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Joining Hands For Freedom

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya heading into her first press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, on August 21, 2020.

On Sunday 52,000 people in Lithuania linked hands in a human chain from Vilnius to the Belarusian border to show support for the people of Belarus, who have been protesting since August 9th for their freedom after twenty-six years of living under their totalitarian president, Alexander Lukashenko. I was one of them.

I joined hands with others on Pilies Street, where a 50-meter long red and white Belarusian protest flag was held aloft through the narrow curving medieval streets of the Vilnius Old Town. People carried flags of the Lithuanian coat of arms, the Vytis, a knight on horseback in white on a field of red, a symbol shared historically between Lithuanians and Belarusians in the era of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The air was thick with sincerity and the sense of reveling in Lithuania’s hard-won freedom and support for the protesters in Belarus.

Thirty-one years ago, on August 23, 1989, on the fifty-year anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which divided Eastern Europe between the Nazis and Soviets, I stood with two million Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians in a human chain that stretched from Vilnius to Tallinn. We all dreamed one collective dream—that our countries would one day be free, independent, European states. That dream was fulfilled within two years.

In both instances, the sensation of coming together as a nation and daring to dream, daring to hope for the seemingly impossible, was mixed with fear—the fear of military reprisals, fear of more violence against unarmed protesters, fear of the unknown.

The Lithuanian peaceful human chain on Sunday, and the peaceful protests of the Belarusian people in Minsk and in other major cities, were first inspired by the courage of one Belarusian woman, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. She dared to speak out with dignity for what she believes in—a Belarus where her children may grow up in freedom.

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