The Foreign Service Journal - September 2017
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A Baltic Tale



s a 14-year-old boy in Boston,

I followed the dramatic 1956

uprising in Hungary and its

crushing by the Soviet Union

with rapt attention. I learned then that

in 1940 the United States had refused

to recognize the Soviet Union’s forcible

incorporation of the three Baltic states,

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. At the time,

that impressed me as a very honorable

little corner of American foreign policy.

Today, as tensions with Vladimir

Putin’s Russia over the status of Ukraine

heighten and concern once again haunts

the newly independent nations of Eastern

Europe, I am reminded of that early

introduction to U.S. foreign policy and

how, later, the Foreign Service gave me the

opportunity to contribute personally to

Baltic affairs.

As the Hungarian and Baltics desk

officer in the late 1970s, I was the State

Department point person for imple-

menting the U.S. Baltics non-recognition

policy. As a corollary of the policy we con-

tinued to recognize and accredit legations

of the three countries. However, survival

of the importantly symbolic legations was

threatened both by dwindling resources

and biological longevity.

By 1979 the three small legations were

in financial straits. They had been sup-

porting themselves from Baltic assets in

D. Thomas Longo Jr. was an

FSO from 1969 to 1993. He

served in Ankara, Budapest,

Düsseldorf, Palermo, Ottawa

and Washington, D.C. Before joining the

Foreign Service, he served in the Navy from

1963 to 1967.

the United States that had been blocked

by our government to prevent their trans-

fer to the Soviet Union.

Each year, on State Department

request, the U.S. Treasury would license

the release of sufficient resources to

permit the three chargés d’affaires (Ernst

Jaakson, Estonia; Anatol Dinbergs, Latvia;

and Stasys Backis, Lithuania) to keep their

legations going.

The three, whom I remember vividly,

were professional Baltic diplomats who

had been in the United States in 1940, and

stayed. True Baltic patriots, they should be

a lasting source of pride for their coun-

trymen in the three now-independent


As the blocked assets dwindled inexo-

rably, I was faced with a dilemma. Direct

U.S. funding of the legations, even if Con-

gress had agreed, was a nonstarter. First,

it would have fed the Soviet propaganda

line that the legations, like the non-recog-

nition policy itself, were simply puppets in

U.S. hands.

Second, direct U.S. support would have

made the three supposedly independent

legations subject to the annual budget

process. Private financing by Baltic-Amer-

icans, even if that could be realized, would

also have been ridiculed by Moscow.

In researching the issue, I discovered

that Latvia’s remaining blocked assets

included a considerable amount of gold in

our Federal Reserve Bank. Since President

Richard Nixon had untied gold from its

longstanding $35-per-ounce peg in 1971,

its value fluctuated with the market. At the

time it was several hundred dollars per


If I could persuade the Latvian chargé

to sell (with U.S. Treasury permission) an

amount of gold per year at market price,

with the proceeds invested at interest,

the yield could suffice to finance all three

legations. With periodic gold sales, the

arrangement could be supported indefi-


It took a year of patient negotiations to

persuade Anatol Dinbergs to agree. I then

had to persuade the other two chargés, as

well, because the three countries had not

been used to working with each other.

Keeping my State superiors, the White

House, interested members of Congress,

the Treasury Department and Federal

Reserve, as well as Baltic-Americans,

informed and quiet—lest we give the

Soviets propaganda ammunition—was a

challenge. But it worked!

Before I left Baltic affairs on reassign-

ment in 1981, another problem arose.

Some 40 years had elapsed since the

forcible Soviet takeover in 1940; the three

chargés were now very elderly, and there

was no one with diplomatic credentials to

succeed them.

U.S. appointment of successor diplo-

matic representatives was, of course, out

of the question.

But because relevant decisions could

be taken by the State Department, with

consent fromCongress and the White

House, we were able to establish that the

three chargés could nominate their own

successors from the respective ethnic

communities. These nominations would

be subject to tacit agreement from the

U.S. government, in the same way that it

receives ambassadors named by foreign


It is gratifying to me to know that with

these two measures, sovereign representa-

tion of the three Baltic states in the United

States was ensured until they regained

their full independence in 1991.