On eve of 20th anniversary, Baltic Way added to UNESCO register

The Baltic Way, a 600-kilometer-long human chain of Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joining hands in protest of the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, has been added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

The Aug. 23, 1989, event was “a unique and peaceful demonstration that united the three countries in their drive for freedom,” according to a July 30 UNESCO press release announcing the addition of the Baltic Way and 34 other documentary properties to the world register. The announcement comes three weeks before the 20th anniverary of the demonstration.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Between 1 million and 2 million people participated in the Baltic Way demonstration, which was organized by the national movements of the three republics: the Popular Front of Estonia Rahvarinne, the Popular Front of Latvia (Tautas Fronte) and the Lithuanian Reform Movement Sąjūdis, according to the Latvian National Commission for UNESCO.

The non-aggression pact was signed by the Soviet Union’s Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and Nazi Germany’s Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The pact included a secret protocol that carved up Eastern Europe between the two powers

“The objective of the Baltic Way was to gain open acknowledgement of these historic decisions that for a long time had been kept as secret sources deciding the world’s history,” Baltic archivists wrote in their application to UNESCO. “The Baltic Way—an act of solidarity, an act of protest without violence—was a living example of the culture of peace, leading to the open acknowledgement of the secret protocols and their hideous consequences.”

The demonstration gained wide media coverage in Europe and North America.

Documentation of the Baltic Way is found in the National Archives of Estonia, the Museum of the Popular Front of Latvia and the Lithuanian Central State Archive, according to the archivists’ application.

The Baltic Way is the second Latvian-related documentary property to be added to the Memory of the World Register. In 2001, folklorist Krišjānis Barons’ dainu skapis, a specially built cabinet containing tens of thousands of Latvian folk song texts, was added to the list.

Since the UNESCO Memory of the World Register was begun in 1997, a total of 193 documentary properties have been added to the list.

Although the Baltic archivists did not suggest that documentary evidence of the Baltic Way is at immediate risk, the Memory of the World Register program does offer assistance and advice on how best to safeguard valuable archives and to disseminate them to a wider audience.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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