Lithuanian MEP Rasa Juknevičienė, the signatory of the Independence Act and former Minister of Defence sketched the historical background of what lead up to the Baltic Way – the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and the occupation of the three Baltic States by the Soviet Union.
She reminded the audience of the massive deportation of the intelligentsia to Siberia, including of her own family. Most of the men died in the Gulag and her mother and grandmother eventually returning alone to Lithuania. In 1989, the 50th anniversary of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact was commemorated at a period of USSR’s Glasnost and Perestroika and was not prevented by the still seemingly all-powerful KGB.
Ms Juknevičienė remarked that the spirit of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact is still alive in today’s Russia and that the Kremlin continues its attempts to rewrite history and sited as “The most recent example saw the Kremlin blaming Poland for the Nazi invasion that started WWII 80 years ago”.
The students met with applause the inspiring wishes expressed by the Lithuanian politician: that the Baltic independence is sustainable and there would be no other occasions for such a public action; that the trans-Atlantic alliance remains strong to secure our common future; that Europe finally becomes whole and free, while Russia itself turns to freedom and democracy.
The former Latvian President Valdis Zatlers told the audience that while nearly every family in his country has a story related to the traumas of the Soviet occupation, the forced sovietisation eventually failed. He praised the Baltic states’ achievements over the 30 years, in particular with their strong position within EU and NATO.
That was echoed by Estonian MEP Urmas Paet and former Foreign Minister, who blamed the rise of populist ideas on those forgetting what has been achieved over 70 years, whilst the EU is surrounded by numerous conflicts, including the latest Russian land grab in Ukraine in 2014, annexing Crimea and the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region.
He suggested the EU increase its defence investment and security spending, and to free up the service market in the same way as was done for goods. The politician lambasted occasional attempts to compare the USSR with the EU, by underlining that USSR was based on fear and represented precisely the opposite of what the EU stands for.
After questions from the audience, former President Zatlers invited the students themselves to hold hands for a moment, so that they get the feeling of as much as 2 million Baltic people 30 years ago, united in defiance that led to the independence of the Baltic States and the eventual collapse of the USSR.