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From Catalan separatists to Hong Kong activists, the campaign that helped Baltic states win independence still inspires activists the world over. Photo: AFP

‘They want freedom the same way we wanted it’: Cheers and support in Lithuania as Hong Kong embraces the ‘Baltic Way’

  • Over 100 supporters joined hands in Lithuania – the way they did 30 years ago – to show solidarity.
  • Local lawmaker says Hongkongers ‘at the frontline of fighting for freedom and democracy’

As tens of thousands of anti-government protesters formed human chains across Hong Kong on Friday, more than 100 supporters joined hands in Lithuania – the way they did 30 years ago – to show solidarity.

Hong Kong’s demonstration was held on the on the anniversary of the “Baltic Way” in 1989, when 2 million people in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia held hands to form a 680km (1,094-mile) human chain, spanning the three nations to push for independence from the former Soviet Union.

The movement inspired local activists to launch their own version, calling it the “Hong Kong Way.”

Lithuanian lawmaker Mantas Adomenas, the organiser of the Friday rally, said he was 16 years old when he joined the “Baltic Way”. He said he was impressed with Hong Kong’s struggle for liberty and democracy.
I recognised in them the same spirit that was blowing at the Baltic Way
Mantas Adomenas, organiser and Lithuanian lawmaker

“I went to Hong Kong in 2014, when I witnessed the ‘umbrella revolution’, and once again this year, during the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre,” Adomenas said in a written interview.

“Both visits left indelible marks on me. I recognised in them the same spirit that was blowing at the Baltic Way. They are at the frontline of fighting for freedom and democracy.”

Video footage showed Lithuanian lawmaker Emanuelis Zingeris, another organiser, with the crowd gathered at Cathedral Tower in Vilnius, the capital. Some were holding the Hong Kong flag and others Lithuanian flags.

“I believe it is a must to defend democracy and human rights,” said Vytenis Fuks, who attended the event. “For Lithuanians, it is written in blood. We support other nations who now have to protect themselves just like we had to do it during Soviet occupation.”

Another attendee was a young Lithuanian who said she had studied as an exchange student at the University of Hong Kong.

In the original 1989 event, a human chain connected the Baltic capitals of Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius. Photo: Wikipedia

“The people of Hong Kong, they do not feel that they are the same as the people of China, like we did not feel that we were Soviet citizens,” she said. “They want the freedom the same way we wanted it.”

Among the distinguished guests at the solidarity event where former prime minister Andrius Kubilius, US Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Reinhard Bütikofer, Germany’s delegate to the European Parliament.

But Haonan Wang, the chairman of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Lithuania, played down the event. He said the local supporters of the Hong Kong protesters were misled by disinformation or “fake news”.

“Try asking them whether they have been to Hong Kong or China. What is the point for raising these flags, who are they for?,” Wang told LRT English, a local TV station.

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As the rally started, about a dozen supporters of mainland China waved the national flag and condemned the event.

“It’s none of your business,” a woman said. “Hong Kong is part of China! Go away!”

But she was quickly booed by the crowd, who chanted back: “Free Hong Kong, Free China! Without Communism! Go home!”

Adomenas went further, shouting through a megaphone that the Chinese supporters were “hired”.

“You are here to demonstrate all the horrors that we escaped from!” he said to the crowd.

The group holding the Chinese national flag soon left.