Friday, 08 August 2014 22:55

Remembering the day when two million people joined hands and hearts

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The Baltic Way near Vilnius, Lithuania The Baltic Way near Vilnius, Lithuania Source: unknown

On August 23, 1989, more than two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, something truly remarkable and rarely seen in the long history of collective social behavior happened. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and protest the illegal Soviet occupation, two million people from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined hands in a human chain spinning 600 km from Vilnius to Riga to Tallinn. They held hands, carried signs and sang national songs. The demonstration, during which words ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ were passed on along the human chain, was organized to draw the world’s attention to the common fate that the three Baltic nations had suffered.

That day the whole world watched the rebirth of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as people rose slowly and painfully and recounted what really happened, how they were tortured, dispersed, killed, but not destroyed, forbidden to mourn their loss, and forced to sing the praises of the destroyer.

The world was moved by the sheer bravery of the Baltic Way. By the passion of the people involved. By the commitment of so many against such enormous odds. By peacefulness of people who believed that standing together would destroy the totalitarian system.

These weren’t radicals, they were just ordinary children and parents and grandparents who had enough, and wanted the world to know.

And the best part of all?

By working together they did destroy the system: less than a year after the chain, Lithuania became the first of the Baltic countries to declare independence from the USSR.

Today all three countries are proud members of major western organizations such as the European Union and NATO, perfect examples of successful democratic transition processes in spite of all difficulties, and some of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. The current Lithuania’s status as a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations is the best testimony of how far Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have come since that historic day of August 23, 1989.

Looking at the Baltic Way from today’s perspective and putting it into the context of the violence that has been raging in Syria, Egypt and some other countries, the uniqueness of  the Baltic Way becomes even greater. It showed all humanity how to strive for progressive change while minimizing violence - at home and with neighbors. The three Baltic States succeeded in gaining their freedom in a peaceful way, creating a precedent that could be followed by other countries- the triumph of humanity over violence.

Because of their courage, August 23—once infamous as the anniversary of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany—now also stands as a landmark in the struggle for the international recognition of crimes committed by totalitarian regimes.

The latest example of this effort is a legislation recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives which recognized the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes and designated August 23 as the “Black Ribbon Day”.

“Congress supports the designation of ‘‘Black Ribbon Day’’ to recognize the victims of Soviet Communist and Nazi regimes”, the legislation reads.

Similar resolutions were adopted by the European Parliament and the Parliament of Canada in 2009.

The incredible scale of the Baltic Way and the resonance of this event in the world press helped to attain the international acknowledgment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And what’s even more important, four months later after the Baltic Way, the Soviet Union itself officially admitted the existence of the secret provision of “the Devil’s Pact”. When the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were made public, they shocked many in the Soviet empire (yet even today there are many who deny that the Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Union).

The Baltic problem was no longer just a "national issue”; it had become a legal issue, an issue of international justice.
After the Baltic Way it became self-evident that the restoration of independence of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is just a question of time.


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