The Baltic Way: the day holding hands changed the world

row of five people holding hands

On 23 August 1989, two million people held hands to form a human chain over 600 kilometres long linking three capital cities – Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia and Vilnius in Lithuania. This peaceful political demonstration became known as ‘The Baltic Way’.

The Baltic Way was a massive demonstration for freedom, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact betwen Hitler and Stalin, which had paved the way for the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States.

One in four people in the three Baltic States took part – young and old, in some cases several generations of the same families.

The chain publicised their cause to the world and symbolised solidarity. It was the biggest demonstration in the history of the Soviet Union and the turning point for the struggle for freedom of the Baltic States, with each state showing its desire for independence.

line of people holding hands
Baltic Way, Simas Grigulevičius via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA

Within six months of the protest, Lithuania became the first of the Republics of the Soviet Union to declare independence

23 August is now an official day of remembrance known as Black Ribbon Day or the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism.

The photographs in this blog are personal mementos, contributed by people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who took part in collection day events held in 2013 and 2014 where people shared their memories of 1989 and the Fall of the Iron Curtain. Explore more Baltic Way memories from this crowd-sourced collection, or the entire 1989 collection.

Did you take part in the Baltic Way or have memories of the time? Share your memories in the comments below or consider joining our #remember1989 blog parade.

Feature image: Baltic Way on the Riga-Pskov highway near Ligatne, Roberts Eiduks via Europeana 1989, CC BY-SA


8 thoughts on “The Baltic Way: the day holding hands changed the world

  1. Thank you for this informative and most interesting post. I am grateful for this because although I live in Hungary I did not know about this fantastic event–an event that is about compassion, unity, belonging together and solidarity. Thanks for sharing and calling attention to it.

  2. In 1989, weren’t there 4 republics along the Baltic Sea, one more besides Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia (not Ukraine)? I wish I could find my map as I traveled through Europe at the time. I remember as I rode a train from Italy, seeing In the hands of the passenger across me, the cover of a September Time magazine about the Iron Curtain falling.

  3. There was NOTHING about that in the news of the other Eastern Block countries. This was a real blow of wish for freedom in the former USSR, which maybe helped for the later changes in the Eastern countries supressed by the Russians too.

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