23 August 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the day when more than a million residents of the Baltic States joined hands to draw attention to the freedom aspirations of the Baltic States. As one of the most notable peaceful political mass demonstrations to date, a human chain was formed on 23 August 1989, stretching from Tallinn to Vilnius via Riga with a total length of 675.5 kilometres. The demonstration was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The Baltic Way is a chapter in the story of the liberation of eastern Europe and remains one of the most remarkable examples of peaceful protest in history.
Baltiс Way. Author: Harald Leppikson. Estonian National Archives
- This year marks the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. With the secret protocol of the pact, which went unacknowledged for a long time, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union divided Europe into spheres of influence in 1939; this is when the two totalitarian regimes began cynically carving up the world and riding roughshod over small countries.
- The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on 23 August 1939 and its secret protocol led to the occupation and annexation of the Baltic States. On 1 September 1939, the German armed forces began to enforce what had been signed by attacking Poland, thereby launching the Second World War.
“Initially, many considered the idea of organising the chain utopian. However, they did it. If we have men who can make utopian ideas a reality, then I think they can handle the restoration of nationhood as well. It’s not exactly utopian …” Andrus
Baltic Way in Toompea. Photo: Estonian National Archive
- The Baltic Way demonstration achieved the acknowledgement of the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact by the Soviet Union that subsequently declared it null and void on 24 December 1989.
- The Baltic Way received broad international attention and prompted democratic movements elsewhere in the world. Less than two years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and the Baltic States were independent again.
- The human chain began in Toompea in Tallinn and, stretching across the river Daugava in Riga, it reached the Gediminas’ Tower in Vilnius.
- The demonstration was organised by the national movements of the Baltic States – the Rahvarinne of Estonia, the Tautas fronte of Latvia and the Sajūdis of Lithuania.
- The legal emphasis of the demands of the Baltic Way and the events preceding it, such as the Baltic Appeal 1979 and the Hirvepark meeting in 1987, paved the way for the restoration of the Republic of Estonia based on the principle of legal continuity on 20 August 1991.
- On 30 June 2009, UNESCO included the Baltic Way (the documentation recounting the preparations, execution and results of the event) into the Memory of the World Register.
- Since 2009, 23 August has been a pan-European Day of Remembrance for victims of totalitarian regimes (also known as the Black Ribbon Day or the Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism).
- In August 2019, a few months before the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way with various events.
Baltic Appeal – the prologue of the Baltic Way
The Baltic Appeal, composed in August 1979, is a letter of notice by 45 citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the Secretary-General of the UN as well as the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Germany and the governments of the signatories of the Atlantic Charter with the demand to disclose the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with its secret protocol, declare them null and void from the moment of their signing and restore the independence of the Baltic States. In Estonia, Mart Niklus, Enn Tarto, Erik Udam and Endel Ratas signed the letter.
As a reaction to the Baltic Appeal, a resolution was passed on 13 January 1983 at the European Parliament – the first official position in support of the Baltic States by an international organisation. This in turn encouraged expat Baltic nationals and the diplomats of the Baltic States who had remained in the free world to organise political events in their countries to explain the situation in occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and to draw the public’s attention to the freedom aspirations in their homelands.
- Have a look at the original text of the Baltic Appeal. (6.42 MB, PDF)
- Read more on all events in Estonia from the web page EV100.
- Have a look at the experience and exhibition One History, Two Million Stories by the Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom at the Telliskivi Creative City.