Photo Credit: By Kusurija - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Photo Credit: By Kusurija – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

On August 23rd, 1989, two million people joined hands to form a human chain crossing the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, in protest against the Soviet Union, and in support of each nation’s independence. The Baltic Way, as the human chain was called, spanned 420 miles, engaging people of all ages in this historic demonstration.

The organizers spent countless hours putting the demonstration together. They designative specific locations and groups of people to go to each of the cities, towns, and villages to ensure the chain would not have any gaps. Free bus service was provided. Preparations engaged the rural population who had been generally left out of the more urban-based resistance actions. Some employers sponsored the bus rides. Estonia declared a public holiday.

On the day of the event, special radio broadcasts helped to coordinate the effort. The human chain was photographed from land and air, and screened on televisions in many countries. Remarkably, within three years, all of the Baltic states had achieved independence from the Soviet Union, starting with Lithuania a mere seven months after the Baltic Way demonstration.

All three states achieved their independence through nonviolent action, using a wide range of methods including demonstrations, rallies, cultural resistance, occupations, strikes, boycotts, blockades, and, famously in Estonia’s case, singing.

To this day, the Baltic states maintain a high level of engagement with nonviolent struggle. The three countries have a joint accord to support one another through nonviolent action – just as many other nations have such accords for military support. Lithuania has been a pioneer in civilian based defense, which utilizes nonviolent civil resistance to prevent and thwart foreign invasions, occupations, and coups. The Lithuanian Defense Minister even issued a pamphlet to the citizens to train them in nonviolent civilian-based defense!

The example of these three tiny nations is an inspiring one . . . many countries, including our own, would do well to emulate the commitment to nonviolent action embodied in the Baltic Way.

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This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.


Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times.