On August 23, 1989, around two million people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined hands to form a human chain known as the Baltic Way. Also known as the Baltic Chain or the Chain of Freedom, it stretched for six hundred kilometres. The peaceful demonstration was a show of togetherness as these countries sought to cast off communism and break free from the Soviet Union.
Thirty-one years later, on August 23, 2020, Lithuanians marked the anniversary of the chain by creating a new chain — dubbed by many as “Freedom Way” — to send a message of solidarity to pro-democracy protestors in Belarus. The chain stretched for more than 30 kilometres from Vilnius to the border with Belarus.
Reuters reports that around 35,000 people joined the chain. Among the political figures were Robert Gilchrist — the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania — and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. “I am proud my nation heeded the call and came here to encourage Belarus,” the president said. “We are not indifferent and we will never be indifferent.”
Three decades ago, Lithuanians lined up in a human chain together with their Latvian and Estonian brothers. The Baltic Way sent the message of Freedom. Today Belarusians are sending their message to the world: they want to be free. pic.twitter.com/8bN6jNqbFP
— Gitanas Naus?da (@GitanasNauseda) August 23, 2020
In neighbouring Latvia, hundreds of people marched along the border with Belarus. They formed a human chain in a border village — in full view of Belarusian border guards on the opposite side of the Daugava River.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who left Belarus for Lithuania in the aftermath of the election, did not attend events in Vilnius owing to security concerns. But in a video message she sent her thanks and explained the weight of the gesture.
“More than anyone else, you can understand Belarusians, because not so long ago you went through the same as we do now,” Tsikhanouskaya said.
Several Lithuanian Eurovision stars attended Monday’s demonstration, including its most recent act The Roop. Bandmates Robertas and Vaidotas wore white t-shirts and carried a red flag — helping create a sea of red and white which have become the colours of the #FreeBelarus movement.
Eurovision’s Next Top Male Model 2016 winner Donny Montell attended the demonstration with his family, writing: “For our free future #freebelarus”.
As you’ll recall, Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko — frequently referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” — was declared the winner of August 9 elections, which are widely considered to have been rigged. In the capital Minsk, as well as smaller towns and cities, locals took to the streets in numbers rarely seen before. Lukashenko responded with riot police and violence, leading to the deaths of several Belarusian citizens.
Initially, it was a protest against the official exit poll results after the election. But gatherings soon shifted their themes to broader goals, such as the ability to protest peacefully and to be able to speak one’s mind, alongside the previous goals of free and fair elections.
Lukashenko has said he isn’t going anywhere. And protests have continued.
Watch today’s live stream of events from LRT, the Lithuanian broadcaster: