It’s not size that matters, it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. (Please excuse the innuendo, I have no intention of taking it any further). Three small countries on the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – with histories so full of oppression, war, invasions and takeovers it’s incredible they have managed to maintain their own traditions and cultures. The total population of all three countries combined is significantly less than Australia’s largest two cities and would have been even less in 1989, which is where I’m going to take you. In time….
One of the joys of travelling through places in which I have not expected to find myself has been learning more of the history and chancing upon stories that leave me in awe. Here is a piece of history I have learnt since arriving in Estonia with which I may have become a little obsessed, but I think for good reason. I won’t recount the whole history leading up to the event, suffice to say that the three Baltic States were struggling for independence from the Russians and in the three years between 1986 and 1989 each country’s Independence Movements were getting stronger and being permitted a louder voice. The fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – a secret pact between Germany and Russia which gave the three countries to Russia – was August 23, 1989 and Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians desperately wanted their independence.
‘The Baltic Way’ happened 20 days after I turned 18. I was old enough to be tuning into world affairs but in my final year of school so I wasn’t really interested in much beyond English texts and study schedules (although to be honest I wasn’t much interested in those either). The Baltic Way was the most extraordinary feat of organisation and solidarity about which I had never heard. No one knows who originally conceived of the idea, but on the 15th of July 1989, after a meeting of the heads of the independence movements from all three Baltic States, the wheels were in motion and something big was growing. In the days before Facebook and mobile phones, within 5 weeks, almost 2.5 million people from the three states were mobilised and organised to form a human chain stretching from Tallinn in Estonia, through Riga in Latvia to Gediminas Tower on the hill in Vilnius, where the Lithuanian flag had been raised. 650 kilometres of an unbroken human chain of 2.5 million people at 7pm on the 23rd of August 1989 to peacefully demonstrate against the Russian occupation of their nations and to show a unified front in their demand for independence. Wow! Employers organised buses to transport their workers to more rural areas, Estonia declared a public holiday, children and the elderly, parents and students all held hands across three hopeful nations. Hands linked in cities across the world in support of this incredible protest, even in my own home town. I was oblivious then, I am in awe now.
It was another 18 months or two years before independence was officially awarded to the three countries, but the hands linking across the states was a very powerful statement, not to mention a feat of logistical mastery.
Imagine that conversation – “I know, let’s get everyone to join hands across 600 kms. We’ll stop the traffic and move everyone into place and then hold hands.” In my mind, there are immediately so many reasons why this is a silly idea or would/could never work. These stories inspire me. I will never organise 2 million people to do anything (sometimes I find 5 more than I can handle) but when I hear about people who conceive almost unbelievable ideas and make them happen, I feel inspired. I make an effort to silence that babble in my head that says it can’t be done.
If we come up with a wild plan for what to do in the next 9 months we talk about it and consider it from different angles without throwing it out as a crazy idea. When I think about what I’m going to do when I get home I’m trying to not automatically discount ideas that sound impractical or too hard. Ellie wants to make a dragon robot. Not impossible. I know a man who teaches basic robotics to kids. I’m sure we can find a way Ellie. Not everything, of course, is possible. The longer I live though, and the more stories like this I hear – seemingly impossible feats made to happen by determined people – the more I believe IS possible.
An addendum: I am painfully conscious of sounding preachy. My intention is not to preach, merely to share my experience of this journey.
Not preachy in the least. Thought provoking, educating and inspiring for sure.
Who knew? Not I ! Thanks for sharing.
I have no recollection of every hearing of this extraordinary event. Five weeks. At uni in the 70s I met people from these countries whose parents had escaped the Iron Curtain and had chosen for all sorts of reasons to come to Australia. Without exception they longed for their countries to be independent and free. And almost universally, these now adult “children” wanted to go “home”.
Thank you Mel. I do remember the occasion and your retelling reminds me of their courage and belief. Keep the stories coming.Tricia
Your post about the Baltic states made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Fantastic writing Mel. you are the one who should have done the writing course! Did Kus know about it? Lovely photo of Tully.
What a wonderful post! Not at all preachy and greatly inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing. Go well. Kate
Great story isn’t it, quite inspirational.
As an aside, if it wasn’t for some humanitarian German soldiers stationed in Riga during the 2nd World War, Cara’s maternal grandparents with Cara’s infant mum and aunty would have been removed by the invading Russians to a concentration camp god only knows where. As it was they were safely ushered out of Riga to Germany and then on to Australia.
That sounds like an amazing story too Steve. Hope it’s written down somewhere. We did like Riga old town, although only there a couple of days. More time in Vilnius. Talk about City of churches! Not an Easter bunny to be seen on Easter Sunday. Loving the bird photos!