baltic-American communities which have helped raise and maintain the Baltic profile in the United States. For more information, please see here.
Dr. Michael Carpenter, from the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, addressed many of the threats we are facing with a resurgent Russia, and also the looming pitfalls of a shifting environment of U.S. relations with its transatlantic partners. He commented that “if we let Russia be Russia, we will see not 20% of Georgia and Ukraine occupied, but 100%.”
The major themes of the discussion which followed focused further on threats, whether military, hybrid, cyber and especially manipulation of information and media. These views were presented from Baltic and wider European perspectives, and by U.S. analysts who are raising the threat alarm bells on a daily basis in the U.S., including longtime area specialist Paul Goble, WTOP radio national security correspondent JJ Green, and Power Verticle podcast host Brian Whitmore.
The topic of disinformation and malign influence by foreign actors is of utmost importance, as noted by growing awareness in the United States. Another key takeaway is that we need to work harder in identifying and calling out false narratives and disinformation and improving resilience to these ongoing hybrid attacks. Coordination and info sharing between involved parties is key. Adapting good tools that exist could be multiplied just by reaching out more broadly to even wider audiences. The luncheon keynote featured a Baltic centennial overview by Dr. Andres Kasekamp, the Chair of Estonian Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. The conference was opened with a welcome by JBANC President Saulius Kuprys and remarks by ambassadors Jonatan Vseviov (Estonia), Māris Selga (Latvia), and Rolandas Kriščiūnas (Lithuania).
The first panel was on the perspectives of U.S.-Baltic organizations and featured Marju Rink-Abel, President of EANC; Saulius Kuprys, President of the Lithuanian American Council and JBANC; and Dzintars Dzilna, Director of Public Relations for the American Latvian Association. The panel was moderated by Karin Shuey, the DC Director for EANC.
Panel two was on “NATO, Threats, and the Baltic Neighborhood” with Paul Goble, JJ Green, and Eerik-Niiles Kross, a Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Estonian Parliament, and was moderated by Jaak Treiman, the Estonian Honorary Consul in Los Angeles.
The third panel focused on “Baltic elections: Lessons learned and looking ahead to 2020,” with a look at how Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are identifying threats to election security and how they are combatting them.
The panel was supported by the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF), and each participant was a previous BAFF scholarship recipient: Anna Ūdre, a freelance journalist and Latvia StratCom Contributor at the Center for European Policy Analysis; Karoline Kelder, Strategic communication adviser for the Government Office of Estonia; and Dovile Sukyte, Policy Analyst (non-resident), at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre in Lithuania. It was moderated by current JBANC BAFF scholarship recipient Eduards Ozoliņš.
The conference ended on the topic of “Media Matters and Disinfo Wars, with panelists Brian Whitmore of the Center for European Policy Analysis; Nathalie Vogel, a Senior Fellow at the European Values Centre for Security Policy in Prague; and Maria Belovas, Spokesperson for the Delegation of the European Union to the United States. JBANC’s Karl Altau moderated that final panel.
JBANC is glad to have provided a platform to raise all of these issues for our communities, and also for the U.S. public at large. Thank you again to everyone who participated and joined us for our 13th conference!
JBANC’s honorees at the EANC-JBANC Awards Gala
Congressman John Shimkus received JBANC’s Distinguished Service Award for promoting U.S.-Baltic relations and for outstanding leadership in the fight for Baltic freedom. JBANC President Saulius Kuprys of the Lithuanian American Council presented the award.
Paul Goble received The Exceptional Dedication to Baltic Affairs Award for promoting U.S.-Baltic relations and for outstanding insight and analysis.
The Latvian Newspaper “LAIKS” received The Outstanding Community Service Award for keeping alive and chronicling the Latvian-American voice for 70 years. Award was received by Diāna Rudzīte, daughter of “LAIKS” founder Helmars Rudzītis.
We also thank everyone who participated in the 2nd annual Baltic Advocacy Day on November 8, 2019, and hope you will continue being active in advocating for Baltic issues!
This year 40 participants from over a dozen states took part in close to 30 meetings in Congress. The purpose was to raise awareness about the challenges in fighting against disinformation and also other key issues of concern for the Baltic-American communities, such as security assistance for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; strengthening NATO; pushing back against the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea; and to bolster U.S. support for the Three Seas Initiative.
One direct result of the advocacy day was that Senator Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota) agreed on November 21 that he will join the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus. Senator Rounds becomes the twelfth member of the Caucus, which was formed in 1997.