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(L-R) Karl Altau (Managing Director, JBANC), Markus Videnieks (JBANC Board of Directors), Congressman Christopher Smith, Peter Chereson (JBANC), Piret Laiverik (Central and East European Coalition), and Orest Deychakiwsky (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe)

Washington, DC — The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC), which commemorates its 50th anniversary in April 2011, presented its Baltic Democracy Award to the two leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe – Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). JBANC members met with Representative Smith on April 15 to present him with the award.

Representative Smith was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, and is a senior member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Smith is also one of the longest-serving members of the House Baltic Caucus, and currently serves as co-chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (also known as the Helsinki Commission). Smith has been instrumental in furthering the Commission’s cause of promoting human rights and democracy, authorizing three of America’s most influential anti-human trafficking laws and serving on Congressional caucuses focusing on refugees, combating anti-Semitism, and human trafficking.

Smith also has extensive experience in Central and Eastern European affairs, and was present in the Baltics with a U.S. Congressional delegation following the brutal Soviet crackdown in early 1991. He recently introduced H.R.515 – the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, legislation that supports Belarus’ democratic opposition and calls for American sanctions against that country’s current authoritarian regime. As JBANC Board member Markus Videnieks noted following the presentation, “Congressman Smith has been a tremendous ally to JBANC. He has demonstrated tireless support and wise leadership on issues that are critical to Estonian-, Latvian-, and Lithuanian-Americans, and we are proud to be able to recognize him and Senator Cardin for their achievements.”

Previous JBANC Baltic Democracy Award honorees include Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) in 2007; Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), and Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-NE) in 2003; Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) in 2001; and Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), Sen. Slade Gorton (R-WA), Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) in 1999. Prior to 1999, the award was called the Baltic Freedom Award.