Friday, September 30, 2011

Holy Cow!

I feel like I have been running a sprint this week.

All week.

Thank God it is Friday.

I had Monday off, though by off, I mean that while the plan was to stay home to wrap up my HHE, I was really working from home. That's okay though, because I had some writing to do for work, and there are fewer interuptions at home.

The rest of the week has been a blur...I know I gave a talk to Tallinn Tech yesterday, and met with some reporters from ERR on Wednesday. Plus all week we were working on getting the word out about an award the Baltic American Freedom Foundatin is giving out in conjunction with the American Chamber of Commerce and the Embassy, as well as on our events today in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the re-opening of the U.S. Embassy here.

Today we had an event at Solaris, a local mall, where we have posters displayed as part of the "Picturing America" campaign. We had the Ambassador come by to shake hands and talk with everyone from the media to school children. We gave out brownies and cookies and cokes, as well as flags, hacky sacks and wristbands. The media was there in force. I did three television interviews, two of them partially in Estonian (the other was for Russian language news and will be dubbed into Russian...I asked him to find someone with a better sounding voice than mine!). The Ambassador and DCM were also interviewed.

After the event, we had just a few minutes to eat some food before we had to dive into working on an ad for that award, getting it translated into Estonian and editting the copy we had that was in English...before this is over, I will be very familiar with Corel Draw.

Then tonight, we has a film screening, and I had to introduce Estonian (okay I didn't have to do it in Estonian, but it seemed like a good thing to do).

I am wiped out...I came home and put on my Marine Corps 10K shirt...because I feel like I just finishing running one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Almost Home

Everything has been put away.

Yes, everything.

The apartment looks less like a corporate rental and more like a place where I live. There are rugs on the floor, pictures on the wall.

There are two guest rooms ready for guests. The beds are even made.

I even cooked last night now that I finally have stuff from my own kitchen.

All that needs to be done is for GSO to come hang a couple pictures on the plaster walls (could have sworn I had concrete nails...), and then it will be home.


It still lacks the most essential thing for it to be home.

My wife.

And the cats.

But mostly my wife.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Stuff! And a car!

I has it!

My HHE arrived yesterday...and for once, I think I got the balance of stuff right. Those of you who have done this, especially multiple times, know how hard that can be.

The movers arrived promptly at the hour they said they would (and this was not a surprise...I love this country!) and started unloaded all my stuff...and the car! I am really excited to be able to drive around some!

I am not sure what of what arrived yesterday. Certainly the bed it high on my list. Even in as much pain as I was in last night (I unpacked ALL of the boxes so they could take the boxes and paper away), I slept great! For the first time since I have been here.

But I am also really happy about Cayenne's cage arriving. (The packers had put heavy stuff on time, which dented the top tray, but luckily, I also brought a took kit so I could straighten it back out). Her travel cage is adeqaute but terribly small. Her real cage (she actually has two...we leave one in the states for when we get home...part of our home "welcome kit.") is about as tall as I am and about three feet wide...much better for a bird of her size.

And I am excited about the carpets and art...instantly they transform this from a corporate apartment to our own place.

And empty bookshelves made me feel like a Philistine! The shelves in the foyer and living room are still largely empty because M is bringing a bunch of her books with her. But I have my books in the office, and this makes me happy.

And on a language note...yesterday, the woman supervising the movers started out speaking in English. But I responded as much as possible in Estonian. The movers themselves seemed happy enough to make that switch quickly.

But you know how they tell you people will switch into English? Well yesterday, I asked a question in English and the supervisor didn't understand. So I switched into Estonian, and she understood! Woo!

True to form, I have made good progress and will have everything (yes everything) put away properly before I head back to work on Tuesday (I took Monday off to deal with the stuff). It has even worn out Noostie!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Out of Office

Yesterday, my section and I travelled out to Vihula for a section offsite.

Vihula Manor is a 16th century manor house that has been turned into a spa and lodge about an hour outside of town.

It is a very relaxing place...definitely need to go back there with M when she gets here...because seriously, even going to the potty was zen.

I admit when we first started talking about an offsite, I wasn't entirely convinced of the need. But you can officially consider me sold.

We didn't do any of those silly ice-breaker exercizes or anything like this. This is a team that has been together for years and they are awesome together. I am the only newbie.

So instead, we had dinner together. We talked. We planned. We discussed. And all away from the office, where every meeting is interrupted. Every. Meeting.

So what I came away from the offsite with an increased respect for my team. They are every bit as awesome as I thought. We came up with some ideas for some new directions too. So I am pleased. I hope they are too.

And an added bonus? Noostie got to come. Even to our dinner at the restaurant (she even got to see some sheep, but was less enthusiastic about the horses!).

I love this country! And my job. And my team.

I am a very lucky person.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Eesti Keeles

Last night, the Ambassador and his wife kindly hosted a reception for me so I could meet my new contacts.

I suppose I should have known I would be expected to make remarks, but I admit that I was surprised when I was asked yesterday morning if I had prepared a few words "eesti keeles."

In Estonian.

I use my Estonian every day. Really. With my staff, in restaurants, with the guards, in the grocery store. Seriously, every day.

But not usually in front of about 50 people I have never met.

So I went back to my office and thought about what I wanted to say. Then about whether I could say it in Estonian. I wrote it up, had it checked for errors in grammar, and spend the afternoon trying to memorize it.

Because I both love and hate speaking in public (yeah, I know, how is that even possible?), and I know that I do a better job when I am not reading from a script. I am a much better speaker if I just speak from what I know.

So in case you are interested, here is what I said, eesti keeles:

Tere õhtust! Ma tahaks tänada teid täna õhtul tulemast.

Minu nimi on Michelle Schohn ja ma olen uus pressi ja kultuuri attaché Ameerika saatkonnas. Ma olen parit Lõuna Carolinast. Ma olen pool-Indiaanlane ja pool-Sakslane, ja sada protsenti Ameeriklane. Enne diplomaaditööd, ma olin arheoloog ja ma tegin oma doktoritöö Põhja Carolina Ülikoolis (ja ma loodan ükspaev lõpetada!). Ma olen siin kolm aastat oma abikaasa ja meie nelja "lapsega"...meie koer, kaks kassi, ja papagoi.

See on selleparast ma olen Indiaanlane, et mul on hea meel olla eestis. See on selleparast et ma olen Indiaanlane et ma saan aru kui tähtis teile eesti keel on. Minu inimestel oli keelatud rääkida meie keeles, ja praegu, meie keel on surnud. Teie keel on elus, sest et teie hoidsite seda, ja see on teie kingitus teie lastele ja nende lastele.

Veel kord, suur tänu tulemast. Mul on teiega siin eestis põnev töötada.

And here is what that means, at least I hope so!

Good evening. I would like to thank you for coming tonight.

My name is Michelle Schohn and I am the new Press and Cultural Attache at the American Embassy. I am originally from South Carolina. I am half American Indian, half German, and 100% American. Before my diplomatic work, I was an archaeologist and I did my doctoral work at the University of North Carolina (and I hope one day to finish it!). I will be in Estonia for three years with my spouse and our four "children": our dog, two cats and parrot.

It is because I am an Indian that I am happy to be in Estonia. It is because I am an Indian that I understand how important the Estonian language is to you. My people were forbidden from speaking our language, and now our language is dead. Your language is alive because you took care of it, and this is a gift to your children and their children.

Again, thank you for coming. I am excited about working with you here in Estonia.

And yes, I was able to do it without reading it. I hope I made my Estonian teachers proud!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Religion in Tallinn

A recent article on BBC claims that Estonia is the least religious country in the world, with only about 16% of people believing in the existence of a Creator.

Another article today in the Guardian, questions that slightly, suggesting that Estonian neo-paganism and belief in a spirit or life force of some sort means that about 70% of Estonians believe in something. Just not necessarily the Judeo-Christian God.

I have seen Mormon missionaries in my neighborhood, and have thought they must be incredibly frustrated here.

But last night, I had an encounter that surprised me.

Part of the security of my building is that you can't just walk in off the street. You either have to have a fob or someone has to let you in. So I was surprised last night when my buzzer rang. I wasn't expecting guests.

I answered the phone, and a woman in English said she was conducting a poll on whether people thought it was reasonable to believe in a Creator.

I said yes I did (and I do, though that said, I really like that Estonia is not religious because no one feels the need to convert me to their particular brand of belief).

She said, well you know, living in Estonia, most people do not think it is reasonable.

Yes, I know that.

Can we leave you some literature?

Yes, leave it outside the door.

Then I hung up and attempted to go back to eating my late lunch.

The phone buzzed again.

This time, the woman wanted me to buzz her in so she could leave her literature in my mailbox.

Uh, no. I don't let people in who I don't know. That sort of defeats the purpose of having security.

I told her to leave the brochure outside the door. A friend on Facebook suggested they might be Jehovah's Witnesses. Really? In Estonia?

I went downstairs later that evening and found the literature.

Sure enough, it was Watchtower, aka Jehovah's Witnesses.

I bet they are just as frustrated here as the Mormons.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Didn't Forget...Welcome to the 163rd!

I just had the date wrong.

So....Welcome to the 163rd A-100!

Apparently they started on the 12th...could have sworn it was the 19th. That is what I get for being people gotta help keep me informed!

So I week late, I want to welcome the following bloggers and move them to the FS blogroll:

Aloha FSO

If I'm lost, it's only for a little while

Moments and Musings

Next year In Jerusalem

Rhubard and Rhetoric

Let me know if I missed anyone.

Welcome to the Service!


I attempted to go to the Gay Christian coffee this morning...

I was the only one who showed up.

Actually, that isn't true. One other person showed before I got there, plus some reporters from Tallinn TV. But the organizer overslept. So there was no coffee.

I did get to spend some time chatting with one of the organizers of the gay center, where the coffee was to be held.

My plans for the morning scrapped, I headed towards home. But a band playing in Vabaduse Valjak drew me into the Old City. I listened to them for a while (it was a concert supporting recycling), and then decided to wander through the Old City some more. This time I just went whichever way the mood struck me, taking pictures.

I have discovered that no matter where I am in the Old City, it is pretty easy to find your way back to some place that you know. So I wandered for a couple hours, checking out galleries and listening to all the Russian tourists. You'd think they had a sign somewhere...yesterday was French tourist day, today was Russian tourist day. Occassionally you hear an American, British or Irish voice, often accompanied by another person speaking Estonian-accented English.

I also got to watch a glass maker plying his trade.

Yes, I know there is a no photography sign there but what they meant was no flash photography while he was working. I asked.

I stopped at the store on the way home to pick up some cheese and orange juice. I have a favorite brand here already, Cappy, which always makes me think Crappy. A woman asked me something about the cheese (why she asked me, I don't know) and I didn't catch what she said, so I said "Kuidas?" (which means how but is the Estonian way of asking what did you say). She started asking me something in a mixture of Russian and Estonian, so I just answered as best as I could in Estonian. Finally, she asked, "Is good?" about the cheese. I said I thought it was...only because Estonian cheese is generally good. I wasn't buying that brand...I was getting cheddar...

And what a beautiful day here today...the days are getting shorter by six full minutes each day, a noticable difference, but still, I love it here. A friend said if you can't be happy here, you can't be happy anywhere.

And I agree. (Not sure this section of the city wall does though...)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Strange and Wonderful

Today is the first day I have had completely off in two weeks.

I'm not complaining, just tired.

Last night after work though, instead of going home and going to bed, I went out to dinner with a group of women from the Embassy.

We have done this several times now...we are trying to make it a regular event where we invite all of the women in the embassy...employees, spouses, FSNs. I think especially for the women with children, it is a nice break from the usual. And for me, it is just a lot of fun to get out with some really strong, smart, interesting women, or as one of my friends from the Embassy calls us, "an informal group of fairly odd women."

We had dinner in the Old City at an Italian place with pretty decent food and a waiter with a command of at least Estonian, English, Spanish and Italian. Plus they had prosciutto and melon, which made me really happy.

After dinner, we went to Shimo, a little bar run by an Egyptian man who has lived here 10 years. The others drank shots named "The Smurf" (which apparently tastes like toothpaste...why would you drink that?), "Apple Pie" (vodka, apple juice and cinnamon) and "the Estonian flag" (blue curacao, coffee, and cream I think). The Old City was still hopping when I left at midnight, filled with women in devil's horns or bridal veils carrying signs in Russian. I have no idea what that was about.

I decided last night that I would take Noostie for a walk through the Old City today...and so we did. We explored for about an hour and a half, a map tucked safely in my back pocket in case we got lost. We prowled down some back alleys with shops that are much more interesting than those on the larger streets.

There were still a fair number of tourists today, including tons of French folks, but I found that with dog in tow, the usual street vendors and restaurant staff didn't call out to me like they usually do. Perhaps it was that I was alone and with a dog, and so less likely to be simply a tourist.

I even caught one tourist taking our picture as we cut through Raekoja Plats.

What a strange and wonderful place I live in.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Careful what You Ask For

I said I wanted to be busy, right?

Holy cow!

Some days I worry, with the recent uptick in concern about blogs going dark, that you will wonder whether or not I have as well.

I haven't. I am fortunate to work in an embassy and for an Ambassador who is very media saavy and in fact has his own blog.

But I have been so swamped it has been hard to find a moment to write.

But let me start off with this. For you Junior Officers who are PD coned and have not yet done a PD tour and are wondering if you made the right career choice...

Don't give up!

You will get to do the good stuff. And it IS the good stuff.

You WILL get to do interesting, meaningful work in interesting, meaningful places. This is why you joined.

This week, I have been interviewing candidates for Humphrey Fellowships. Another group of really smart, impressive candidates. I wish I could send them all. Yesterday, I spoke with some of our grant recepients about their programs and then last night I went to a Nature Film festival in Lihula, a small town celebrating their 800th year of existence this year!

This morning I helped with a video of the Ambassador and this afternoon, I will attend a speech he is giving that our section organized.

This weekend...I plan to sleep!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Like Yesterday

I have no idea how to write a post about the 10th anniversary of September 11th.

It doesn't seem like ten years ago to me. Or even ten days. Sometimes it is a pressingly current thing for me, like it was yesterday.

I don't want to talk about where I was ten years ago. I have told you all that before. I don't want to tell you how that day has informed the choices I have made since then, including playing a role (though certainly not the only factor in that decision) in my joining the Service. You know that already. And I don't need to tell you how fiercely patriotic I was before and am after...if you read this blog, I'd bet chances are you are too.

I don't want to see another picture or video of the planes hitting the towers or the towers coming down. And not because I think we should "heal" or "move on," but because I don't need reminding. My Service to this country reminds me every day...reminds me to do, among other things, my part to keep it from happening again.

What I do want to tell you about is how I spent the anniversary of the attacks.

We had a concert.

It was the most amazingly beautiful thing to see. We held the event in the Niguliste Church in Tallinn's Old City. The church was built sometime around 1230 and survived until it was partially destroyed during World War II. The church has been restored and was a beautiful, somber setting for a beautiful, somber concert performed by the artists of Eesti Konsert.

Their performance was beautiful, tasteful and respectful, a loving tribute to those who perished that day. And among our honored guests were the wounded veterans of Estonia who served side by side with our troops in Afghanistan, the families of those who lost their lives there, as well as Estonian first responders. Their spirit is the same that led members of the NYFD and NYPD to run in while others were running out.

This was, I think, a perfect way to mark the day that none of us want to remember on none of us dare forget.

If you would like to see some pictures from the event, click here (our Embassy's photos), here and here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seriously Smart

You have probably heard of the Fulbright program, or at least some of the plays on the name...better to be a Fulbright than a halfbright or half wit. That kind of thing.

In case you haven't heard of what the actual program is, Fulbright is a program of competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchange for students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists and artists. It was founded by and named for U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. The program helps U.S. citizens go abroad and non-U.S. citizens come to the U.S.

Part of my responsibility as a Public Affairs Officer is the chair our Fulbright committee. We interview all of the applicants for each of the programs and make our recommendations to Washington on who we think should get the award.

I did my first rounds of these interviews, this time for Estonians seeking to study in the U.S., Thursday and Friday.

We practiced doing the interviews in my training for this position, but nothing prepared me for how seriously impressive these young people are. (I can call them young...not a one was older than me). We had some thirty applicants, and I wish I could send them all to the U.S. Really.

Our committee of five did two solid days of interviews. I obviously can't comment on individual applicants, but I can tell you that many of them were able to conduct the interview in better English than I could! And the accomplishments of some of the applicants who were literally half my age were truly impressive and humbling. This are some gifted folks, and they are the next generation of leaders in this country, in government, law, science, and the arts.

In the end, we selected three candidates and two alternates. The rest we have directed to the Baltic American Freedom Foundation, where they can compete for scholarships to study in the U.S. It would make me happy if all 30 studied in the U.S.

Of course, there is no guarantee that even our three selected candidates will all receive Fulbrights, but I certainly hope so.

Because both of our countries benefit from these exchanges.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Brain Pain

Every time I have learned a new language, it has affected the ones I already knew. French altered my German, but then my college German reasserted dominance over my French.

Then there was Hebrew, which made it so that I couldn't construct a thought in German without Hebrew interference. My Hebrew was diminished by time and then a bit of Arabic and Russian. And finally, it is Estonian at the forefront of my linguistic brain.

That has never really been a problem. The last language I studied was the language I needed to use.

Except here.

Here of course, there are Estonian and Russian speakers. I know very little Russian, but I do try to at least exchange pleasantries with those who speak only that language.

Add into this mix my orthodox Jewish neighbors, who speak as far as I can tell only Hebrew (except the husband, who has some English).

So yesterday, I spoke Hebrew to my neighbors, Russian to the cleaning lady, and then Estonian to another neighbor in the space of like five minutes.

And my brain cramped.

Suddenly I was questioning whether I was using Hebrew in my Estonian (ma is I in Estonian and what in Hebrew, and as I used it in Estonian, properly, I second guessed whether that actually did mean I!). Who knows what I did with the Hebrew and Russian. Okay, I do know there was some Estonian in the Hebrew (the wife asked if I was American and I said yes in Estonian).

So this is a new linguistic challenge for me. Try to work with two languages I have an okay command of and one I know pleasantries in without having them interfere with one another.

It is either really going to make my brain work better or shut it down completely.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Kõige parem päev Eestis!

Today was my best day in Estonia so far.

I am not sure if I wrote sometime back that when I was in Estonian training, I read an article about an archaeological excavation going on near my apartment here. I wasn't sure exactly how near, but I gathered it was pretty close.

Turns out, close is practically across the street.

Basically, the Art School tore down an old building and Estonian cultural heritage law requires that they do excavations before they rebuild. In their excavations, the archaeologists found a medieval suburb of Tallinn.

When I got here, I happily realized I could see the excavations from my I have been watching...waiting....for any signs of work. And this morning, I noticed that one area had a new tarp. So I watched for a minute, and saw a guy walking around, and he was wearing...knee pads! Meaning he was expecting to be kneeling in the dirt....digging!

So I walked over this morning when I took my dog out and the head archaeologist showed me around a bit. I told her I was an archaeologist before I joined the State Department, and she invited me to come dig with them. How could I resist? The weather is perfect!

This afternoon, I walked over without Noostie and chatted with some of the students and volunteers. It was excellent (and exhausting) Estonian practice. The Masters student on the site showed me some of the stuff they have found...ceramics as far back as the 13th century and from all over. Wood. Leather. Bone. Wonderful stuff that never preserves on our sites back home!

Then I went down into the units and looked at what the volunteers were finding. I chatted a lot with one young guy who was digging next to an older guy. The older guy was just plowing through what looked like a burn feature, putting the dirt into a bucket and tossing it on the backdirt pile.

Earlier, a woman had walked up to the Master's student and showed her a sherd. Where did you find it, she asked the woman in Estonian. I didn't understand the word she used but I understood the expression. I said, she found that in the backdirt, didn't she?


So I was watching the old guy toss dirt into his bucket, and I saw a sharply angled object. I pulled it out. Deer mandible. Wait, we want to save that said the young guy, and put it in an artifact bag. I started feeling though the dirt and found lots more bone, and put it in the bag. The old guy looked at me and laughed, and the young guy asked if I wanted some gloves. But I don't usually use gloves because I can feel more fragile artifacts with my hands without them. So I said I was fine. He looked at me and shook his head and asked, "What did you say you do again?" I said I am a diplomat. and he shook his head and laughed and said, you are a strange diplomat.

Truer words have seldom been spoken!

The old man said I needed to go wash my hands, and I said I was fine. And he said, no, you are putting your hands in shit. I said I was okay, and he decided that meant I didn't understand him. so he clarified. Shit means to poop. Yes, I know. But even if there is poop in this feature, it is really dang old poop and I am not worried. But the young guy then decided I really needed to wash my hands. So I went with him and washed my hands.

He has no idea how good it felt to have them dirty.

They will be there through November, and when the rest of my clothes arrive, I am totally going back out there and getting dirty.

Because even the backdirt pile is happy when archaeology is happening!

Saturday, September 03, 2011


I can't tell you how often I have heard people ask why I "bothered" to learn Estonian.

After all, it is a language spoken by maybe a million people worldwide. It will get me to precisely one place, here, and since I am part of a tandem, likely only once.

Plus, they tell me, everyone speaks English there. Or at least Russian. I shouldn't get language at all, because that will mean I will be unlikely to be promoted if my last evaluation before promotion is from language.

And all of that is true. Including the promotion part...I was up for promotion this time and was passed over.

I would still do it all again.

I think it is important to study the languages of the countries we go to. I think it sends an important message to that country about the value we place on our relationship with them. I think it makes me a better officer.

But I think it is especially important here.

The Estonian language means a lot to the Estonian people. It is a vital kernal of their culture that they clung to fiercely through occupation, through when they could be jailed for speaking it. It is a vital part of their identity. As an Indian who comes from a people whose language is dead for just those reasons, maybe I get it even more personally.

I also think, as an officer, that I would be limited in my effectiveness without it. Yes, people here speak English or Russian. That is true. But those who speak English are either very young, very well off, or both.

So my options here, if I actually spoke Russian (I know basic pleasantries, and I use them, but I don't know much more than that), would be either to communicate with the young or well off only, which limites what I can know about the country and the people, or I can force them to interact with me in the language of their oppressors. The language that was spoken by the soldiers who came into their homes and took as much as 10% of the population away, never to be seen again. Most people here lost family, and the pain of that is still palpable.

I can't fathom forcing them to speak to me in a language that brings of that kind of pain.

It is true that the reverse is that I cannot communicate with perhaps 8% of the population, ethic Russian speakers who speak neither English nor Estonian. My building's housekeeper is one such person. I stammer my pleasantries with her and play chirades. Ideally, I wish I spoke both languages. My wife will, and I am jealous of that.

But given the option of only one of the two, I would choose again what I choose.

Because I believe it matters.

Because when I went to the grocery store today, and spoke to the woman behind the meat counter, it was clear she only spoke Estonian. And I made mistakes (really I wish the words for hungry and funny were a little more different), muttered, apologized, and corrected myself. And she said to me not to apologize, that I was doing fine and that she understood me completely.

And I could see that it meant something to her that I would learn their difficult language and try to use it with her. She was kind and forgiving of my imperfections because I was trying to respect her and her culture.

And THAT is the message that I hope using the language here sends to the people of Estonian.

That we respect them and their culture and their history enough to try.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Repeating Myself

Did I mention I am loving my job?

Yesterday, I got to help with some interview prep, sit in on the interview, and then attend the opening on an LGBT center. Then I went to dinner with a big group of new friends at the Embassy to an AWESOME place in the Old City called Ribe that I had never been to. Let me just say, the word(s) of the day is smoked cheese soup!


On those really long, cold day, I know just where I am going and just what I am eating.

Life is good.

Twenty Years of Renewed Diplomatic Relations with the Baltic states

Twenty years ago today, President George H. W. Bush gave his now famous speech at Kennebunkport recognizing the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the United States never represented the legitimacy of the occupation of the Baltic states, this anniversary still resonates here. Exactly one month later, we reopened our embassy here.

If you want to see the clip of the President's announcement, check out this link:

Official U.S. State Recognition of the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia

There is also this piece from ERR, the Estonian national broadcasting service.

US Embassy Marks Anniversary of De Facto Recognition

US embassy officials in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a statement commemorating the 20th anniversary of President George H. W. Bush's announcement that the United States had formally reestablished diplomatic relations with the governments of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

It was on September 2, 1991, several days after the coup that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union, that US President Bush announced the formal recognition of Baltic independence.

Michael C. Polt, the US ambassador to Estonia, stated on September 1: "The special ties between the United States and Estonia have only become stronger with each passing year since that historic speech."

"Fundamentally, Estonia has emerged from the darkness of Soviet occupation to become a model for others as a leader in government transparency, innovation, and economic reform."

To commemorate the 20-year milestone, the US State Department in Washington is hosting a special photo exhibition of the 1991 events in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the Department's Exhibition Hall, which will be capped by a reception on September 8.

Notably, the United States - along with many other Western states - never recognized the forcible incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union during World War II.

This gave the Baltic independence movements both moral and legal authority throughout the half-century of Soviet occupation.

Andres Kahar

Ten Things About State, USAID

These ten things and so much more. From DipNote:

Deputy Secretary Nides: Ten Things About State, USAID
26 August 2011

This item was originally published on the State Department blog DipNote on August 26 and is in the public domain. There are no republication restrictions.

U.S. Department of State Official Blog

Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department and USAIDPosted by Thomas R. NidesAugust 26, 2011

Thomas R. Nides serves as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

Do you ever wonder what the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) do every day and what it means for you?
In the eight months since I joined the State Department, I’ve learned firsthand about the important and wide ranging work done by the women and men who work here and around the world to enhance our national and economic security. We help train the Mexican National Police forces who battle violent drug gangs just south of our border and we serve alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. We negotiate trade agreements and we promote U.S. exports by reducing barriers to commerce.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates used to say that the Department of Defense has as many people in military bands as the State Department has in the Foreign Service. With just over one percent of the entire federal budget, we have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world experiences and engages America.

Here are a few examples of what we do on behalf of the American people:

1. We create American jobs. We directly support 20 million U.S. jobs by advocating on behalf of U.S. firms to open new markets, protect intellectual property, navigate foreign regulations and compete for foreign government and private contracts. State economic officers negotiate Open Skies agreements, which open new routes for air travel from the United States to countries throughout the world, creating thousands of American jobs and billions in U.S. economic activity each year.

2. We support American citizens abroad. In the past eight months, we provided emergency assistance to, or helped coordinate travel to safe locations for, American citizens in Japan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Cote d’Ivoire in the wake of natural disasters or civil unrest. Last year, we assisted in 11,000 international adoptions and worked on over 1,100 new child abduction cases — resulting in the return of 485 American children.

3. We promote democracy and foster stability around the world. Stable democracies and prosperous communities are less likely to pose a threat to their neighbors or to the United States. South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, can be a viable ally for the United States in east Africa, but right now, violence and instability threatens its success. U.S. diplomats and development experts are there to help the South Sudanese learn how to govern and develop their economy so that South Sudan can stand on its own. In Libya, we helped create unprecedented international support to help the people shed 42 years of dictatorship and begin the long path to democracy.

4. We help to ensure the world is a safer place. Our nonproliferation programs have destroyed dangerous stockpiles of missiles, munitions and the material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The New START Treaty, negotiated by the State Department and signed by President Obama in 2010, reduced the number of deployed nuclear weapons to levels not seen since the 1950s. And, in 2010, the State Department helped more than 40 countries clear millions of square meters of landmines.

5. We save lives. Our programs that fight disease and hunger reduce the risk of instability abroad and, in return, protect our national security. Strong bipartisan support for U.S. global health investments has led to unparalleled successes in the treatment, care and prevention of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as saved millions from diseases like smallpox and polio.

6. We help countries feed themselves. In the United States, we know agriculture. Building upon what we do best — grow and produce food — we help other countries plant the right seeds in the right way and get crops to markets to feed the most people. Food shortages can lead to riots and starvation, but strong agricultural sectors can lead to stable economies, helping countries become strong U.S. trading partners.

7. We help in times of crisis. After this year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan, State and USAID sent disaster response experts, nuclear experts and urban search and rescue teams to work assist the government of Japan with meeting immediate needs. Secretary Clinton personally delivered much needed supplies to Chile within hours of a devastating earthquake. From earthquakes in Haiti to famine in the Horn of Africa and devastating fires in Israel, our experienced and talented emergency professionals deliver assistance to those who need it most.

8. We promote the rule of law and protect human dignity. Every day, we help people find freedom and shape their own destinies. In the Central Asian republics, we advocated for the release of prisoners held simply because their beliefs differed from those of the government. In Vietnam, we prevented political activists from suffering physical abuse. We have trained lawyers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help rape victims, police officers in Peru to combat sex trafficking, and journalists in Malaysia in an effort to make their government more accountable.

9. We help Americans see the world. In 2010, we issued 14 million passports for Americans to travel abroad. We facilitate the lawful travel of students, tourists and business people, including issuing more than 700,000 visas for foreign students to study in the U.S. last year. And, if a storm could disrupt your vacation plans or if you could get sick from drinking the water, we alert you through our travel warnings.

10. We are the face of America overseas. Our diplomats, development experts, and the programs they implement are the source of American leadership around the world. They are the embodiments of our American values abroad. They are a force for good in the world.
The United States is a leader for peace, progress and prosperity, and the State Department and USAID help deliver that. All of this (and more) costs the American taxpayer about one percent of the overall federal budget. That is a small investment that yields a large return by advancing our national security, promoting our economic interests, and reaffirming our country’s exceptional role in the world.

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Editor’s Note: This entry first appeared on The Huffington Post.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: more: