Volume 30, No.4 - Winter 1984
Editor of this issue: Jonas Zdanys
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1984 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

 A Public Exchange of Views

Last May the Washington Post carried Stephen B. Rosenfeld's article (5/11/84) and a reply, in the form of a letter to the editor, by Victor A. Nakas '(5/19/84).

Their exchange is reprinted in full by permission © The Washington Post and Mr. Nakas.

Olympian Detachment

What Baltic émigrés like to hear, and what we all face.

Did the U.S. "official authorities," as the Soviets have charged, "connive" in the harassment by Baltic émigrés that Moscow cited in pulling out of the Olympic games? There's no evidence that Ronald Reagan's hand directed the campaign, but the sequence does reflect his impatience with the ambivalence — the fundamental, unsatisfactory and necessary ambivalence — of our whole Soviet policy since the war.

Not so many of us know much about the three small Western-oriented Baltic nations, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, that the Soviet Union invaded and swallowed in 1940. But the Reagan administration has paid major attention to human rights and national aspirations there.

The president saluted their "struggle to attain the freedoms we enjoy" on Baltic Freedom Day last June 13. He set up a new Baltic service of Radio Liberty last Nov. 18 to "reinforce the distinct identities of the Baltic States and separate them from the rest of the Soviet Union." His administration undertook separate reports on the Baltics in the State Department's annual human rights survey. It has pressed Baltic human rights grievances in international forums. On March 17 State Department human rights officer Elliott Abrams addressed the Baltic American Freedom League in Los Angeles.

The league led the effort to ban Soviet participation in the Los Angeles games and, if Soviet athletes came, to lure defectors from their ranks. It is clear, by the way, that the Kremlin was obsessed by the fear of defections: hence its designation of a KGB officer as an "Olympic attaché," its insistence on housing all Soviet athletes on a ship and, in some measure, its decision to pull out.

A jury with me on it would find nothing in the administration's solicitude for the Baltic states that could reasonably be taken as direct encouragement of the émigré campaign. Certainly it was not the responsibility of our government to take special measures, and thereby to abridge American citizens' rights, to spare the Kremlin the humiliation each defection conveys.

Indirect encouragement, however, is another matter. "I would like to take this opportunity to declare my solidarity, and the solidarity of the Reagan administration, with the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and to applaud you for your work on behalf of the Baltic peoples," said Abrams, speaking as the émigré campaign was getting into gear. He was not, I believe, winking. But he was ignoring what might have been on some of his listeners' minds.

Then there is the strand of Reagan ideology holding that the Soviet Union is an illegitimate and impermanent state. As Abrams put it, in the course of rejecting the "realism" that consigns the Baltic states to irreversible Soviet dominion, "is it realistic to assume that the sole remaining colonial empire, the Soviet empire, will survive forever?"

We see here the administration's easy troubling passage from a heartfelt and deserved sympathy for the Baltic peoples to the evocation of a radical doctrine sanctioning a crusade to free the Soviet Union's non-Russian comp9nents from Russian as well as from communist rule — not just to recolor the map but to redraw it.

The administration is nowhere near inciting subject peoples — shades of Hungary '56 — to revolt. But can its doctrine even be hinted at without raising suspicions in Moscow that work against other purposes of American policy? Without encouraging victims of Soviet power to dream impossible dreams of American support? Without opening the United States to the taunting query of whether other lands swallowed by great powers on the march — Texas? — are also to be put back on the table?

Since World War II American policy has combined, within a fairly narrow range, a philosophical rejection of the unjust Communist order and a pragmatic acceptance of the need to cooperate with the Kremlin for expedient but not unworthy considerations of, ultimately, war and peace. More than any other president, Reagan has conveyed a visceral distaste, verging on loathing, for the compromises inevitably required.

This is the heady element that has been picked up by the Soviets, who are angered and frightened by it, and with good reason — because it threatens their ill-gotten gains — and by the likes of the Baltic émigrés, who see it as light itself.

Unfortunately, there is no satisfactory way to be true to the victims and responsible to the wielders of Soviet power at the same time. But good sense — yes, realism — requires accepting the burden of making a conscientious try.



OLYMPIC1984 poster produced by the Baltic American Freedom League.
By permission: The Baltic American Freedom League

Why Prop Up an Ailing Giant?

Stephen S. Rosenfeld says the Reagan administration "has paid major attention to human rights and national aspirations" in the Baltic states ("Olympian Detachment," op-ed, May 11). He then lists President Reagan's actions in this regard, giving the impression that his initiatives are unprecedented. In fact, every president since FDR has affirmed the Baltic states' right to independence and refused to recognize their illegal seizure by the U.S.S.R.

More important, President Carter did as much, if not more. He focused the attention of the world on human rights and afforded Baltic dissidents, if only briefly, the opportunity to make their hopes and dreams known to the West. He appointed a Lithuanian-American leader as a member of the U.S. delegation to the Madrid human rights talks, where the United States was joined by other Western powers in publicly raising the Baltic issue. He also ensured the financial viability of the Lithuanian legation in Washington and eased the requirements for diplomatic accreditation as they applied to Baltic representatives. Previously, only those Baits who had been members of the foreign services of the independent Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian republics were officially recognized; under these requirements, the Baltic diplomatic corps was dying out. The Carter administration lifted this restriction.

Reagan's policies must be seen as a continuation of these initiatives, not as a dramatic break with the past. In fact, some Baltic-Americans wish that he would emulate more closely the policy Carter adopted following the Afghanistan invasion. They believe the Baltic cause was furthered more by the grain embargo and the boycott of the Moscow Olympics than it has been by Reagan's angry but hollow "evil empire" speech-making.

Rosenfeld worries that the Baltic community in the United States may be misled by the Reagan administration into dreaming the "impossible dream" of a radical U.S.-led crusade to free the Baltic states. As an American of Lithuanian descent, I can testify that no Baltic-American group, including the most reactionary, entertains such illusions. Baltic-Americans remember only too well how Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were abandoned by the West during and after World War II. Like the Afghan guerrillas today, Baltic partisans were given just enough support four decades ago to wage a lengthy war of attrition against the Red Army, but not enough aid to win.

Baltic Americans, by and large, believe the U.S.S.R. is an ailing giant that will collapse of its own internal contradictions. They wish that the United States and other Western powers would quit delaying the Soviet system's day of reckoning by propping up its economy.

To achieve this goal of halting Western assistance to the Soviets, Baltic Americans realize that the American public and especially the media must be weaned from the foolish notion that the existence of the U.S.S.R. is vital to a balance of power in the world and that the presence of the Soviet superpower justifies America's superpower status. Rosenfeld falls victim to the latter theory when he remarks that if we begin to question the U.S.S.R.'s right to seize the Baltic states, then we might be called to account for having swallowed up ... Texas.

Past and present sins committed by the United States, however, do not justify past and present Soviet atrocities, nor do they in any way negate the fact that the U.S.S.R. is the last remaining empire. Though we cannot entertain illusions of going to war to change this fact, we should stop looking, with masochistic delight, at the Soviet system as a reflection of our own, quit pandering to the Arm and Hammers, who will do anything to enrich themselves, and start thinking of subtle ways to help bring about the gradual disintegration of the Soviet empire. Otherwise, 40 years from now a soulmate of Rosenfeld's may be moved to warn against public airing of Afghanistan's incorporation into the U.S.S.R. on grounds that this might lead the Soviets to assail us for our seizure of New Mexico.