Baltic Way - Aftermath


"Matters have gone far. There is a serious threat to the fate of the Baltic peoples. People should know the abyss into which they are being pushed by their nationalistic leaders. Should they achieve their goals, the possible consequences could be catastrophic to these nations. A question could arise as to their very existence."

Declaration of the Central Committee on the situation in the Soviet Baltic republics, August 26

On August 26, 1989, a pronouncement from the Central Committee of the Communist Party was read during the opening 19 minutes of Vremya, the main evening news program on Soviet television. It was a sternly worded warning about growing "nationalist, extremist groups" which advanced "anti-socialist and anti-Soviet" agendas. The announcement claimed that these groups discriminated against ethnic minorities and terrorised those still loyal to Soviet ideals. Local authorities were openly criticised for their failure to stop these activists. The Baltic Way was referred to as "nationalist hysteria." According to the pronouncement, such developments would lead to an "abyss" and "catastrophic" consequences. The workers and peasants were called on to save the situation and defend Soviet ideals. Overall, there were mixed messages: while indirectly threatening the use of force it also placed hopes that the conflict could be solved via diplomatic means. It was interpreted that the Central Committee had not yet decided which way to go and had left both possibilities open. The call to pro-Soviet masses illustrated that Moscow believed it still had a significant audience in the Baltics. Sharp criticism of Baltic Communist Parties was interpreted as signalling that Moscow would attempt to replace their leadership.

President of the United States George H. W. Bush and chancellor of West Germany Helmut Kohl urged peaceful reforms and criticised the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. On August 31, the Baltic activists issued a joint declaration to Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, Secretary-General of the United Nations. They claimed to be under threat of aggression and asked for an international commission to be sent to monitor the situation. Almost immediately after the broadcast the tone in Moscow began to soften and the Soviet authorities failed to follow up on any of their threats. Eventually, according to historian Alfred Erich Senn, the pronouncement became a source of embarrassment. On September 19–20, the Central Committee of the Communist Party convened to discuss the nationality question – something Mikhail Gorbachev had been postponing since early 1988. The plenum did not specifically address the situation in the Baltic states and reaffirmed old principles regarding the centralised Soviet Union and the dominant role of the Russian language. It did promise some increase in autonomy, but was contradictory and failed to address the underlying reasons for the conflict.

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