German Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who lined up through the three Baltic states 30 years ago to form what would become known as the Baltic Way, in a spectacular protest against Soviet occupation.
In a video message directed at an August 22 conference in the Latvian capital, Riga, Merkel described the Baltic Way, or Baltic Chain, "a moving and important step toward freedom and democracy in Northern, Central, and Eastern Europe."
Latvian President Egils Levits told the event, held as part of commemorations marking the 30th anniversary of the protest, that the peaceful demonstration was "our path back to Europe."
On August 23, 1989, more than 1 million protesters lined up to form a continuous, 675-kilometer-long human chain spanning from the three capital cities of Vilnius in Lithuania, to Latvia's Riga, and up to Tallinn, Estonia.
The protest was timed to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which cleared the way for the 1940 Soviet invasion that folded the Baltic states into the U.S.S.R.
Tens of thousands of Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians were executed or exiled to Siberia through the following decades of Soviet occupation.
Merkel said the human chain "shows how much people can do by peaceful means, when they stand together," adding that the protesters were an "example and inspiration for all Europeans."
"Until today, this human chain represents one of the strongest images of Europe's history to freedom," the German chancellor said.
Inspired by the Baltic Way, pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong are aiming to gather thousands of people on August 23 to form a human chain along the Chinese territory's main train lines.