Looking Back

Twenty-five years ago US president George H. W. Bush fully supported Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts to renegotiate a “union treaty” to keep the Baltics and other republics within the Soviet Union. His spokespeople characterized Lithuania’s declaration of independence on the PBS network’s MacNeil/Lehrer Report as “they have placed themselves out on a ledge blindfolded and expect us to rescue them. We will not.”

The American Jewish Committee took a more sober and long-term look at the future, and sent president Bush the following letter, dated August 27, 1991:


Dear Mr. President,

As the USSR undergoes daily and dramatic upheaval, your resolute support of the full rights of minorities in the Soviet Republics and the democratic aspirations of all who lived in the Soviet empire must surely send a beacon of home to those now struggling to create a new political system unencumbered by communism.

We write to commend you for advancing the cause of liberty in the world behind a now-lifted Iron Curtain, and we respectfully urge you to consider a still further step to demonstrate America’s embrace of freedom in the Soviet Union.

In your remarks to reporters yesterday in Kennebunkport, you were quoted as saying the United States is “moving very close” to granting full diplomatic recognition to the Baltic Republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. To take such a step too hastily, you were further quoted as suggesting, “might contribute to some kind of anarchy in the Soviet Union.”

We respectfully ask you to reconsider that position and move decisively toward early, formal recognition of the Baltic Republics by the United States. We believe that our country should be among the vanguard of States to welcome Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia–formally and diplomatically–to the community of nations.

No action our Government could take at this turning point in history would send so clear a message of support for the democratic and national aspirations of peoples who have suffered decades of communist tyrrany [sic]. By their long resistance to the domination of an outside power, their determination to thwart the reactionary forces that led to last week’s coup, and their expressed commitment to the political and religious rights of all their citizens, the Baltic States have earned international recognition of their sovereignty.

The collapse of communism and the ongoing restructuring of the Soviet Union is a victory not just for the West, but for all people; it is a 20th century reaffirmation of the Rights of Man. As you have noted, the upheaval of the old order presents many opportunities–economic, political and cultural–to the peoples of both East and West; it poses challenges as well.

The American Jewish Committee is particularly concerned that, in the midst of the dramatic changes taking place in the Soviet Union, the rights of individuals—to practice their religion freely, to exercise the full prerogatives of citizens in a constitutional system, to emigrate if and when they choose–continue to be respected. AJC’s support for full recognition of the independent Baltic States flows directly from our concern for the rights of all individuals in the new political landscape of the Soviet Union.

We deeply appreciate your Administration’s consistent support of human rights for all of the people of the Soviet Union. We wish you continued success in your active encouragement of freedom around the globe, and we thank you in advance for your consideration of our views.



Alfred H. Moses, President

David A. Harris, Executive Vice President