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“The Baltic Way 30”
The Day Holding Hands Changed Latvian History
Special Contribution
By Latvian Embassy in Seoul
The non-violent protest "the Baltic Way" human chiain in 1989

On August 23, 1989, approximately 2 million people stood hand in hand between Tallinn (Estonia), Rīga (Latvia) and Vilnius (Lithuania) in one of the most unique expressions of non-violent protest the world had ever seen, the Baltic Way.

The 670-km long live human chain was the peak in a series of manifestations during the Awakening or Independence Movement of the Baltic states (1988-1991) who, after being incorporated in the Soviet Union in 1940 due to the evil Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, sought to regain their sovereignty.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany that envisaged the division and occupation of Eastern Europe between the two powers. The pact was signed on August 23, 1939.

A week later the World War II began, and inherently, after a short period under the Nazi regime (1941-1944), Latvia was doomed to be forcedly incorporated into the Soviet Union until 1991.

The Soviet Union claimed that the Baltic states joined voluntarily.

The protesters who took part in the Baltic Way wished to remind the world what had actually happened: the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states was illegal, and against the wish of the respective nations.

So at 19:00 on August 23, 1989, 50 years after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, church bells sounded in the Baltic states. Mourning ribbons decorated the national flags that had been banned a year before.

The participants of the Baltic Way were addressed by the leaders of the respective national independence movements: the Estonian Rahvarinne, the Lithuanian Sajūdis, and the Latvian Latvijas Tautas Fronte.

The following words were chanted ‘laisvė’, ‘svabadus, ‘brīvība’ (freedom). The symbols of Nazi Germany and the Communist regime of the USSR were burnt on large bonfires.

The Baltic states demanded the cessation of the half-century long Soviet occupation, colonisation, russification and communist genocide.

The Baltic Way was a significant step towards regaining the national independence of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, and a source of inspiration for other regional independence movements.

The live chain was also realized in Kishinev by Romanians of the Soviet-occupied Bessarabia or Moldova, while in January 1990, Ukrainians joined hands on the road from Lviv to Kyiv.

Just after the Baltic Way campaign, the Berlin Wall fell, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia began, and the Ceausescu regime in Romania was overthrown.

Recognising the documents of the Baltic Way as items of documentary heritage of exceptional value, UNESCO included the event in the Memory of the World Register in 2009.

Text Credit: The Latvian Institute, The Popular Front Museum at the National History Museum of Latvia in collaboration with the Ministry of Culture Latvia 100 Office and State Chancellery

Photo Credit: Uldis Briedis, Vitalijs Stipinieks

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