Thirty years on, Hong Kong is emulating a human chain that broke Soviet rule

Image: AP Photo/Vincent Yu
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On this day in 1989, some two million people formed a giant human chain that stretched 600 kilometers (372 miles) across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to protest against Soviet rule.

The Baltic states had become part of the Soviet Union about 50 years earlier, following a secret agreement on Aug. 23, 1939 with Nazi Germany that divided eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

People hold hands and Latvian flags as they participate in a human chain at Baltic Way near Riga August 23, 1989. Runners left Lithuania and Estonia on August 22, 2009, for neighbouring Latvia to start events marking the 20th anniversary of a 600 km (375 mile) human chain that showed the Balts' wish to regain their independence from the Soviet Union. More than two million people in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined hands in one of the biggest mass protests seen against the former Soviet Union and demanded the restoration of independence. Picture taken August 23, 1989.
Protesters form a link near Riga, Latvia in 1989.
Image: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/Files

The 1989 event, three months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, generated worldwide attention. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania would gain full independence two years later, during the fall of the Soviet Union.

FILE - In this Nov. 11, 1989 file photo, East German border guards are seen through a gap in the Berlin wall after demonstrators pulled down a segment of the wall at Brandenburg gate, Berlin. The Berlin Wall is gone, but people can still tag their memories upon it online. The Berlin Twitter Wall, which went online Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009 encourages people to share their memories of the wall's collapse and hopes for the future on a scrolling wall using Twitter, the social networking site.
East German guards seen after the Berlin Wall is breached.
Image: AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File

The anniversary is remembered in all three countries, with a mix of events including exhibits and cultural performances.

Today, inspired by the Baltic demonstrations of 1989, thousands of protesters in Hong Kong formed “The Hong Kong Way,” a human chain that stretched a planned 40 kilometers across the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The event comes as the city entered its 12th consecutive week of pro-democracy demonstrations, which started in opposition to an extradition bill.

Protesters hold hands to form a human chain during a rally to call for political reforms in Hong Kong's Central district, China, August 23, 2019.
Hong Kongers gather in the city’s Central district.
Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

“By accommodating The Baltic Way into the context of HK, we wish to… reunite HK people in the process of this continuous movement & to make ourselves visible to the world,” organizers said.

As night fell, protesters gathered at metro station exits across Hong Kong, then fanned out along the streets as passing trams honked in support and passersby chanted along. The human chain even made its way up Lion Rock, the famous mountain at the core of Hong Kong’s collective memory. It has represented the city’s spirit of persevering against all odds.

The Hong Kong Way is just one of the growing number of creative ways protesters are using to mobilize support for the demonstrations, both at home and abroad. After a demonstrator was shot in the eye with a bean-bag round from police earlier this month, thousands have posted selfies with their right eyes covered on Twitter in a show of solidarity.

A student holds a placard honouring the woman that was shot in the eye at a protest, during a rally to call for political reforms outside City Hall in Hong Kong, China, August 22, 2019.
A student honors a woman shot in the eye at a protest in Hong Kong.
Image: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The Hong Kong Way human chain comes less than a week after up to 1.7 million protesters marched across the city in a peaceful protest on Aug. 18. It marked the first weekend in more than two months when police did not fire a single tear gas canister.

Anti-extradition bill protesters march to demand democracy and political reforms, in Hong Kong, China August 18,
More than one million turned out on Aug. 18.
Image: 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song