February 10, 2008

It’s been a long break in the blog stream, and for good reason. I had the honor of traveling to Latvia, Lithuania and Russia with my AgForestry Leadership class on a 2 week “citizen diplomacy” tour at the end of January/early February. Citizen diplomacy means we had a tightly packed schedule of tours and home visits related to agricultural production and processing, local history and culture. I’ll be sharing insights from this trip over the next few weeks.

“It doesn’t matter if you have enough food if you have freedom,” said our guide in Riga. Would we trade second helpings of pizza and hamburgers for freedom?

“2 million people stood in line on August 23, 1989 , holding hands from Estonia through Latvia to Lithuania, demanding the Russians go home,” said our guide in Klaipeda. “The line was supposed to go all around the Baltic Sea, but it wasn’t as important to the Scandinavian countries.” How many Americans take the time to participate in demanding/protecting/appreciating freedom?

“I stood in the line for the Singing Revolution, and my son was at the barricades at the TV station when the Russian tanks rolled in, and his best friend was killed,” said our guide in Vilnius. Are we willing to risk our lives or the lives of our children for freedom?

Freedom is a tangible asset in the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania, not a vague concept suitable for a bumper sticker. They only regained their independence in 1991, after 45 years of Soviet domination. Their sense of national identity survived deportations, collectivization, and brutal suppression by the KGB with the unifying elements of language, culture and songs.

Check out Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singing_Revolution for more details. The Baltic countries have been traded between empires for a thousand years, yet never lost sight of the value of freedom. The United States has stood for a little over 200 years, and we give away pieces of our freedom every day when we turn over responsibility that should rest with the individual to central government. On our last evening in Russia we reflected on lessons learned during the trip. It wasn’t beautiful architecture or good food or productive farms that came at the top of the list – it was the realization that our freedom is so fragile, and we don’t appreciate all that we are blessed with in the United States.