The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) was founded on April 27, 1961.
The Committee was founded during a period of great political and social upheaval: the Cold War had been going on for 15 years, and would last for another 30. The Berlin Wall would go up in just over three months. JFK had become U.S. President three months earlier. Sierra Leone declared itself independent that day from British rule. Colonialism was crumbling around the world, everywhere but within the expanding Soviet empire.
In 1961 it had been over twenty years since the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied and illegally annexed by the Soviet Union. The Second World War had ended 16 years earlier in 1945, but the Baltic struggle would continue – in the forests and on the home front, but also across the Baltic Sea and further away across the Atlantic Ocean. The United States, thanks to the Welles Declaration of July 23, 1940, had not and would never legally recognize the Soviet takeover of the Baltic countries nor the legitimacy of Soviet rule. This non-recognition policy would last for over fifty years until 1991.
Lithuanians historically had a larger presence in America than Estonians and Latvians, primarily due to earlier waves of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Lithuanian American Council was established in 1915, and was reorganized in 1940 to address new wartime concerns and challenges.
The largest migrations, however, of post-war Balts arrived in the United States about ten years prior to JBANC’s founding, following the signing of the Displaced Persons Act into law in 1948 by President Harry Truman. This allowed tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians to come to the United States, mostly between 1948-1952. These newly-arrived Balts joined or set up organizations, schools, and cultural and religious institutions, and thus established their presence throughout the United States, from small farming communities to the largest urban centers, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. It was during this time, in the early 1950’s, when the American Latvian Association and the Estonian American National Council came into being.
As newly-arrived Baltic-Americans were settling in to new lives in the United States, there were a number of factors that intensified their desire for regained freedom in their homelands. The Captive Nations movement started in the 1950’s to raise “public awareness of the oppression of nations under the control of Communist and other non-democratic governments” (Wikipedia). A Captive Nations Week resolution was signed into law in 1959 by President Dwight Eisenhower. This brought greater awareness to the plight of the Baltic countries and others suffering under Soviet misrule. As the Baltic communities in the United States coalesced, growing to be one million strong, the call to work together politically in a unified Baltic fashion was soon necessitated…and expedited.
The flame of freedom would and could not be vanquished, and JBANC and the Baltic-American communities would work together for its united goal of the restoration of freedom and independence for the Baltic countries.
Today, fifty years later, we commemorate the vision, fortitude, and common purpose of our JBANC founders, and celebrate twenty years since the restoration of independence and freedom for the Baltic countries.
The words in the declaration of the founding of JBANC are given below and were signed by Julius Kangur (Chairman of the Estonian National Committee in the U.S.A.), Peter P. Lejins (President of the American Latvian Association Inc., in the United States), Leonard Simutis (President) and Pius Grigatis (Executive Secretary of the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.) in Washington DC, on April 27, 1961.
The Estonian National Committee in the United States, the American Latvian Association in the United States, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc., unanimously adopted at the Baltic Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 1961.
WHEREAS, the peoples of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have for centuries lived harmoniously side by side on the shores of the Baltic Sea; and
WHEREAS, these Nations at present share the common tragedy of a forcible occupation by the Soviet Union with the resultant loss of their independence and freedom; and
WHEREAS, the ruthless Soviet despotism has turned these three Baltic countries into mercilessly exploited colonies, and its genocidal policy is threatening their very physical existence and cultural identity; and
WHEREAS, the American citizens of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian descent and origin have retained their love of the land of their fathers and a deep interest in the fate of their people; and
WHEREAS, Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian Americans have first-hand knowledge of the communist exploits in the three Baltic states and are absolutely opposed to the ideology, system and methods of communism, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED, to voice our renewed protests against the wanton destruction of the freedom and independence of the Baltic states and against their continued occupation, and
BE IT RESOLVED, to declare our decision to unite our efforts for the restoration of the independence of the three Baltic states and their re-establishment as free and democratic republics, in accordance with the universally recognized principle of self determination; finally,
BE IT RESOLVED, that, in pursuit of this goal the three groups participating in this declaration, express their intention, without delay, to form a liaison committee, to be known as the JOINT BALTIC AMERICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE, to meet periodically to discuss joint interests and problems and to plan for effective action.
Karl Altau - Managing Director