2017-08-23 Back to list

28 Years Ago Today: The Baltic Chain

Two million people joined hands in the pro-independence march across the Baltic States.

On 23 August 1989, marking the 50th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, approximately two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning 675.5 kilometres (419.7 mi) across Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The three Baltic states were at the time occupied by the Soviet Union.


Picture by Kusurija / Wikimedia Commons

The event, part of the Singing Revolution, was the Baltic Chain, the Chain of Freedom or the Baltic Way (Estonian: Balti kett, Latvian: Baltijas ceļš, Lithuanian: Baltijos kelias, Russian: Балтийский путь). It was organised by Baltic pro-independence movements: Rahvarinne of Estonia, the Tautas fronte of Latvia, and Sąjūdis of Lithuania.

1989. Baltijos kelias. Pozerskis 1

Picture by Romualdas Požerskis

1989. Baltijos kelias. Pozerskis 4

Picture by Romualdas Požerskis

1989. Baltijos kelias. Pozerskis 7

Picture by Romualdas Požerskis

1989. Baltijos kelias. Pozerskis 9

Picture by Romualdas Požerskis

The protest was designed to draw global attention by demonstrating a popular desire for independence for each of the entities. It also illustrated solidarity among the three nations. In less than a year, Lithuania was the first to declare independence from the Soviet Union on March 11th, 1990. 

A trilingual song ‘The Baltics Are Waking Up’ (Lithuanian: Bunda jau Baltija, Latvian: Atmostas Baltija, Estonian: Ärgake, Baltimaad) was composed by Boris Rezņik (Latvia) for the occasion. Today sometimes called the joint anthem of the Baltics, the song was recorded by Žilvinas Bubelis (Lithuanian part), Viktors Zemgals (Latvian Part) and Tarmo Pihlap (Estonian part).

The people of Lithuania (also Latvia and Estonia) tried their best to make it to the march; in bigger cities, carpooling wasn’t enough, because there weren’t so many cars at that time. In Kaunas, for example, the citizens basically occupied the central bus station and requested for permission to use the public transport to get there. They succeeded!

Events commemorating the Baltic Chain are held in all of the Baltic states every year as part of the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, also known as the Black Ribbon Day.

We recommend you visit the Vytautas the Great War Museum to find out more about the Lithuanian fight for freedom that lasted for many years. In the Lithuanian aviation museum located in the S. Darius and S. Girėnas aerodrome, you can see the Antonov An-2 plane that was used to capture the sights of the Baltic Chain from above.


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