Senate Concurrent Resolution 87

On September 16, 2008, the United States Senate passed Concurrent Resolution 87 (S. CON. RES. 87).  This resolution congratulated the Republic of Latvia on the 90th anniversary of its declaration of independence.  In addition, this strongly worded resolution highlighted the following:
 

  • Latvia existed for 21 years as an independent and sovereign nation and member of the League of Nations;

  • the 1920 peace treaty between the Soviet Union and Latvia;

  • the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939;

  • that on June 17, 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union;

  • that the United States never recognized this illegal and forcible occupation;

  • that in 1953, the congressionally-established Kersten Commission determined that the Soviet Union had illegally and forcibly occupied and annexed the Baltic countries;

  • that the 109th Congress (in 2005) resolved (S. Con. Res. 35 and H. Res. 128) that `it is the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the consequences of which will be a significant increase in good will among the affected people';

S. CON. RES. 87 was introduced by Senators Gordon H. Smith (R-OR) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) in early June, 2008.  Two senators signed on as co-sponsors the following month followed by the August congressional recess.  It appeared that the resolution was languishing and would die without any further activity.  This happens to most resolutions of this type.  

Valdis Pavlovskis, an American Latvian Association (ALA) board member circulated a draft of the resolution some time that spring.  I remember reading it and thinking it was a complete over-reach.  The Bush presidency was winding down and it was apparent to me that the Democrats were taking back the White House that November.  That would mean a complete review and reexamination of US foreign policy, including relations with Russia.  The Democrats already controlled both chambers of Congress. I wasn’t confident, but I could not just sit on the sidelines. 
 

This wasn’t Pavlovskis’s first rodeo.  He had successfully guided previous lobbying efforts, as a co-founder of the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL).  I first worked with him in 2005, during the passage of the Baltic occupation resolution (H.Con.Res.128).  This resolution included an admonition to the Russian Federation that, “truth is a powerful weapon for healing, forgiving, and reconciliation, but its absence breeds distrust, fear, and hostility.”


Pavlovskis orchestrated the introduction of S. CON. RES. 87.  Now began the tedious hunt for co-sponsors.  The rules are simple: the more the better.  It also helps to have members of the Foreign Relations committee and high profile senators.  Several senators met both criteria including Barack Obama (D-IL) of my home state.  By early summer it was clear that Obama was going to be the Democratic nominee for President, which is about as high profile as a Senator can get.  I joined the Pavlovskis team with one task: get Obama to sign-on as a co-sponsor.

On June 14, 2008 Jānis Vilciņš, Chairman of the United Latvian Associations of Chicago and I as a board member sent Obama a letter urging that he become a co-sponsor.  We indicated that we were writing on a very solemn day on the Latvian calendar.  A few weeks later we sent a petition with 43 signatures asking the same.  We urged others’ to write directly and offered suggested texts.  We kept repeating that Durbin was the chief co-sponsor.  Durbin and Obama both represented Illinois and were personally close.

I had met Michael Strautmanis once.  That was shortly after then President of Latvia Vaira Vīķe Freiberga’s address to a joint session of Congress in June, 2006.  Michael Strautmanis is the adopted son of Juris Strautmanis, best remembered as a one-time member of the Čikāgas piecīši (Chicago Five) pop musical group.    At the time he was Legal Counsel in Sen. Obama’s office and later moved over to the presidential campaign.

The Obama election effort was headquartered in Chicago.  I faxed our letter and petition addressed to Strautmanis at the campaign office.  All along, I was extremely doubtful that anything would come of this.  I thought the resolution was too complicated and too strong.  I assumed that no one was left in the senatorial office to read our materials and that fax’s to a busy presidential national campaign office would end up unread.

I mentioned this dilemma to my wife Sandra. She knew someone, who knew someone and sketched out a credible back-channel to Strautmanis.  I forwarded our materials to Sandra with quite a bit of confidence that they would make it to his desk.  In the meantime, Pavlovskis was in Washington, DC visiting Senator’s offices, including Obama’s and buttonholing staffers.  Obama became a co-sponsor on September 8th followed by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) the following day and George Voinovich (R-OH) soon after.  The resolution was discharged from the Foreign Affairs Committee, whose chairman was Sen. Joseph Biden and passed the Senate both on September 16th and both by unanimous consent.

 

Passage of the resolution was well received in Rīga; it should have been.  None of the other 1918 republics (Lithuania, Estonia and Poland) received similar treatment.  Latvia’s Foreign Minister highlighted it during a visit to the US in October, 2008.  President Zatlers did the same when congratulating Obama on his election.  The Chairman of Latvia’s Parliament sent letters of appreciation to the co-signers of the resolution and brought it up again in September, 2009 when meeting the newly installed US Ambassador to Latvia.

Pavlovskis and I exchanged several emails after passage of S. CON. RES. 87.  He was gracious and complimentary.  The subject line of one of my emails was: Kas neriskē - tas nedzer šampanieti (those that don’t take risks, don’t drink champaign).  I outlined why I always thought the resolution would never pass the Senate.  In fact, the companion US House of Representatives resolution (H.RES.1405) never made it out of committee.

I believe that these Congressional resolutions were important, but thankfully we have moved past this phase.  They solidified US foreign policy and laid a strong foundation when discussing difficult issues, such as Latvia’s demographic and national language problems. 

 

– Artis Inka