Thirty years ago, on August 18, 1989, the Kremlin conceded for the first time that the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression treaty, known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that was signed on August 23, 1939, had secretly and illegally divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.
Just days prior to the Kremlin marking the 50th anniversary of the pact, the Kremlin continued to insist that secret protocols of the pact had no bearing on the fact that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had become part of the Soviet Union, and that an admission that the pact was illegal did not alter the political status of the three Baltic states.
“Neither the agreement, nor the protocol added to it, determined the legal and political status of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia,” said Aleksandr Yakovlev, a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and close advisor to President Mikhail Gorbachev. Mr. Yakovlev was head of the special committee to review the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
In response, on August 23, 1989, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians demonstrated their disagreement with the Kremlin’s pronouncement as they joined hands in a public demonstration that spanned the territory of the three republics.
A statement issued by the popular movements of the three nations said that the USSR “infringed on the historical rights of the Baltic nations to self-determination, presented ruthless ultimatums to the Baltic republics, occupied them with overwhelming military force, and under conditions of military occupation and heavy political terror carried out their violent annexations.”
In Vilnius, the Sajudis popular front called for “the creation of an independent, democratic Lithuanian republic, without political, cultural or administrative subordination to the Soviet Union.” On August 22, a commission of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet declared that the Soviet annexation of the republic in 1940 was illegal, and set up the basis for Lithuania’s secession from the USSR – a right guaranteed each union republic by the Soviet Constitution.
Demonstrators in Moscow that supported the Baltic nations were brutally dispersed by riot police bearing clubs. Nearly 75 people were detained at the rally in the city center.
Kyiv supporters of the Baltic states, numbering over 2,000, gathered to show solidarity with the Baltic people for independence. The gathering was viciously broken up by the authorities. In the march from the Supreme Soviet, where the rally was originally planned, to the Kyiv Central Stadium, where the rally was eventually held, flags from Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine were on display. When demonstrators refused to agree to a demand by the authorities to take down the Ukrainian blue-and-yellow flags, the police, armed with rubber truncheons, quickly descended on the crowds. Four protesters were arrested.
Oles Shevchenko, head of the Kyiv branch of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, said: “There cannot be an independent Ukraine without an independent Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.”
Throughout the free world, mournful commemorations of the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, dubbed Black Ribbon Day, were held under the sponsorship of the Baltic organizations.
It must be noted that the United States and other Western states had never recognized the forcible annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union.
Source: “Baltic nations protest Nazi-Soviet pact as Kremlin concedes its illegality.”
The Ukrainian Weekly, August 27, 1989.