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Baltic Residents Form Human Chain in Defiance of Soviet Rule

August 23, 1989

TALLINN, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Hundreds of thousands of Baltic residents linked hands Wednesday to form a human chain across their tiny homelands, a defiant repudiation of Soviet rule on the 50th anniversary of their lost sovereignty.

Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians took up spots along a 370-mile route from the Gulf of Finland south to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to demand that Moscow grant more freedom and admit it annexed their republics by force.

Organizers said they expected 1.5 million people, about one-fifth of the Baltic republics’ 8 million residents, to link hands. Initial indications were that more than 1 million took part.

The official Soviet news agency, Tass, said 300,000 people joined hands in Estonia and nearly 500,000 in Lithuania. In Latvia, People’s Front officials said 400,000 participated.

After decades of denials, Soviet officials have admitted that a secret deal between Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler deeded control of the Baltic states to the Kremlin. But they maintain the nations voluntarily joined the Soviet Union.

In Moscow, police arrested 75 people demonstrating in support of the Baltic residents.

In Vilnius, about 5,000 people gathered in Cathedral Square, holding candles and singing the song that was Lithuania’s national anthem until Stalin’s tanks rolled into Lithuania and the other Baltic states in 1940.

Grazina Staniute, a 15-year-old Lithuanian student from Kaunas, said the candles ″symbolize those who died in exile. When we light the candles, they will be with us.″

Brone Surzilate, 58, one of those exiled under Stalin as the Communists set up a Soviet regime, held a card with the number 1,222,660. She said that was the number of Lithuanians that activists estimate have suffered repression under Soviet rule.

In the southern Soviet republic of Moldavia, which also was absorbed by the Soviet Union at the same time, 10,000 people turned out in a heavy rain for a two-hour outdoor rally, said Moldavian People’s Front spokesman Yuri Rozhgo.

In this port city on the Gulf of Finland, the human chain began at a wind- whipped medieval tower where Estonian Premier Indrik Toome and other leaders headed the line of unity.

″We are proclaiming to each other and to the whole world that we in the Baltic nations have never given up our freedom,″ Heinz Valk, a leader of the grassroots Estonian People’s Front, said.

Lines of tens of thousands of solemn-faced Estonians, their hands clasped and four deep in places, stretched from the tower as far as the eye could see. ″Vabadus,″ they said, passing the Estonian word for ″freedom″ down the line.

The line was to snake southward through several cities, including the Latvian capital of Riga, and end in the Lithuanian capital.

The chain climaxed a series of protests marking the anniversary of the Aug. 23, 1939, non-aggression treaty between Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

Organizers said the human chain would symbolize the Baltic peoples’ solidarity in their struggle for more autonomy - and possibly eventual independence - from Moscow.

The more liberal political climate introduced by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev has allowed Baltic residents to voice demands that as recently as last year would have meant arrest or exile.

However, in Moscow, police broke up what authorities said was an unauthorized demonstration by the Democratic Union, a self-styled opposition to the Communist Party, that activists said was called to denounce the Hitler- Stalin pact.

Seventy-five people were detained near Pushkin Square for breaching the peace, resisting police and petty hooliganism after Democratic Union leaders climbed on telephone booths and lampposts, the Tass news agency said.

The Soviet TV news program ″Vremya,″ in the first comment by Moscow-based media on the extraordinary Baltic protest, said it would be ″political naivete″ to believe Europe’s borders can be redrawn now.

The United States and some other Western countries do not recognize the Baltic republics as parts of the Soviet Union, maintaining they are ″captive nations.″ Baltic emigre regimes have their own embassies in Washington.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated the U.S. policy of not recognizing Soviet annexation of the Baltic republics. ″We firmly support the peaceful efforts of the Baltic peoples to regain control over their own political and economic destiny,″ he said.

Earlier in Vilnius, about 200 members of 17 radical Lithuanian political groups marched about a half-mile to Mountain Park, where they burned a two- headed effigy of Hitler and Stalin. Both the dictators’ mouths dripped with blood.

Hitler and Stalin ″drank the blood of Lithuania from one glass, and then started to eat each other,″ Jonas Mugevicius, leader of the Lithuanian Democratic Party, told about 4,000 people who attended the rally.

About 170 leaders of the grassroots Lithuanian group Sajudis, who also met in Vilnius, voted to call for ″the creation of an independent democratic Lithuanian republic not under the power of the Soviet Union.″

That rhetoric showed how far Baltic militants have come from last fall when their vaguely worded demands of ″sovereignty″ were bold.

In a secret protocol to the 1939 treaty signed by their foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, Hitler and Stalin carved Eastern Europe into ″spheres of influence.″ The Baltic republics fell into the Soviet sphere and became a World War II battleground.

A commission of the national Soviet parliament, the Congress of People’s Deputies, recently ruled the authenticity of the secret protocol had to be recognized and recommended the legislature declare it invalid.

The commission’s report, published Tuesday in Estonia, marked a big step forward from former Soviet denials the secret agreement ever existed.

However, it did not acknowledge that the division of Eastern Europe made by the pact led to the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. The Kremlin still maintains the three states voluntarily joined the Soviet Union.

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