During the years of exile, the staff at these legations lived cautiously. They were warned by the U.S. State Department not to talk about politics in their legations or homes, since it was suspected that all of these places were bugged by the Soviets. While they were able to access the interest from gold reserves and bank accounts located outside the home countries, they had to live frugally, knowing that this money might have to last a long time. None imagined that it would have to last until 1990! Ruth B. Dinbergs, the wife of the Latvian consul during the occupation years, once half- jokingly predicted that the downfall of the Soviet Union “would take 50 years.” In fact, she was right, almost to the month.
When it looked like the Soviet Union was getting ready to implode in the late 1980s, Estonian consul Ernst Jaakson appealed to the U.S. to resist giving economic aid to the U.S.S.R., but to allow it to disintegrate under pressure of its faltering economy. “That would be salvation for the whole world,” he argued. Fortunately, the U.S. agreed with him.
Algimantas Gureckas, a Lithuanian who lived in Washington during the occupation years, recalls returning to his homeland during the Glasnost period of the late 1980s. He was impressed by the forbearance of the demonstrators who organized rallies and marches for freedom, all the while resisting the urge to violence by the taunts of the Soviet soldiers. They knew that any show of violence would give the soldiers an excuse to bring on the tanks and heavy artillery.
When the Georgian conflict erupted this past August, the three Baltic states issued statements calling for an international censure of Russian aggression. They remembered their own history of bad treaties and broken promises, including a 1928 treaty where the Soviets promised to renounce sovereign rights over the three countries “for eternity.” After World War II, the Yalta conference that allowed the U.S.S.R. to take over Eastern Europe as well as these Baltic states, sealed the fate of the three countries.
Anatol Dinbergs, who served as a Latvian diplomat in the U.S. for a record-breaking 55 years (from 1937 until 1992), once said that during the many long decades he waited for his country to be freed, he never once thought of giving up the fight for independence. When the U.S.S.R. finally disintegrated, the three countries got their homelands back in 1990 and ‘91, held elections and went about the job of rebuilding their economies.
Today, the beautiful embassies of these proud countries stand as a symbol of a special kind of victory.
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