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The Human Chain Of The Baltic Way

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong formed human chains yesterday, saying they were inspired by a similar protest against the Soviet Union exactly 30 years earlier. That human chain was called the Baltic Way. It involved some 2 million people who joined hands across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to demand independence from the Kremlin. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: August 23 is a double anniversary for the three Baltic nations, a day of mourning and a day of pride - mourning because, on that day 80 years ago, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed a treaty that put much of Eastern Europe under the Kremlin's control. But it's also a day of pride because on August 23, 1989, ordinary Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians formed a human chain and demonstrated their yearning for freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIM: On Friday evening, people from the Baltics and Russia attended a jazz concert in the Lithuanian embassy in Moscow to remember that fateful date. Margus Laidre, the ambassador of Estonia, told the crowd he spent the first half of his life living in an occupied country and that he will never forget that awful feeling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARGUS LAIDRE: (Speaking Estonian).

KIM: But he said, for the second half of his life, he's been thrilled to live in a free country.

(APPLAUSE)

KIM: The 1939 treaty between dictators Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin sealed the fate of Estonia and its neighbors for decades to come as they were annexed by the Soviet Union. It came with a steep human cost.

INITA DZENE: (Speaking Latvian).

SIMON: Inita Dzene, the head of the Latvian Embassy's consular section, says she lost half her family in mass deportations to Siberia. The people's desire for independence never faded. And Dzene herself attended the Baltic Way human chain as a teenager.

DZENE: (Speaking Latvian).

SIMON: She says she can still recall her parents' fear because, even though the protest was peaceful, nobody knew how the Soviet authorities would react.

DZENE: (Speaking Latvian).

KIM: Everyone joined hands, she says. She felt the energy of 2 million people flow through her body. That epic demonstration was followed by mass protests in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, then the fall of the Berlin Wall and independence for the Baltic nations. The infamous Hitler-Stalin pact seemed like history. In recent years, though, the Russian government has tried to justify the treaty. But Russian historian Nikolai Svanidze, also at the embassy, says there is no justification.

NIKOLAI SVANIDZE: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: He hopes one day, Russians will also appreciate the Baltic Way as an expression of freedom. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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