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

Demonstrators link hands as they gather at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront in Hong Kong, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Demonstrators were planning to form 40 kilometers (25 miles) of human chains Friday night to show their resolve. They said the "Hong Kong Way" was inspired by the "Baltic Way," when people in the Baltic states joined hands 30 years ago in a protest against Soviet control.
AP Photo/Vincent Yu
  • Mary Hui
By Mary Hui


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/Files
Protesters form a link near Riga, Latvia in 1989.

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.

AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File
East German guards seen after the Berlin Wall is breached.

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.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
Hong Kongers gather in the city’s Central district.

“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.

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
A student honors a woman shot in the eye at a protest in Hong Kong.

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.

2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
More than one million turned out on Aug. 18.

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