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The Baltic Way: How Holding Hands Changed History

The Baltic Way: How Holding Hands Changed History

On August 23, 1989, a momentous event unfolded that would forever leave its mark on history. Two million people joined hands, creating an unbroken human chain that spanned over 600 kilometres, linking the capital cities of Vilnius in Lithuania, Tallinn in Estonia, and Riga in Latvia. This awe-inspiring display of unity and determination became famously known as “The Baltic Way.” It was a peaceful protest against the illegal Soviet occupation and also one of the earliest and longest unbroken human chains in history.

The Baltic Way was more than just a physical connection; it was a profound political demonstration for freedom. It commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which included secret protocols by which the Soviet Union and Germany divided up Eastern and Central Europe into their respective zones of influence. The existence of these secret protocols was denied by the Soviet Union until 1989.

Organized over six weeks by the popular front movements from Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia – the first non-communist political movements since the annexation of the three states by the Soviet Union – the Baltic Way was meticulously planned. The organizers mapped out the chain, designating specific locations to specific cities, towns, and villages to ensure an unbroken connection.

The human chain served as a powerful message to the world and a symbol of solidarity among the Baltic States. It marked a turning point in the struggle for the Baltic States’ freedom. Each state’s unwavering desire for independence was poignantly conveyed.

Remarkably, within just six months of this transformative protest, on March 11, 1990, Lithuania declared its independence, becoming the first of the Soviet Republics to do so.

The 23rd of August is an official day of remembrance, known as Black Ribbon Day or the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism. This day serves as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made and the determination displayed during that pivotal moment in history.

Later, in recognition of their value in documenting history, documents recording the Baltic Way were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2009.

Being part of the EU and NATO, today Lithuania stands together with the democratic world as a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s fight for its sovereignty and freedom.