British Columbia

Lithuanians in Vancouver celebrate 30th anniversary of the 'Baltic Way' human chain

Two Vancouver residents from Lithuania are recalling the pro-independence movement even as Hong Kongers formed similar human chains on Friday.

Hong Kongers using same tactic during ongoing pro-democracy protests

The 'Baltic Way' human chain included Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians and stretched almost 700 kilometres across the three Baltic states. (Kusurija)

Friday marks the 30th anniversary of the so-called Baltic Way demonstration that saw two million people form a human chain protesting Soviet rule in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Thirty years later, the protest has had a lasting impact on the Baltic states and beyond. The demonstration influenced protestors in Hong Kong Friday as they held hands in protest, inspired by the Baltic chain.

Vancouver lawyer Linas Antanavicius, a Lithuanian who joined the pro-independence movement when he was in Grade 11, said he was happy to see Hong Kongers employ the same tactics. 

"I wish people in Hong Kong all the best in achieving their goals," he said.

Lawyer Linas Antanavicius is a Lithuanian who joined the movement when he was in Grade 11. (Submitted by Linas Antanavicius)

Human chain link stretched almost 700 kilometres 

The human chain stretched almost 700 kilometres across the three Baltic countries, as the protesters showed their solidarity and their desire for autonomy.

Antanavicius said it was a "movement for all" because everyone supported independence.

In 1989, Paul Plikusas, centre, was an IT manager at a Soviet-state run construction company. He's pictured here with his mother, right, and her cousin, left. (Submitted by Paul Plikusas)

"There were traffic jams … so many people wanted to participate. The human chain lasted an hour or so, but it was a whole-day event," he said.

Word of mouth and a movement song

Paul Plikusas, a programmer in Vancouver, was at the time an IT manager at a Soviet-run construction company. He remembers how everyone was buzzing about the demonstration.

"It was all over Lithuania and word of mouth was big.… I'm proud that I was a part of that movement and that I did participate," he said.

There was one song in particular that played a key role in the independence movement: Baltics Are Waking Up was a rallying call sung in all three Baltic languages. 

"The melodies are kind of catchy," said Plikusas.

"It was very moving," Antanavicius said.

Fears about a crackdown

After more than two months of protests, Antanavicius hopes Hong Kongers have the same success in achieving a democratic state that he and his countrymen did all those years ago.

"I hope everything will be resolved in a peaceful manner. The casualties in 1991 was relatively low. I hope people in Hong Kong are able to do the same," he said.

A Baltic Way anniversary event was to be held at Vancouver's Jericho Beach Friday evening.

With files from The Early Edition