From Baltic Appeals to Baltic Membership in the United Nations: new exhibition at the Museum

10.01.2017

The Museum of the Occupation of Latvia invites you to an exhibition celebrating a group who played a vital role in the admission of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the United Nations on 17 September 1991.  The path toward Baltic membership was paved by the volunteer Baltic exile organization BATUN (Baltic Appeal to the United Nations).  This exhibition focuses on the multi-faceted and tenacious work of BATUN from 1965 to 1991 and considers the achievements and limitations of grassroots diplomacy in the international political arena.  

BATUN was founded on 12 February 1966 in New York. Its mandate came from about 14,000 exile Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, who marched to the United Nations headquarters in New York on 13 November 1965 to enlist UN support for the independence of the Soviet-occupied Baltic States. Hence, the task of BATUN was to use the opportunities afforded by the diverse UN organizations to foster the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and promote their membership in the United Nations. 

Considering the political climate of the UN at that time, and the meagre resources of BATUN, the question arises: were these goals realistic for an inexperienced but idealistic organization committed to the principles of self-determination for all peoples and human rights for all individuals?  Through hard work, an innovative spirit, and the ability to respond quickly to propitious historic changes BATUN rose to meet its challenges. 

Engaging in public diplomacy, BATUN activists regularly informed the UN about important Baltic legal issues and current developments, such as human rights violations by the Soviet regime. Since 1976 BATUN delegations attended the annual sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Thus, BATUN ensured a kind of Baltic presence at the UN at a time when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had no diplomatic representation there.  Awareness in the various UN organizations of the situation and public mood in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania helped them regain their independence. 

As independence became imminent, BATUN arranged meetings of Baltic leaders with UN diplomats. Sharing its expertise and experience with the Baltic representatives, BATUN facilitated the admission of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the United Nations on 17 September 1991.  Furthermore, eight BATUN activists accepted full-time or part-time jobs in the Baltic Permanent Missions to the UN.  Thus, BATUN contributed variously and significantly to promoting the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the human rights of individuals and groups from the Baltic region, and facilitated the work of independent Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the United Nations.