In a speech given at the border crossing point in the Estonian village of Lilli at an event marking the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way on Friday, President Kersti Kaljulaid recalled what it felt like to participate in the human chain in 1989 and how the protest, staged jointly by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, served as a powerful push for change across Europe. ERR News is publishing Kaljulaid's speech in full.
Friends from Latvia and Lithuania,
Nothing changes in the world unless we change something ourselves.
You have to do everything you can, even if you can only do little.
Even if you are in chains, even staring death in the face, even on the gallows, you must sound the alarm: "Oh people, be on your guard!"
Thus wrote August Sang during the dark and depressing days of occupation in his "Song of a Man with Blood on His Hands" ("Laul veriste kätega mehest"). He wrote of justice and not acquiescing to evil.
Thankfully, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, there were people who sounded the alarm even when bound and facing death, and whose courage in the most terrible of times gave others hope and chipped away at the suffocating wall of isolation and silence.
On this day 40 years ago, the Baltic Appeal was published which was signed by 45 brave souls from three countries: four Estonians, six Latvians and 35 Lithuanians from the three occupied Baltic states. Years later, Estonian cultural figures who were concerned about the preservation of the Estonian language and culture put their names to the Letter of 40 Intellectuals. Some time after that, national movements emerged for the protection of Estonia's natural environment and heritage.
While at first our alarm was sounded very quietly, it nevertheless significantly supported everyone's belief in themselves and kept alive the hope for freedom. Little by little, it dispelled people's fear of the evils of a foreign power.
This self-belief grew into a desire and resolve to restore our freedom, and 30 years ago united us — the peoples of our three nations — in the Baltic Way. Almost two million people came together in a human chain stretching for 675.5 kilometers to change something in the world: to make the world freer and more just.
We knew that truth was stronger than lies
I stood here with my friends, 30 years ago, at the Lilli border crossing point between Estonia and Latvia. Everyone who stood in that chain or followed the event on TV or on the radio will remember how welcoming and how elated the participants were, and that we were no longer afraid of the enormous, powerful empire. Most importantly of all, we were prepared and had the courage to stand together and demand our freedom. We knew that truth was stronger than lies, and it was that knowledge which swept away our fears.
Because let us not forget that the organization of the Baltic Way by the People's Fronts of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — Rahvarinne, Tautas fronte and Sąjūdis — began at a time when the totalitarian regime in power here was still strong enough to ensure its continuance. Old Communist regimes still ruled in many Eastern European countries and did everything they could to ensure that their regimes would last forever. The Berlin Wall was still standing, separating entire nations from the free world. But something was beginning to crack, and things which seemed eternal started to crumble under the growing weight of democracy and freedom, and people's courage.
The event staged jointly by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — a powerful chain of freedom through three countries against lies and injustice — gave hope to many nations, and with it we gave a push for change throughout Europe.
Rein Taagepera spoke right here in Lilli 30 years ago, saying: "We don't want a benevolent tsar — we want an end to tsarist rule and to see the start of the rule of law!"
Precisely the start of the rule of law. As until then we had lived in a state where everything was an illusion: where an empire was branded a "union" and a totalitarian regime masqueraded as democracy; where the truth was a lie and lies were declared to be true.
The symbol of this twisted system for our three nations, as well as for many others, was the deal struck between Hitler and Stalin in August 1939: the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. With just two signatures, these equivalent regimes divided up Europe between them and sealed the fates of people and nations from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea. World War II began just eight days after the pact was signed.
Soviet legitimacy based on a lie
It was our duty to make this injustice known to the world and to force the Soviet authorities to admit to the existence of the secret agreement. They were afraid, of course, since we had been occupied and annexed as a result of the deal struck between Hitler and Stalin, and as such, their legitimacy here was based on an enormous lie: we had not joined some "union" of our own free will, but had lost our freedom to a foreign power and paid in terrible losses of lives in the process.
The Baltic Way helped give us a voice everywhere, even in places where previously no one had wanted to hear us.
It was a powerful and incredibly important milestone on our journey toward the restoration of our independence and international diplomatic recognition.
With the Baltic Way, we answered the question August Sang raised in his "Song of a Man with Blood on His Hands":
"What have I done to spoil his game?"
In that chain, we stood up to lies and evil, and stood up for democracy and freedom. We did this so that in the future, forevermore, we could live under the rule of law and people would no longer have to fear injustice wrapped in lies. We spoiled their games, and we won. We restored our countries' independence and established the rule of law.
Let us cherish the values we stood up for in the Baltic Way — all two million of us, along the 675.5 kilometers of that chain. Because we always have to do everything we can to make the world a better place and to fight injustice.
Long live the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania!
Editor: Aili Vahtla