Lithuania in the News
6th September 2009
The Baltic Way of 20 Years Ago Commemorated in Lithuania and Internationally
Lithuanians join hands in 1989. Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Twenty years ago on August 23, 1989, 2 million people in the Baltic States - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia - joined hands to protest the infamous Molotov - Ribbentrop pact, signed by the foreign ministers of Germany and the Soviet Union fifty years earlier on August 23, 1939. This pact and its secret protocols saw the Soviet Union and Germany divide the Baltic States and Poland among themselves, which precipitated World War II in 1939 and led to the occupation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union in 1940.
The Baltic Way (Baltijos Kelias in Lithuanian) of 20 years ago has gone down in history. With about 2 million people holding hands, it stretched over 600 km all the way from Vilnius in Lithuania onto Riga in Latvia and finishing in Tallinn in Estonia. This human chain in the dying days of the Soviet Union showed the world that the thirst for independence and human rights were still very strong in the Baltic States and it was a key event, which later led to Lithuania being the first country within the Soviet Union to declare independence and which in turn was a trigger for the eventual collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union.
This impressive human chain 20 years ago was recreated this year in a symbolic manner through lots of major activities centring on August 23, with many people taking part and the events resonating internationally. People joined hands on sections of the route as in 1989. Relays of runners traversed the route from Vilnius and Tallinn, with Latvia’s President Valdis Zatlers himself running in the last leg to Riga. Enthusiasts with powered paragliders flew all the way from Vilnius to Tallinn. Teams of canoeists rowed all the way along the Baltic Sea coast. Flowers were dispersed from aircraft, just as they were along the route in 1989. Even motorcycle clubs took part with a “Baltic Chain Run”.
Many Baltic leaders were in Vilnius for August 23. Speakers of Baltic Parliaments - Estonia’s Ene Ergma, Latvia’s Gundars Daudze and Lithuania’s Arûnas Valinskas - attended a meeting for the occasion at Lithuania’s Parliament, while the Prime Ministers of the three countries - Lithuania’s Andrius Kubilius, Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovolskis and Estonia’s Andrus Ansip - in a
President Dalia Grybauskaitë reliving the Baltic Way between
Vilnius and Paneveþys in Lithuania. Photo courtesy
ceremony in the Castle Tower on Gediminas Hill, where the Baltic Way started in 1989, made a declaration dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way. Messages of support were received from world leaders, including USA’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, European Commission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso and UNESCO’s Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.
The international significance of these events is demonstrated by the fact that the European Parliament, the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and UNESCO have all recognised the importance The Baltic Way and of the date ‘August 23’. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, meeting in Vilnius, adopted a resolution on July 2, 2009 to make August 23 a day of remembrance for the victims of Nazism and Stalinism. Earlier in the year on April 2, the European Parliament made a similar resolution. On July 30, 2009, UNESCO listed the Baltic Way in the Memory of the World Register, citing it as the “human chain linking three states in their drive for freedom”. Some time ago the Baltic Way was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest human chain. In the ‘Mini-Europe’ park in Brussels on 23 August this year, the Baltic Way was commemorated by the opening of a new addition to the park - a chain of 200 human figurines linking Baltic monuments already in the park, Lithuania’s Vilnius University, Latvia’s Freedom Monument and Tallinn’s fortifications.

Further information:,,,, 20-27/08/09, 17&22/08/09, 22/08/09