Event inspired by anti-Soviet ‘Baltic Way’ across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1989
A human chain stretched for kilometres across both sides of Hong Kongharbour on Friday night, as people turned out for a peaceful demonstration inspired by anti-Soviet protesters three decades ago, The Guardian reports.
Joining hands and singing songs, tens of thousands of demonstrators lined Hong Kong’s pavements, overpasses, waterfronts and parks, and scaled one of its most famous peaks, picking out the outline of Lion Rock with the light of waving cellphones.
On 23 August 1989, around 2 million protesters formed a human chain stretching 370 miles (600 kilometres) across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, a show of defiance against Moscow that became known as the Baltic Way. Within a year, the three countries would all be independent. The symbolism is unlikely to be lost on authorities in Beijing.
Eleven weeks into the city’s most widespread protest movement since the handover from British colonial rule in 1997, China has already accused demonstrators of terrorism, working with foreign powers and fomenting a “colour revolution” against Chinese rule.
Friday night’s protest was unauthorised but peaceful. Violence and police brutality have occurred at several smaller protests that had been denied official permits, but there have been no incidents at larger marches, which drew crowds of up to 2 million.
For Friday’s “Hong Kong Way” demonstration, organisers had called for people to gather in single file along routes that roughly matched subway lines, snaking nearly 30 miles (45 kilometres) through Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
They began turning out long before the official 8pm start, old and young, office workers in suits standing beside students in the unofficial protest uniform of black clothes and face masks.
Protesters cited the Baltic human chain as inspiration. “In that place, at that time, people tried to use this form of expression to express their wish for freedom from the Soviet state,” said a protester named Kay, who declined to give her surname for fear she might be penalised at work for joining the protests.
“In very similar terms, the Hong Kong people are trying to express themselves and express their yearning for freedom and basic human rights,” she said.
Unlike other protests that have snarled up the city, demonstrators stood in single file along pavements. The chain broke and formed again at road junctions to allow traffic through. After the protest ended at 9pm local time, they melted back into the streets, following one of the unofficial mottos of the movement: “Be like water.”
When Hong Kong’s protest movement began in June, it was driven by anger at a new law that would have allowed residents and visitors to be sent to mainland China to stand trial in its opaque and politically controlled judicial system. As the demonstrations expanded, however, some protesters began to call for democracy.
Protester Ashley Chan said he was doubtful Beijing would make similar concessions to Moscow in 1989, but saw no other method to put pressure on the city’s leader Carrie Lam.
Many protesters also hoped the demonstration would keep international attention focused on the long fight for the city’s rights. “We want all the countries around the world to see see what is happening in Hong Kong,” said Lai Ming Yip.
The human chain was formed after another professional show of support for anti-government demonstrators by thousands of accountants who gathered in a city square in a rare political demonstration. Lawyers, teachers and medical workers have turned out for previous rallies.
The head of the cabin crew union for the local airline Cathay Dragon said on Friday that she had been fired in retaliation for supporting the movement. Rebecca Sy told a news conference she had been dismissed without being given a reason, but after she was pulled from a flight at short notice and asked by an airline representative to confirm that a screenshot from Facebook was from her account.
“It’s not just about the termination of the job, it’s also the whole issue, it’s terrifying. All my colleagues are all terrified,” Sy said.
A British consulate employee also went missing two weeks ago on a business trip to the neighbouring mainland city of Shenzhen. Chinese authorities later said Simon Cheng Man-kit had been detained for “violating public order regulations”.
China often uses public order charges against political targets, and has sometimes used the charge of soliciting prostitution. Ou Shaokun, an anti-corruption activist, alleged in 2015 that the authorities in southern Hunan province had framed him by saying they found him in a hotel room with a prostitute.