1989: The Baltic Way

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way, a peaceful political protest on 23 August 1989 in which two million people joined hands to form a human chain nearly 400 miles long across the three Baltic republics of the Soviet Union to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 which handed the Baltic states to the Soviet Union and destroyed their independence.  The chain connected the three Baltic capitals – Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn – and perhaps a quarter of the entire Baltic population joined it.

The Baltic Way was part of the larger struggle known as the ‘Singing Revolution’, a group of protests between 1987 and 1990, which helped regain independence for the Baltic states in August 1991. It got its name because, during many of the peaceful protests that took place during those years, protestors would gather in town squares to sing national songs that had been banned during Soviet rule.

In December 1989, the Congress of People’s Deputies accepted and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the report of a commission condemning the secret protocols of the 1939 Pact. In February 1990, the first free democratic elections to the Supreme Soviets took place in all three Baltic states and pro-independence candidates won majorities. On March 11, 1990, within six months of the Baltic Way, Lithuania became the first Soviet state to declare independence. The independence of all three Baltic states was recognized by most western countries by the end of 1991.

Footage of the human chain was this year inscribed in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, a list of 193 moments of global significance.

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