Baltic Way Marked Estonia's Path to Freedom

A rally for The Baltic Way on Town Hall Square in Tallinn in 1989. (RIA Novosti/Scanpix)
8/23/2014 11:04 AM
Category: Society

On this day 25 years ago, perhaps the most landmark event of the Baltic states' drive to regain their freedom from the communist regime in Moscow took place.

Roughly two million people joined hands to form a human chain, which spanned more than 600 kilometers (370 miles). It stretched from Tallinn, through Riga, and all the way to Vilnius in a peaceful protest marking the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a secret protocol signed in 1939 between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

The pact was officially a treaty of non-aggression between the two authoritarian powers, but included a secret protocol that split Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland and Romania into "spheres of influence,” and more ominously, for how the future unfolded in those countries, for "territorial and political rearrangements" to take place.

The event, called alternately the "Baltic Way" or the "Baltic Chain,” captured by the then-flowering world 24-hour news channel CNN, among others, brought the struggle for freedom in the Baltics home to millions of people abroad that did not know the history behind the oppressive present.

Shortly thereafter, in November, the Berlin Wall ceased to exist. "The greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century," as Russian President Vladimir Putin, once put it from his perspective, was well underway, as the Soviet empire as it had existed in Europe since World War II followed.

A group of hardliners attempted a coup in August 1991 that tried to reverse the nationalistic forces that were tearing apart the Soviet Union, but to no avail. The coup collapsed, and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania re-established their independence.

Estonia is marking the anniversary with several different events, including:

* An open-air concert will take place Saturday at 20:00 at the Viljandi Song Festival Grounds, which will be carried live on ETV. The concert will have performers such Ultima Thule, Henry Laks, Mahavok, Liis Lemsalu, Karl-Erik Taukar and Maarja Nuudi. President Toomas Hendrick Ilves will be in attendance.

* In Tallinn, an open-air concert, called “The Baltics Are Waking Up” (Ärgake Baltimaad!) will take place in Freedom Square at 18:00. Estonian singers Anne Veski, Getter Jaani, Jassi Zahharov, and Erich Krieger are scheduled to perform.

* A film about Baltic Way by Toomas Lepp will be screened in the Museum of the Popular Front of Estonia, which is located ion Freedom Square, at 13:00.

* At 15:00, a conference about Baltic Way will take place at Tallinn's Town Hall with a release party for a book by Küllo Arjakas, followed by a reception.

* At 20:00 a free concert at the Nordea Concert House (Estonia pst 9, Tallinn) will take place, involving the bands Frankie Animal and Metsatöll.

* The Latvian National Commission for UNESCO has set up at website to form "a virtual Baltic chain" for the anniversary. By going to the website, you can register for your place in the chain, and also share memories of the Baltic Way in 1989. The website is here.


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