By Mary Jane Maxwell
The Baltic states have long turned to song and dance to celebrate and protect their heritage.
The tradition was on display recently, when the embassies of Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opened their doors to visitors during European Union Embassies’ Open House Day, an annual spring event involving all 28 European Union embassies in Washington.
Thousands of locals and tourists lined up to get a glimpse inside each embassy and to get a sample of each country’s native food, art and entertainment. The open house also celebrated the 60th birthday of the EU, which all three Baltic countries joined in 2004.
Songs of Estonia
Visitors to the Embassy of Estonia were treated to an Estonian-American children’s choir, which recently won a competition to perform this summer in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital.
Singing has long been a symbol of Estonian nationality, as especially evident at the song and dance festivals at the Tallinn Festival Grounds. Every five years, nearly 20,000 singers perform onstage at an open-air choir concert, with thousands of spectators joining in.
“Estonian song and dance was so important to me as a child growing up in Estonia,” said Eveli Chadwell, an embassy volunteer. “Although I grew up in a small village, I was bused to Tallinn to the song festivals,” she said. Today, Chadwell helps Estonian-American children prepare for the Tallinn festival.
All three Baltic countries are known for their “singing revolutions,” in which their citizens sang patriotic songs in their struggle for independence.
Singing was center stage at the Republic of Lithuania’s embassy, but so too was a poster exhibition. Lithuanian Americans created the posters between 1900 and the 1950s, with some depicting the Lithuanian countryside alongside the promise of life in America.
Other posters reflect Lithuanian Americans’ appreciation for U.S. assistance in helping their country achieve independence in 1918.
Kestutis Vaskelevicius, counselor at the Lithuanian Embassy, said the embassy building, purchased in 1924, “is symbolic of U.S. support for us. We’ve kept our doors open for over 90 years.”
Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia to the United States Andris Teikmanis personally greeted visitors as they reached the front of a line that stretched around the block. They were there to watch traditional Latvian folk dancing.
Teikmanis expressed appreciation for U.S. support during World War II. And he noted that his country renamed the street in Riga, the country’s capital, where the U.S. Embassy is located to “Sumner Welles Street,” after Sumner Welles, the acting U.S. secretary of state who in 1940 signed a document in which the U.S. condemned the annexation by the Soviet Union of the three Baltic countries. The document is commonly called the Welles Declaration.
“The United States stood by us,” the ambassador said.