Baltics mark 25 years since anti-Soviet human chain

AFP
(L to R) Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma and Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius attend the opening of "The Baltic Way Stories" in the National Library of Latvia in Riga, on August 23, 2014
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Riga (AFP) - The Baltic states on Saturday marked 25 years since two million people joined hands in a landmark human chain linking up their capitals to demand freedom from the Soviet Union.

All three Baltic prime ministers gathered in Riga to commemorate the anniversary of this act of peaceful defiance that spanned more than 600 kilometres (400 miles) across the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian republics of the Soviet Union and became known as the Baltic Way.

"The Baltic Way was our way to freedom –- a way for our countries to show the rest of the world that we wanted to be free," Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma said alongside her Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts at the national library.

She spoke at the opening of a centre set up for those who took part in the events of August 23, 1989 to share their memories.

"I stood near the Lithuanian border," recalled 67-year-old Andrejs Cirulis, adding that the human chain experience was a "very positive feeling".

"I wasn't scared at the time, but I was a bit apprehensive in the days afterwards to see what the reaction would be from Moscow," he told AFP.

The day for the mass protest was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany signed days before World War II.

That 1939 non-aggression deal included secret protocols carving up Poland and allotting the Baltic states to Moscow, condemning the trio to half a century of occupation.

Independence came in 1991 as the communist bloc collapsed. The Baltic states later joined the EU and NATO in 2004.

Today the former Soviet republics once more keep an eye on Russia, concerned about the impact of Moscow's actions in Ukraine on their security.

The Baltic Way is listed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register.

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