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Capitol Hill Reception Celebrates NATO Anniversaries

A policy reception in Honor of NATO and its Enlargement took place in the Caucus Room of the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., on 25 March 2009 (5-7 p.m.).

The objective of the event was to celebrate NATO’s 60th anniversary as well as the 5th and 10th anniversaries, respectively, of the last two rounds of enlargement.

On July 8, 1997, three former communist countries - Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic - were invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which finally took place in 1999.

In 2004, the membership of the Alliance expanded with the accession of seven more Eastern European countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The importance of NATO’s 60th anniversary and the celebration of its enlargement was underscored by the presence of a panel of prestigious speakers who all played an important role in supporting NATO’s enlargement.

After the opening remarks by Frank Koszorus, President of the American Hungarian Federation, the Director of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America Michael Sawkiw introduced the distinguished invitees - Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. National Security Adviser under President Jimmy Carter, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Kurt Volker, US Ambassador to NATO.

The special guests all delivered moving and powerful speeches. They reflected upon the last 60 years that brought enormous historical and geopolitical changes in Europe, starting with the division of the continent into the capitalist and communist blocs and ending, 40 years later, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent freedom of former socialist and communist countries from the Soviet regime.

Sen. George Voinovich remembered the moving historical moment and the emotion he felt when, as a member of President George W. Bush's official delegation to Prague to 2002, he witnessed the joyful celebrations on the capital city’s streets following the declaration that other seven Eastern European countries were invited to join NATO.

Zbigniew Brzezinski underlined the importance of trans-national relations, particularly with Russia. NATO’s strength, he said, lay in its members’ number and future enlargements will not therefore, as some predict, weaken the organization.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski remembered how much Europe’s post-war division emotionally affected her own Polish-American family and the American communities of Eastern European immigrants. These ethnicities, she said, defined America – their presence allowed the country to become one-of-a-kind mosaic, rather then a melting pot.

Kurt Volker expressed the wish to see Sweden, Finland and Austria join NATO in the future. Their membership should not be underestimated, he said. It would be beneficial to the organization insofar as it would reinforce the cooperation and expand common values between the European and North American continents.

Michael Haltzel, a former senior foreign policy advisor to Sen. Joseph R. Biden and Democratic Senate staffer on NATO and Balkan policy, together with Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), both expressed their joy at celebrating the 5th and 10th anniversary of NATO’s enlargement.

The closing remarks were delivered by Marju Rink-Abel from the Estonian American National Council.

The event was attended by many other distinguished guests, among which were several ambassadors of Central and Eastern European countries – Amb. Audrius Bruzga from the Lithuanian Embassy, Amb. Petr Kolar from the Czech Republic Embassy, Amb. Latchezar Petkov from the Bulgarian Embassy and Amb. Adrian Vierita from the Romanian Embassy.

The Central and East European Coalition comprises 18 national membership organizations representing more than 20 million Americans. The Polish American Congress is one of its co-founders and an active member of the CEEC.