August 23 marks the anniversary of what is known as the Baltic Way. This year will celebrate 31 years since the Baltic Way was held. The Baltic Way was a peaceful political demonstration that occurred In 1989. Two million people joined their hands to form a human chain spanning 675.5 kilometers across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, at the time, part of the Soviet Union. And with recent events in Belarus, this sign of solidarity is taking in a new form. I interviewed Lithuanian journalist and TV host Andrius Tapinas, one of the main organizers behind “Laisves kelias.” The event took the Baltic way from Vilnius to Belarus’s border on the Baltic Way’s 31st anniversary. We talked about it a couple of days before the event.
The Baltic Way 2020
Daniel Roberts: For the 31st anniversary of the baltic way, you have organized an extension o the baltic way. Can you tell us more about what’s planned?
Andrius Tapinas: Indeed, you can call it an extension. This has deep symbolic value for all three Baltic nations as we celebrate the 31st anniversary of one of the biggest civil events in easter/central European history. Having our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Belarus fight for their freedom right now, right next to our borders, so it felt right to do something in the spirit of the baltic way. Thus the freedom way to Belarus was created. The idea was born 5 days ago. It has been floating around social media, so we stepped up and took responsibility for organizing it.
A living chain will start at the same point as the baltic way had started – at the cathedral square in Vilnius and then it will stretch up, up, up to the Belarus and Lithuanian border. We expect that we will need around 20,000 people, maybe 25000 people, to form the line. This seems like a steep task seeing as we have one week to organize it all mostly on social media, doing it on civic grounds. But right now, we already have more than 40,000 people registered to take part in the living chain, so we will have two lines. I expect at the end of the registration period, we will have around 50000 who say that they are going to participate in the Lithuanian freedom way to Belarus.
DR: I have also read reports that Current Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda and Ex-Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite will also be participating.
AT: Yes, it’s true. Both our presidents have already confirmed they are going to participate. They are going to stand together with the people right at the border of Belarus. Also, there is a possibility that the third living president, Valdas Adamkus, will also take part. Also our ministers and speakers of parliament. Basically, all the authorities of Lithuania. Also, the ambassadors of European countries and the ambassador of the United States should take part in the baltic chain. So the response was really tremendous!
I am very happy to say that I live in a country where the President, speakers of the parliament, and high standing political figures just feel that its right to come and join their people in the chain.
Solidarity with Belarus
DR: While this has received a positive response in Lithuania, it doesn’t come without Belarus’s apprehension. This week Belarusian news agency BelTA reported that President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the law enforcement agencies not to allow actions to build a “human chain” from Kyiv to Vilnius. Ordering the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB, to assess and categorically prevent such actions. What concerns should we have for people in Belarus planning to participate?
AT: In Lithuania, we have no concerns what so ever. We are a fully independent from Belarus, and no KGB and no Belarus generals can do anything about our decisions. Also, we prefer to call Lukashenko, the former President of Belarus. We have president-elect Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in our country, and also, she may be taking part in our chain.
I saw the video with Lukashenko talking about this the same living chain from Kyiv to Vilnius. In his words, more than 300000 people participating. I don’t know where he gets that idea wee planned only the chain from Vilnius to Belarus border. Now it’s an interesting response because a lot of other countries in Europe are responding, making their own symbolic chains together with Lithuanians and Belarusians. So Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians. There will be a chain in London on Westminster bridge. I know there will be chains in Rome, Dublin, Munich, Stuttgart, Stockholm, Oslo, and many more. Unfortunately, the form president still has power in Belarus. So we don’t have any news if the Belarus people will be taking part in starting at the border and going deep into their country. I think right now, maybe even if they are organizing something, they aren’t announcing it because of the authorities and the speak of former president Lukashenko. We are going to wait until Sunday when the event takes place to see what will happen in Belarus.
On “Laisves kelias” event
DR: What should people do if they want to take part in the event?
AT: Well if you are in Lithuania you just have to look up our Facebook event and register. To keep everyone safe and to do it with maximum efficiency, you choose your sector of where you are going to stand, and you will receive all the information. And if you are in other countries, just follow the hashtag #freedomway. You are going to find global events happing around Europe that are taking place in London, Rome, and other European cities. Washington as well, in the United States, there will also be a chain.
This event is not only organized by Lithunaina and Belarusian people, but also by Ukrainians, by Latvians, and by Estonians. So a lot of diasporas of people or other people living abroad are joining as a force. Everybody is synchronizing to the living chain to the time of 7:00 pm central European time on Sunday 23rd. This the moment when the baltic way started 31 years ago.
You can listen to the full interview on SoundCloud.