“Hand to hand and heart to heart: the Baltic Way” isn’t a story about Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch. It’s a story about two million dedicated souls forming a 419-mile-long human chain.
What was the Baltic Way?
The Baltic way was a peaceful protest against the Soviet occupation of the three Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia). On Aug. 23, 1989, approximately two million people ~ about a third of the population of the three countries ~ joined hands to form a human chain that spanned about 419 miles.
This human chain connected the three Baltic capitals. It began in the Cathedral Square in Vilnius, proceeded through Lithuania and Latvia to the Freedom Monument in Riga, then north across Latvia and Estonian before ending at Tall Hermann Tower in Tallinn.
Why was Aug. 23, 1989, chosen as the day for the protest?
That day was chosen because it was the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (MRP). The MRP was a secret agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that divided Eastern Europe into “spheres of influence” and led to the occupation of the Baltic States.
Why protest against the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact?
The Baltic States claimed that the MRP led to the occupation of their countries and then to their forced integration into the Soviet Union. The three countries hoped that drawing attention to the MRP, which the Soviet Union denied existed until Aug. 18, 1989, would eventually lead to their independence from the Soviet Union.
What was the result of the Baltic Way?
On March 11, 1990, less than a year after the Baltic Way, Lithuania declared independence. By the end of 1991, all three countries were independent. Thirty years later, all three countries are now members of both the European Union and NATO.
Tallinn Song Festival Grounds
Before visiting the three Baltic capitals, we didn’t know about the Baltic Way. Speaking of things we didn’t know about…
One of the stops on our tour of Tallinn was at this empty amphitheater. It’s a fine structure, one our guide was obviously proud of. When I asked why, she said something like “singing has always been very important to us.” And that was it. A couple of the others on the tour wandered off to have a snowball fight and we decided to check out the statue of Gustav Ernesaks.*
The Singing Revolutions
In June of 1988, after the official part of the Old Town Festival in Tallinn, a crowd gathered at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds, the amphitheater that we visited on our tour, to sing patriotic songs.
At that time, singing patriotic songs was an act of protest against the Soviet occupation. This particular protest act was only one of many across the Baltic States. From 1987 until they regained their independence in 1991, people in the Baltic States used patriotic songs as a means of protest against the Soviet Occupation. Today, these singing protests are called the Singing Revolutions.
We didn’t understand why we stopped at that amphitheater. But now, having learned about the Baltic Way and the Singing Revolutions, we understand our tour guide’s pride in the venue. Hand to hand in the human chain and heart to heart with their patriotic songs, the Baltic states did the seemingly impossible: they peacefully regained their independence.
The Baltics Are Waking Up
The Baltics Are Waking Up is trilingual song composed by Boris Reznik for the Baltic Way. It has become known as the “joint anthem of the Baltics.” The following video has great footage from that day and the soundtrack is this song. The second video has a much larger collection of images from that day.
*Gustav Ernesaks was an Estonian composer and choir conductor. He wrote a new melody for a famous Estonian patriotic poem. This new version became an unofficial national anthem. He was also one of the founders of the Estonian Song Festival tradition. His version of the poem/song was always sung at the the end of Song Festival.