By Andrius Sytas
VILNIUS (Reuters) – As protesters formed human chains across Hong Kong on Friday, Ramunas Terleckas was out on the streets of Lithuania’s capital Vilnius getting ready to commemorate the event which inspired them.
Back on Aug. 23, 1989, he was one of an estimated 2 million people who joined arms across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a protest against Soviet rule that became known as the “Baltic Way”.
Thirty years later, on Friday, he was back again with around 12,000 others to form a symbolic chain in Vilnius to remember the protest that paved the way to their liberation from the Soviet Union.
In a nod to the protesters who came after them on the other side of the world, some in the Lithuanian crowd carried Hong Kong and Tibetan flags.
“The Baltic Way was occupied people showing their oppressor that they are no longer afraid and that they will be free,” Terleckas, now 50, told Reuters. “I think this is what inspires Hong Kong to fight for their rights and freedom in this way.”
Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda, who was marking the anniversary with his Latvian counterpart at another event on their shared border, added: “The welfare, peace and prosperity of Hong Kong’s people is a goal we all share.”
Demonstrators in Hong Kong – whose protests were triggered by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to China – acknowledged their debt to the Baltics.
“The Baltic Way was an inspirational event to many freedom-fighters around the world,” Joshua Wong, one of Hong Kong’s democracy leaders, said in an email.
“This is the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. I hope there will be a bigger chance to make an international noise,” protester Peter Cheung, 27, said at the scene.
Back in Vilnius, another few dozen people waving Chinese flags attempted to disrupt the event before police intervened, Mantas Adomenas, a member of parliament, told Reuters.
Two Chinese citizens were detained, a police spokesman said.
(Reporting By Andrius Sytas, editing by Helena Soderpalm and Andrew Heavens)