Baltics commemorate with relay race

  • 2009-08-19
  • By Ella Karapetyan

UNITED WE STAND: Much accomplished in 20 years, more work to do.

TALLINN - The 20th anniversary of the Baltic Way, an event in which two million people joined hands to form a human chain through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, will be commemorated August 22-23. The original event marked the people's determination to reestablish independence in their drive for freedom.
The 671-kilometer-long chain marked the protest of the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of Aug. 23, 1939, a secret protocol attached to the Soviet-German Non-Aggression pact which divided Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, clearing the way for the Soviet's illegal occupation and annexation of the three Baltic states in 1940, reported The New York Times.

The statement from the Baltic Way event of 20 years ago said the Soviet Union 'infringed on the historical right of the Baltic nations to self-determination, presented ruthless ultimatums to the Baltic republics, occupied them with overwhelming military force, and under conditions of military occupation and heavy political terror carried out their violent annexations.' It continued, advocating the right of the Baltic people to determine their own political futures; the message was drawn up jointly by representatives of popular political movements in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The original event was 'a unique and peaceful demonstration that united the three countries in their drive for freedom,' says the July 30 UNESCO press release announcing the addition of the Baltic Way event to the The Memory of the World register.
 According to the head of the Tallinn EU Office and an organizer of the event, Allan Alakula, the Baltic Chain symbolizes the morality in which it is better to act, instead of remaining passive. He noted that the Chain was a 'desperate act,' but as a result became an effective tool for influencing global politics by local actions.  "It was the highlight of Baltic cooperation - never before or since have the Baltic peoples been able to act in such a well-coordinated way. This expression of Baltic instinct would [go on to] help us re-establish Baltic cooperation in the future," he said.

The non-violent protest gave the world an image of the Baltic peoples in the same light as India's peaceful independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. "Non-violence is rightfully taken, everywhere, to be a sign of the internal strength of peoples," Alakula said to The Baltic Times.
Alakula points out three main achievements made by Estonia over these past 20 years: Estonia has rejoined the international community again as an independent state, it has re-established freedom of expression, and people once more have the freedom to travel.
He points out some missed opportunities as well, which include the failure to take the Nordic path for development, Estonia's failure to engage its Russian-speakers into society, and Estonia's troops being back fighting in Afghanistan again.

One 69-year-old Estonian, Marika Tamm, said "I think that the 20th anniversary of the Baltic Chain is a great event for all the citizens of the Baltic States. I think that the event is being commemorated not only in the Baltic countries, but also throughout the whole of Eastern and Central Europe. This day will remain as one of the most important events in the history of Estonia, as well as for the entire Baltic states."

Another, 47-year-old Raivo Luik, says that "I am very proud about the event, though very ashamed of the little acknowledgment about the event from the rest of the world..."
The main event will be the Heartbeat for the Baltics' unity run, a twenty-four hour pan-Baltic run that starts in Tallinn and Vilnius, with the last runners crossing the finish line at Riga's Freedom Monument, at 8 p.m. on August 23, reports news agency LETA. The route will be divided into one-kilometer long relay sections, and residents are encouraged to join the lead relay runner in their chosen kilometer.