Sunday, August 25, 2019

When Fear Disappeared – Thirty Years Ago, Two Million People in the Baltic Countries Joined Hands to Oppose Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – Thirty years ago today, on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols which led to World War II and the occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, two million residents of those three countries joined hands in a Baltic chain extending from Vilnius to Tallinn.

            Casting off the fears of the past, those who took part – and they included not only members of the three titular nationalities but ethnic Russians as well – stood facing the east from which their problems had come and shouted “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” Almost exactly two years later, they would achieve it de facto in the wake of the failed coup in Moscow.

            Commenting on this event on its 30th anniversary, Natalya Frolova, a Russian from Latgale who now works as an Ekho Moskvy correspondent in Lithuania, summed up what happened: “In 1989,” she writes, “hope for independence which always had hung in the air overcome fear” (

            “At a time when there was no Internet, social networks or messengers, activists of the national movements – Atmoda in Latvia, the Popular Front in Estonia and Sajudis in Lithuania – were able over the course of a few days to assemble a gigantic flashmob,” Frolova says. More than two million people stood in an unbroken chain 600 kilometers in length.

            “In Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn, so many people came out that they stood three or four deep.  In rural areas, the chain wasn’t so dense but there were no gaps.” When some began to assemble, others left their jobs, dropped what they were doing, and rushed to join the chain. They came to quickly that many didn’t even have time to prepare posters.

            When the republic radio station announced that the action was to begin, all came forward as one. In the words of one participant, “the faces of everyone brightened. This was a miracle, a very touching moment.”  Eight months later, Lithuania declared that it had restored its independence after Sajudis won the election. And then in August 1991, all three escaped.

            “The empire, which was held together by the inertia of fear ceased too exist as soon as the fears of the majority disappeared,” Frolova says.  That is the most important lesson of the Baltic chain, but there is another: in it, took part everyone, regardless of nationality, status, religion or age,” a participant recalls.

            And that participant, who was then a journalist at Riga’s Diena newspaper, says that “never since has she felt so deeply and clearly civic solidarity,” adding that “we must remember this if we want our Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia not only to flourish but to preserve their territorial integrity” and independence.

            Thirty years on, the Baltic chain is still inspiring: it has led demonstrators in Hong Kong to adopt the same strategy against the totalitarians from Beijing and it is being discussed among some Russians as a means of putting pressure on the increasingly thuggish regime of Vladimir Putin (комментарий-балтийский-путь-для-российской-оппозиции/a-50132021).

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