The organisers are the Hungarian embassies of the Republic of Latvia and the Republic of Lithuania, the Estonian Institute in Hungary and the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, where the exhibition opened on 6 September.

# Lithuanian Ambassador to Hungary Rasa Kairiene

The Baltic Way, also known as the Baltic Chain, was organised – in pre-social media days, remember – to draw the world’s attention to the existence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a treaty signed exactly 50 years earlier, on 23 August 1939, between the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany: Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop.

This secret agreement was created when the two countries were allies. Not only did it pledge non-aggression between the signatories, in a blatant violation of international law, it detailed how Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania would be divided between the two. The Baltics were given over to the Soviet Union.

With Russian influence neatly tied up, Germany invaded Poland eight days later, starting World War II. The Soviet Union subsequently invaded Estonia and Latvia on June 16, 1940. Though the Soviets switched to the side of the Allies after Germany attacked them in June 1941, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact essentially remained in effect. The Soviet Union continued to occupy Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania throughout and following the war, all the while denying the existence of the secret protocols of the pact.

During the waning years of the Soviet Union, a strong pro-independence movement emerged in the Baltic States, and the idea for the Baltic Way was born. When the two million people stood shoulder-to-shoulder along highways and in fields, holding hands and singing for freedom, their demands were simple: admit the secret protocols and restore the independence of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Three days later the Central Committee of the Communist Party warned: "Matters have gone far. There is a serious threat to the fate of the Baltic peoples. People should know the abyss into which they are being pushed by their nationalistic leaders. Should they achieve their goals, the possible consequences could be catastrophic to these nations. A question could arise as to their very existence."

Worried that the Soviets might invade to stamp out dissent, the three countries jointly issued a declaration to the United Nations that they were under threat of aggression and asked that an international commission monitor the situation. Under the scrutiny of the UN, and with pressure to cease and desist coming from the United States and Germany, the Soviets did an about-face. On December 24, 1989, they finally acknowledged the secret protocols and declared the agreement to have been illegal. Full independence was granted by Moscow to all three countries in August 1991.

Unfortunately, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia began taking a harder line. Moscow once again insisted that its control of the Baltic States was legal. In 2005, the Kremlin’s European affairs chief, Sergei Yastrzhembsky declared: "There was no occupation. There were agreements at the time with the legitimately elected authorities in the Baltic countries."

# Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia Vilmārs Heniņš

"The Baltic Way – a Campaign in the Name of Freedom" exhibition recalls in photographs, quotes, television footage and newspaper articles how the people of the Baltic States stood up for democracy and freedom. Lithuanian Ambassador to Hungary Rasa Kairiene and Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia Vilmārs Heniņš said at the opening that it is a remembrance of those who raised their voices in one of the greatest examples of non-violent protest.

"The Baltic Way – a Campaign in the Name of Freedom"
Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, 1088 Budapest, Szabó Ervin tér 1

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