Baltic Way

"Baltic Way" (also Baltic chain, _et. Balti kett, _lv. Baltijas ceļš, _lt. Baltijos kelias) is the event which occurred on August 23, 1989 when approximately two million people joined their hands to form an over 600 kilometer (373 mi) long human chain across the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). This original demonstration was organized to draw the world's attention to the common historical fate which these three countries suffered. It marked the 50th anniversary of August 23, 1939 when the Soviet Union and Germany in the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact divided spheres of interest in Eastern Europe which led to the occupation of these three states.


In the light of glasnost and perestroika, street demonstrations had been increasingly growing in popularity and support. In 1986 a handful of people in each capital gathered to make their protest and were quickly dispersed by police. On August 23, 1986, the first annual Black Ribbon Day Rally was held in 21 western cities including New York, Stockholm, London, Toronto, Seattle and Perth, Australia where tens of thousands of demonstrators drew public attention to the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In 1987 large demonstrations in all three capitals were interrupted by the authorities and ended in arrests. A year later, for the first time, mass protests were sanctioned by the authorities and passed off peacefully.

A week before the event, the Soviet Union admitted the existence of the secret protocol but still insisted that the three states joined the union voluntarily. A couple of days previously, 170 members of the council of Lithuania's Sąjūdis movement (which won 36 seats out of 42 in the Congress of People's Deputies in March) had voted to seek an independent Lithuanian state "without political, cultural or administrative subordination to the Soviet Union".

The protest

The chain was sanctioned by local Communist Party authorities and well-planned to make sure that it had no gaps; most cities and towns had designated spots they needed to cover and provided free bus rides for those who did not have other transportation. Demonstrators linked hands for 15 minutes at 19:00 local time (16:00 GMT). Special radio broadcasts helped to coordinate the effort. Later, a number of local gatherings and protests took place. In Vilnius, thousands of people gathered in Cathedral Square, holding candles and singing national songs and Tautiška giesmė; elsewhere, priests held masses or rang church bells. In one of the most spectacular moments of the protests, leaders of the Estonian and Latvian Popular Fronts gathered on the border between their two republics for a symbolic funeral ceremony, in which a giant black cross was set alight. A public holiday was declared in Estonia.

The protest was completely peaceful. However, participants feared retaliation or other physical sanctions. In fact, Erich Honecker from East Germany and Nicolae Ceauşescu from Romania offered the Soviet Union military assistance in case it decided to use force and break up the demonstration. [Alexandra Ashbourne, Lithuania: The rebirth of a Nation, 1991-1994, Lexington Books, 1999, page 24. ISBN 0-7391-0027-0] In Moscow's Pushkin Square, ranks of special riot police were employed when a few hundred people tried to stage a sympathy demonstration. TASS said 75 were detained for breaches of the peace, petty vandalism, and other offences. About 13,000 demonstrated in Moldova which also was affected by the secret protocol.

The estimates vary, but Reuters News the following day reported that about 700,000 Estonians, 500,000 Latvians, and 1,000,000 Lithuanians joined the protests. These numbers rank much higher than 1,500,000 overall estimate before the event. About 8 million people in total live in the three states. The official Soviet numbers provided by TASS were 300,000 people in Estonia and nearly 500,000 in Lithuania. No official Soviet estimates for Latvia were released.


The human chain symbolized the Baltic peoples' solidarity in their struggle for more autonomy and eventual independence. It helped to establish the idea of three "Baltic States" and encourages cooperation to this day. For example, some politicians raised the idea that together the three republics could place a Summer Olympic bid. Also, the protest outlined the main features of future protests: massive and peaceful. It helped to attract those that were passive, sceptic, or afraid of persecutions.

On November 9 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. In December 1989, Mikhail Gorbachev signed the declaration condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocol. Within six months, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence, on March 11 1990. Only two years after this demonstration, the independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries.

This protest was one of the longest human chains in history. The Lithuanian record book lists the event as the greatest traffic jam: 100 km length Vilnius-Kaunas highway was clogged for a couple of hours. Similar human chains were later organised in many East European countries and regions of the USSR and, more recently, in Taiwan (228 Hand-in-Hand Rally).

ee also

* Singing Revolution


Further reading

* Ann Imse, Baltic Residents Form Human Chain in Defiance of Soviet Rule, Associated Press, 23 August 1989
* Robin Lodge, Human Chain Spanning: Soviet Baltics Shows Nationalist Feeling, Reuters News, 23 August 1989
* Mary Dejevsky, Baltic groups plan mass protest; Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia's struggle for independence, The Times, 23 August 1989
* Baltic residents entwine hands in defiance of rule by Soviets, Associated Press, The Harrisburg Patriot, 24 August 1989

External links

* [ Photo album] , a virtual gallery hosted on Government of Lithuania website
* [ Baltic Chain 1989-1999] homepage dedicated to the tenth anniversary of the Baltic way
* [ Postage stamps] issued ten years after Baltic Chain
* [ Central Europe Review] The Baltic Chain: Ten Years After
* [ Embassy of Latvia in Ottawa] Speech of Latvia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Artis Pabriks on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Baltic Way
* [ The Baltic Way] A short 1989 documentary film by Arunas Matelis and Audrius Stonys
* [ The Baltic Way Music Video of 1989] Music video in three languages sang by singers from corresponding countries: "Wake up, the Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania!"

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