23 August 1989: Human chain linking Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
in their drive for freedom
Vilnius – Širvintos – Ukmergė – Panevėžys – Pasvalys – Bauska – Iecava – Ķekava – Rīga – Vangaži – Sigulda – Līgatne – Drabeši – Cēsis – Lode – Valmiera – Jēči – Lizdēni – Rencēni – Oleri – Zasi – Rūjiena – Koniņi – Nuija – Karksi – Viljandi – Türi – Rapla – Tallin
UNESCO Memory of the World
Dr Algirdas Jakubčionis, Lietuvos Nacionalinis Muziejus
On 23 August 1939 foreign ministers of the USSR and Germany – Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, as ordered by their superiors Stalin and Hitler, signed a treaty which affected the fate of Europe and the entire world. This pact, and the secret clauses it contained, divided the spheres of influence of the USSR and Germany and led to World War II, and to the occupation of the three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
50 years later, on 23 August 1989, the three nations living by the Baltic Sea surprised the world by taking hold of each other’s hands and jointly demanding recognition of the secret clauses in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and the re-establishment of the independence of the Baltic States. More than a 1,5 million people joined hands to create a 600 km long human chain from the foot of Toompea in Tallinn to the foot of the Gediminas Tower in Vilnius, crossing Riga and the River Daugava on its way, creating a synergy in the drive for freedom that united the three countries.The Baltic Way was organised by the national movements of each of the Baltic States: the Popular Front of Estonia Rahvarinne, the Popular Front of Latvia and the Lithuanian Reform Movement Sąjūdis.
The preparation for the Baltic Way took place in the summer of 1989. According to the plan, the Baltic Way had to start at the Gediminas Tower in Lithuania, continue through the Latvian capital Riga by the Freedom Monument and end at Tall Hermann’s Tower in Tallinn. The Baltic Way was 650 kilometres of freedom, in which ca. 1,5 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians had to stand with their hands joined in a live human chain, though actually their number reached 2 millions. Lithuania was assigned a 200 kilometre section of the way. It was divided into 50 smaller sections symbolizing the years of the occupation. These sections had to be filled with inhabitants of various Lithuanian cities and towns. Certain sections of the way were allotted for representatives of various occupations and organisations. For example, the section from the Vilnius Cathedral to the Green Bridge over the Neris river was assigned for the deportees.
The Baltic Way was a phenomenon which showed how three small countries – the Baltic States, regardless of their unique individual national characteristics, created a cross-cultural spiritual synergy both internally and between the Baltic States in the name of a common goal – to overcome the consequences of World War II and to destroy the totalitarian regimes. The Baltic Way is a historic symbol that is alive in the collective memory, enriching the understanding of the sense and values of solidarity and freedom of expression.
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