Reenactment of Baltic Way draws 250 in Washington, DC in “celebration of freedom”
Archived Articles 26 Aug 2009 JBANCEWR
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Washington, DC (JBANC) --- An August 23, 2009 commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the 20th anniversary of the "Baltic Way" brought close to 250 participants from around the United States together in Washington, DC.

The highlight of the day’s activities was the creation of a human chain formed along the heart of Washington’s Embassy Row, symbolically linking the nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The chain stretched from the Embassy of Estonia to the Embassy of Latvia along Massachusetts Avenue and briefly crossed the busy street to be fully connected. Passersby and motorists, including a couple of tour buses, slowed down to witness the chain, some honking their horns in encouragement.

According to one participant, a bystander asked what the protest was about. The response was that it wasn’t a protest but a “celebration of freedom.”

This year marked the 70th year since the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (MRP) between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on August 23, 1939. That agreement between Stalin and Hitler divided half of Europe between the two totalitarian states, and condemned Central and Eastern Europe to decades of misery and suffering under foreign tyranny.

With the possibility of renewed independence becoming more real, Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians showed a united front against Soviet oppression and occupation on August 23, 1989 by coming together in the Baltic Way. Over a quarter of the populations of the three Baltic countries joined hands on that day for nearly 400 miles to demonstrate their desire for freedom. A little over two months later, the Berlin Wall also fell.

Resistance to the long Soviet rule in the Baltics also took other forms. Partisan warfare by Baltic “forest brothers” lasted for a decade after the end of World War II. On August 23, 1979, a Baltic Appeal was smuggled to the West, signed by 45 persons from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. They demanded public disclosure and annulment of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact together with its secret protocols, and the restoration of the independence of the Baltic countries. This was an important step on the road to back to freedom.

In the West, the wearing of black ribbons on August 23, known as “Black Ribbon Day,” became a reminder of the fate of the Baltic countries. Black Ribbon Days were organized in the United States, Canada and other Western countries to draw attention to the MRP – all the way up through 1991 and the restoration of independence for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

This year’s commemoration opened at the Embassy of Lithuania on 16th Street, where guests watched a live broadcast of commemorative Baltic Way events from the Lithuanian capital Vilnius and sang the "Baltic Way" song in the three native languages. Greetings from the Embassy were offered by Deputy Chief of Mission Tomas Gulbinas, followed by well wishes from Aap Neljas of the Embassy of Estonia, and Rudolphs Bremanis of the Embassy of Latvia. Juris Mezinskis, President of the American Latvian Association (ALA), Diana Vidutis, President of the DC Chapter of the Lithuanian American Community, and Karl Altau, Managing Director of the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) also spoke briefly about the significance of the day’s events.

ALA President Juris Mezinskis, who also serves this year as JBANC’s President, reflected that JBANC was founded almost 50 years ago during the depths of the occupation of the Baltic countries. In those earlier years, “the wounds were still fresh, and it was easy to gather people for a demonstration. Today, many people are aware of the Russian Federation's continuing attempts to justify the occupation of the Baltic countries.” Mezinskis added that it was therefore “gratifying to see so many people gathered here to re-create the Baltic Way. Their presence is an affirmation that freedom and democracy is here to stay.”

The Estonian and Latvian embassies also opened their doors later that day to allow participants to visit. A reception was held in the Latvian Embassy in cooperation with the American Latvian Association, where guests were able to view "The Soviet Story," a documentary film about Soviet and Nazi collaboration. 1989 Baltic Way film clips were screened at the Estonian Embassy. In a show of solidarity, many participants also visited the Embassy of Georgia. It was a year ago in August 2008 when Russian troops invaded that country and seized territories which have yet to be relinquished. Mamuka Tsereteli, President of the Georgian Association of America, and Karl Altau of JBANC spoke in support of Georgia, and emphasized the positive cooperation between Georgian and Baltic peoples.

At the three Baltic embassies, participants were asked to place colored push pins into a map tracing the 1989 Baltic Way, to indicate if and where they had joined the 1989 chain. Over 40 persons had done so, covering all three countries almost equally.

The DC Baltic Way 2009 event was organized by the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) in conjunction with local Baltic-American organizations and activists in the Washington, DC area. These included Danele Vidutis and David and Violeta Pivorunas of the DC Chapter of the Lithuanian American Community; Kaspars Kreslins of the Association of Latvian Organizations of Washington, DC; Maria Pedak-Kari of the Washington Estonian Society, and Toivo Tagamets of the Baltimore Estonian Society. Other JBANC Board members participating were JBANC Chairman Peteris Blumbergs of the American Latvian Association, Marju Rink-Abel, President, and Erik Puskar of the Estonian American National Council, and Henry Gaidis of the Lithuanian American Council. Janis Kukainis, Director of Public Affairs for ALA, also participated.

JBANC thanks all participants for joining in the activities, and to the four embassies for their cooperation.

To see video of the event, please see:

(in Lithuanian).

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.
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