Tuesday
Sep182018

EANC September Events

EANC participated in several noteworthy events this month.  Thanks to her travel schedule, EANC President Marju Rink-Abel was able to represent the organization at events in Tallinn and Washington while DC Director Karin Shuey participated and coordinated from stateside.

In Tallinn, the Estonian Parliament on September 18th opened a 10-day showing of the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) exhibit celebrating the Baltic centennials and 100 years of U.S.-Baltic relations.   Mrs. Rink-Abel was honored to be invited to the ceremony, which included remarks by Mr. Kalle Laanet, acting as Riigikogu President; United States Charge D’Affaires Ambassador Clifford Bond; and Ms. Keit Pentus-Rosimannus, Vice Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairperson of the USA-Estonia Parliamentary Group. 

The exhibit was created earlier this year by JBANC and its parent organizations – the Estonian American National Council (EANC), American Latvian Association (ALA) and Lithuanian American Council (LAC) – at the invitation of the U.S. Department of State (DoS) and was initially displayed during June in the U.S. Diplomacy Center at DoS headquarters.  It arrived in Estonia in early August, where it was shown in the American Space at Tallinn Technical University and the Estonian National Library before its move to the Riigikogu.  More information about the event is available in ERR News reporting from September 18th.

In Washington, a short ceremony commemorating the great 1944 refugee flight from Estonia was held on September 21 at the Victims of Communism Memorial.  The commemoration was organized by EANC, JBANC, and the Estonian Embassy in support of the Estonian World Council (EWC) resolution sent to the Estonian government to establish an official national day commemorating the refugee flight.  The goal is to achieve this for the 75th anniversary. 

EWC member Iivi Zajedova, the proponent behind the effort, writes, “September 2019 will mark 75 years since the huge exodus of Estonians fleeing from the oncoming Soviet terror.  Fleeing was difficult both mentally and physically.  It brought about a drastic change in life circumstances and resulted in a tragic end for many.”  Memorial services and commemorations are being organized around the world, including in Estonia, to show the importance of this day of remembrance and in support of this initiative.  Mrs. Rink-Abel and Ms. Shuey took part in the ceremony in DC along with JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau.

EANC was also engaged in the Central and East European Coalition (CEEC) advocacy week from September 17th to 21st.  Estonian Americans from California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia contacted their representatives in Congress to educate them on policy issues concerning the region, including the Kremlin’s aggressive agenda, sanctions against Russia, disinformation, and energy security.  The CEEC intends to hold regular advocacy events and invites members of the thirteen ethnic communities they represent, or anyone interested in supporting the region, to participate.  Please see www.ceecoalition.us to learn about the CEEC and watch the EANC Facebook page for information on future events.

Finally, EANC would like to congratulate the new Estonian Ambassador to the U.S., Jonatan Vseviov, on presenting his credentials to President Trump on September 17th.  Mrs. Rink-Abel and Ms. Shuey had an initial meeting with the new Ambassador in August to discuss how EANC and the Embassy can work together to advance the issues important to Estonian Americans and the Estonian government.  We look forward to welcoming all the new members of the embassy staff and building further on the strong relationship EANC has established with the Embassy.

Monday
Sep102018

CEEC Advocacy Week - September 2018 

Washington, DC (CEEC) – During the week of September 17th, The Central and Eastern European Coalition (CEEC) will hold a timely in district advocacy week. This endeavor is especially critical considering the recent NATO Summit.

NATO remains salient to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) to deter threats from the Russian Federation. CEE members in NATO provide key support and a rising number (Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania) are providing 2% of their GDP towards defense spending to address the new realities. The Eastern flank of Europe remains nevertheless exposed to the Putin regime’s continuous aggressive disregard for international law and attempts to disrupt the post-WWII liberal international order.

The goal for this advocacy week is to encourage Members of Congress to continue their support for the CEE region.  Specific items include supporting the recently introduced Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act 2018 (S.3336) and full implementation of all existing sanctions legislation; continued support for military cooperation with CEE nations; enhancing military assistance to nations occupied by Russia; and reaffirming U.S. support for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia in their efforts to retain political sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The CEEC encourages the active participation of all our communities in promoting the need for greater U.S. foreign policy engagement in Central and Eastern Europe. This advocacy week will provide an opportunity for members of our communities to meet and advocate issues of mutual interest.

For further information, please contact the CEEC via email at ceecoalition@gmail.com or by calling (301) 340-1954.

Established in 1994, the Central and Eastern European Coalition is comprised of 18 nationwide organizations representing more than 20 million Americans who trace their heritage to that part of the world.

Monday
Sep102018

EANC Remembers Senator John McCain

- Karin Shuey

While there has been no shortage of tributes to the late Senator John McCain from many Estonian sources in the last week, EANC would like to highlight a few notable memories of his work in support of Estonia and the Baltic region.  He made five visits to Estonia during his career in the Senate and many legislative actions that demonstrated his support for Baltic security.  We remember him as a staunch ally in Estonia’s struggle for independence, its bid to join NATO, and more recently in defending its sovereignty in the face of renewed threats from the Kremlin.  He will be sorely missed as a champion for freedom and democracy in a time of uncertainty.

Senator McCain first visited Estonia in August of 2001.  According to the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), he gave a lecture honoring the first U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, Robert Frazure, who was killed in 1995 near Sarajevo while on a mission to negotiate an end to the conflict in Bosnia.  McCain also met with President Lennart Meri and Prime Minister Mart Laar.  The MFA’s article called McCain a “Member of the U.S. Senate and one of the leading and most respectable politicians in the U.S.A.”

Headlines about McCain’s 2004 visit are dominated by references to a certain contest with another Senator and presidential hopeful.  Though the contest may have helped with Estonia’s popularity, more substantive results were evident from the trip, as well.  At the time, according to an Associated Press report from July 2006, “the trip was notable because McCain, while in Latvia, called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko a dictator and said the elections Belarus planned for later in the year were ‘bogus.’”  McCain’s disdain for corrupt leadership and feigned democracy in the former Soviet space was clear even then. 

News on McCain’s 2014 and 2015 trips is harder to find, but his December 2016 visit is also well-remembered.  He led that delegation to reassure Estonia and its neighbors that the U.S. would remain in NATO under the incoming administration despite doubts regarding the role the new President would take as a leader of Western democracy.  His remarks at the press conference with Prime Mister Jüri Ratas at the end of the visit included the following, quoted from Postimees:

“My message - both republican and democrat - is, that we will maintain our NATO commitments, we will maintain an American presence and cooperation and training. And we will appreciate, for example the brave young Estonians who are with us in Afghanistan as we speak…

"Estonia was not attacked on 9/11, the United States of America was attacked on 9/11. It was Estonia and other countries, our NATO allies that joined us to go all the way to Afghanistan to respond to an attack on the United States of America…

"My message is - at this time when we see things like cyber attacks being conducted by Russia, China and other countries; when we see the continued aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine; when we see continued threats to Georgia - our relationship is perhaps more important than it has been in a long, long time."

McCain’s legislative support of Estonia goes back to 1991.  Results from a search of congress.gov on legislation referencing Estonia that he cosponsored include bills to support democracy and self-determination in the Baltic States; to authorize the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Baltic peoples to alleviate suffering; the NATO Freedom Consolidation Acts of 2006 and 2007; and numerous National Defense Authorization Acts that included funding for growing U.S-Estonia defense cooperation.  There were also resolutions designating June 14, 1991 as “Baltic Freedom Day;” calling for a review of economic benefits provided to the Soviet Union in light of the crisis in the Baltic states; calling for  a prompt withdrawal of Soviet armed forces from the Baltic states; commending and expressing the gratitude of the United States to the nations participating with the United States in the Coalition to Disarm Iraq; and congratulating the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on the 100th anniversary of their declarations of independence this year.

EANC  is grateful to Senator McCain for service to the strong relationship between the U.S. and Estonia.  We will continue to honor his legacy and uphold in our advocacy work the values he championed during his long and admirable career.

Saturday
Aug182018

How to Request an In-District Meeting

With JBANC’s Baltic Advocacy Week less than a week away, now is the time to reach out to your Representative’s office.  Please refer to this guide if you have any questions about how to set up a meeting.

The House of Representatives is in recess and in their home districts for much of August.  Now is a perfect opportunity to meet with your members of Congress and discuss issues of importance to your community.  Your legislators want to hear from you – their constituents – and the issues impacting the district, state, and country.  Inviting your Representative to your community center for a town hall-style meeting would be ideal.  If that’s not possible, consider arranging an in-district meeting at their local office.  If your Representative isn’t available, meeting with a local staffer, preferably one who handles foreign affairs issues, is a good alternative.

Information about your members of Congress can be found here: www.govtrack.us/congress/members

Some things to consider before the meeting:

  • ·        What is the format of the meeting? Are you inviting them to your community center, or going to their local office?
  • ·        What issues are you presenting?
  • ·        How many individuals do you want to include in the meeting?

Each year, Congress takes district work periods when they work out of their local offices rather than on Capitol Hill.  Members are also frequently at home in August, around holidays, and at the beginning and/or end of each week.  Unfortunately, the House and Senate do not necessarily follow the same calendar.

House calendar: www.majorityleader.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Month.pdf

Senate calendar: www.senate.gov/legislative/2018_schedule.htm

Requesting the meeting:

Contact the legislator's local office, which can be found on his or her individual website at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov.  You can make your request by phone or e-mail.  Ask for the contact information of the state/district director and who schedules in-district meetings for the Member of Congress.

In your request, explain the purpose of your visit, identify all participants and suggest possible meeting dates.  The more flexible you are about the date, the more likely it is that your meeting can be included on their schedule.  If you don't hear back from their staff, be persistent.

Here's a sample appointment request by e-mail for an in-district office meeting:

Dear Representative (or Senator) [last name]:

I am a constituent from (city/town).  As a member of the [Estonian/Latvian/Lithuanian]-American community, I would like to request an opportunity to briefly meet with you in your [location] local district office on [dates and times].  I plan to discuss the following issues.

[Provide additional details about the issues here].

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this meeting request.  I will contact your office soon to determine your availability.  Should you or your staff have any questions in the meantime, I can be reached by phone at [your phone number] or by e-mail at [your e-mail address].  Thank you.

Sincerely,

[your name]

Other helpful tips:

Learn as much as you can about your legislators’ backgrounds and do your research.  Follow them on Twitter and check their Facebook page.  Determine their political ideology, the Congressional committees they serve on and personal facts such as hometown or background.  This kind of information can provide insights into their worldview.  Most of this information can be found through the individual's congressional website.

You can access reference materials for your meeting or phone call and a hand-out that you can share with your legislators at www.jbanc.org.

If others are joining you at the meeting, be sure to discuss the issues ahead of time and decide who will take the lead in presenting the issues.  This is particularly important if there are a lot of first-time advocacy participants attending the meeting. 

Determine who will compile, print, and bring leave-behind materials to be given to the office.  Bring two copies, one for the legislator and one for their aide.

When it’s time for your meeting, be punctual.  Members of Congress often have busy schedules and a late arrival may mean that you miss your appointment.  You may also want to be flexible, since it isn’t uncommon for a lawmaker to be late or have the meeting interrupted by a crowded schedule. 

Meetings usually last 15 minutes.  Start the meeting by introducing all of the participants.  Discuss your story, where you’re from and why you’re advocating.  Share the materials on JBANC’s policy briefs.  Walk the legislator some through the key issues you’re most passionate and knowledgeable about.  You will probably only have time to discuss 2-3 issues maximum during the meeting.  Remember to use personal stories to underscore a point about the issue.  Make sure to leave time for you to hear the lawmaker's thoughts on the subject.

Try not to antagonize a Member of Congress.  Be straightforward but respectful when expressing your views.  If the lawmaker doesn’t offer up their position on the issues, feel free to ask them what they think.  Remember to be specific about what your ask is.  For example, are you asking them to cosponsor a piece of legislation?

Keep in mind that we do not expect you to be the experts on the issues.  Don’t feel like you need to know the answer to every question.  If you are not sure what the answer to a question is if asked, consult our team and it will be a great opportunity to follow up with the congressional office.

Remember to follow up!  

Feel free to use the following format for a thank you letter:

Thank you for meeting with me on [date and place].  I am pleased that we had the opportunity to discuss
issues concerning the Baltic-American community.

[Briefly go over what the issues and what asks you want the member to act on.]

Again, thank you for meeting with me.  Please contact me at [your phone number] or [your e-mail address] if I can be of any assistance or if I can provide any additional information.  I will continue to monitor these issues and will keep in touch with your office as developments occur.

Please also follow up with the organizers to let us know you’ve had a meeting.

Points of contact (for more information, answers to your questions, and to follow up):

Estonian:  Karin Shuey karinshueyeanc@gmail.com

Latvian:  Erik Lazdins LazdinsE@live.com

Lithuanian:  Vytas Aukstuolis vytauk@gmail.com

JBANC:  Karl Altau jbanc@jbanc.org

 

Special thanks to Erik Lazdins for contributing to this article.

Thursday
Aug022018

EANC Call to Action – Raise Congressional Awareness of Baltic Issues!

EANC is joining forces with our Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) colleagues to rally our communities to contact their Members of Congress (MoCs) at their local district offices during the August Congressional recess.  All Estonian Americans are invited to contact their Senators and Representatives during the week of August 20th to raise awareness among MoCs and advocate for issues important to the Baltic region.  This concentrated effort will send a clear message to Congress that Estonian and U.S. national security are closely linked and that a strong NATO is the cornerstone for both nations’ defense against the Kremlin’s aggressive agenda.

EANC is coordinating talking points and background information with its colleagues in the American Latvian Association and Lithuanian American Council for dissemination to Baltic American communities nationwide prior to the event.  Topics will include recognition of support the U.S. has already sent to the region, the importance of NATO unity, full implementation of sanctions against Russia, Nord Stream 2 and the threats it poses to Baltic security, H.Res.826, which recognizes this year’s Baltic centennials, and membership in the House Baltic Caucus. 

EANC calls on all interested Estonian Americans to take part in this important advocacy event.  Participation in any capacity is welcome.  Options include calling your MoCs’ local offices during that week; making appointments to visit their offices, either individually or by organizing a group of local Estonian or Baltic Americans to go together; or writing letters or e-mails to the local offices on the topics outlined above.  Coordination among Baltic Americans in the same district to visit their Representative and/or Senators together would be especially effective. 

Please stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks and RSVP to jbanc@jbanc.org if you intend to take part.  EANC will reach out to its council members and local Estonian society leadership to help them organize their communities.  A successful event will leave MoCs with a strong awareness that Estonia is important to their constituents and help ensure Estonia’s security remains a priority for U.S. policy in the Baltic region.

Contact information for local offices can be found at whoismyrepresentative.com.