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Annexed Baltic States : Envoys Hold On to Lonely U.S. Postings

October 31, 1988|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Tucked away in a gray brick row house on a quiet but unpretentious street about 40 blocks from the White House, Latvia's senior diplomat spends his time renewing passports, talking to State Department officials and keeping track of the political situation at home--the usual routine of embassy officers all over Washington.

These days, Anatol S. Dinbergs, chief of the Latvian legation, is also avidly watching the reports of new political ferment in Latvia and its neighboring Baltic republics of Lithuania and Estonia. But only as a spectator and only with a sense of painful isolation.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania--alone among the 154 nations on Washington's official diplomatic list--exercise no sovereignty at home. The three Baltic republics have not been independent nations for almost half a century.

'Totally Repressed'

"We keep people informed of the present situation as much as we can," said Dinbergs, whose state was absorbed into the Soviet Union in 1940. " . . . For our people, who have been totally repressed for over 40 years, it is a necessity for them to be able to speak out."

The United States, joined by most of Western Europe, refused to recognize the annexations that resulted from a deal preceding World War II in which Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler agreed to divide large portions of Eastern Europe between them.

As a result, the three tiny states have continued to enjoy diplomatic representation in the United States. Latvia and Lithuania maintain legations in Washington while Estonia is represented by a consulate in New York.

But working in these offices can be a lonely and difficult job. Unlike other diplomats, the representatives of the Baltic states face daily reminders that their nations are not free. When unsuspecting Americans apply for visas, as happens regularly, they must respond that their countries are "under occupation."

Visas at Soviet Embassy

Visas to visit Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can be obtained from the Soviet Embassy, of course, but the Baltic diplomats try to avoid telling people that.

Dinbergs and Ernst Jaakson, Estonian consul general in New York, were both appointed to diplomatic posts in the United States before 1940 by the independent governments of their countries. They are now the last active diplomats who were appointed by a free Latvian or Estonian government.

Dinbergs was elected chief of the Latvian diplomatic service in 1971 by other Latvian diplomats. As such, he can make new diplomatic and consular appointments, provided that they comply with the requirements of the host government. But most Latvian diplomatic posts outside the United States are empty.

The last free government in Lithuania made advance preparations to perpetuate its diplomatic service. Just before Soviet forces entered the capital, the Lithuanian foreign minister selected a chief diplomat who would serve for life and was empowered to pick a successor. The chief appoints other diplomats.

Stasys A. Backis, a Washington resident who serves as political counselor at the Lithuanian legation, currently is the chief diplomat. In a curious twist, Backis has appointed his superior in Washington, Stasys Lozoraitis Jr., the head of the Lithuanian legation.

Lozoraitis, the son of a former Lithuanian diplomat, is also accredited as Lithuanian envoy to the Vatican, a double job that requires him to fly frequently between Washington and Rome.

"In diplomatic history, this is unheard of, to maintain diplomatic representation more than 45 years after the occupation of the country," Lozoraitis said. "Is it worth keeping up the whole thing? Sometimes we are accused of representing nobody. But we are a symbol of resistance."

'Time Warp'

John Zerolis, the Baltic desk officer at the State Department, said: "We're looking at a time warp in American diplomatic history. In 1940, a great injustice was done to three small states. The diplomatic missions represent a political presence of three countries which have never recovered from World War II."

All three Baltic legations continue to issue passports, although immigration or customs officers may look askance at them, and most Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians also hold citizenship in some other country. Jaakson said that in recent weeks, Estonian dissidents from throughout the world have come to him for Estonian passports.

"This is the only place in the world where Estonian passports are issued," Jaakson said, gesturing to his office on the 14th floor of a skyscraper in New York's Rockefeller Center.

Baltic Passports

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