One of the challenges that freedom presents to those able to enjoy its boons is complacency. Many expect the democratic system, even with all its inherent flaws to always be there when needed. Few realize that freedom is a precious and rare commodity.
Complacency can mean that liberties and freedoms can swiftly be removed, if there are no principled individuals, or better yet groups applying pressures on the government elected to uphold true democracy. In the USA there are many different types of such groups - starting with lobbyists. Most people think of lobbyists first, as they are the ones who receive the most publicity. Alas, ever since the public was given a chance to meet with legislators in the common area (lobby) in front of the British House of Commons to voice their concerns the term has become to mean a group of people pressing for a legislative result. Using the legislative process is certainly key to the democratic system, however, as in the US lobbyists are now much more interested in results not necessarily of public concern. Indeed, groups that can afford to pay for lobbyists can be argued to counter the spirit of democracy - it is not the principle, but the wallet and the expected gains that weigh heaviest.
On the other hand we have interest groups, people united by a common interest and a sufficient identity, acting on the group's own behalf, electing officers, establishing common funds, associations and reports through which they hope to have influence on either public opinion and government. Interest groups, unlike paid lobby groups have an important role in modern political life and are vital in helping define the concept of collective choice.
Such a group is the Baltic American Freedom League (BAFL), which recently marked 25 years of influencing American legislators to support their fight against communism and for a return of freedom to the Baltic States.
The April 2006 Baltic Bulletin published by BAFL provides a fascinating overview of that quarter century. Avo Piirisild's article "25 Years of BAFL" is a must-read for the complacent amongst us, who think freedom once gained or regained will never again be threatened.
Since inception BAFL has been an issues orientated, activist related organization. What follows is a short summary of Piirisild's splendid look back on the successes of an organization, that in many ways, took on the Soviet Union and won.
BAFL was founded in Southern California, their first meeting took place on February 26, 1981 in Santa Monica. Most of the founders were already involved in Baltic affairs and in the fight against the Communist occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. As Piirisild writes, some had been active in Ronald Reagan's successful presidential campaign and used the contacts made there to advantage in the struggle for having freedom returned to the Baltic States. Piirisild notes that prior to the founding of BAFL the Los Angeles based organization "Americans for Congressional Action to Free the Baltic States" had been instrumental in seeing legislation pushed through Congress condemning the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States (H. Con. Res. 416).
BAFL concentrated on educating the American public about Baltic issues. The key was in using all available media. Piirisild writes that "because of the organization's excellent media relations, both print and electronic, BAFL was highly successful." Further - "even the enemies took notice and derogatory articles were printed about BAFL and its personnel by the KGB papers of Soviet occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania."
In an eerily prescient warning considering today's energy woes, BAFL was the only organization to bring attention to the gas pipeline built from Siberia to Western Europe. BAFL contended that such a pipeline would foster dependency on Soviet supplied natural gas, and possibly subject Western Europe to Soviet economic blackmail. Indeed, history is repeating itself, the gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea is not only a brazen political move by a Russo-German governmental conglomerate but also demonstrates flagrant disregard for environmental concerns in the Baltic littoral.
BAFL demanded freedom for political prisoners - including Kaisa Randpere, who at the age of two was the youngest political prisoner in the world. During Reagan's presidency the Olympics were a farce thanks to the political boycotts. BAFL ridiculed Russia's idea of the Olympics, their poster on the topic appeared in Time and Der Spiegel. Western sportswriters understood that Baltic athletes on the Russian Olympic teams were not Russian and listed their achievements under Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Perhaps the most significant achievement of the last 25 years has been the publication of the largest circulation English language source of information on the Baltic States. The Baltic Bulletin was sent to members of Congress, the media and to influential Americans. Piirisild notes that "in certain departments of the U.S. government the Baltic Bulletin was required reading." BAFL's "ALERT" press releases brought attention to Soviet atrocities. Finally, the Baltic Caucus Update goes out over the internet.
The thirteen founders of BAFL were Dr. Ansis Blakis, Valdis Pavlovskis, Karlis Kalejs, Avo Piirisild, Heino Nurmberg, Viivi Piirisild, Algis Raulinaitis, Leonard Valiukas, Juozas Kojelis, Jonas Matulaitis, Tony Mazeika, Danute Brazauskas and Saulis Damusis. Of these individuals two guaranteed critical financial aspects of publicizing BAFL's goals in the early days of the Freedom League.
It is also of interest to note that Mart Laar serves on BAFL's advisory board.
BAFL is presently continuing to further, among other concerns, the important issue of obtaining an apology from the Russian federation for the illegal occupation and annexation of the Baltic countries. BAFL's 25 years of principled work in applying pressures within the American polity to have Baltic freedom regained and now protected deserves our collective gratitude.
For more on their efforts see www.bafl.com or write to BAFL, P.O. Box 65056, Los Angeles, California 90065 with your support.
BAFL marks quarter century