Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are celebrating 20 years of independence with a special ceremony held in Sweden.
Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, Lithuanian Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius and Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip were all present in Stockholm for a series of ceremonies commemorating the struggle for independence in the Baltic states. They saw a performance from the Stockholm Latvian Choir, a reading of Monday poems by Arkadijus Vinokur and a display by Lithuanian dance group Baltija before meeting with the Monday movement founders; Gunnar Hökmark, Håkan Holmberg and Peeter Luksep.
The so-called “Monday Meetings” saw Swedes gather in Norrmalmstorg square to show solidarity with their neighbours in the Baltic region. From the 19th of March 1990 until the 16th of September 1991, 79 Monday Meetings were held. 15th August 2011 has been dubbed the “80th Monday Meeting” as Swedes and Balts come together to remember the sacrifices made in the name of independence.
The Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt said:
“On this 80th Monday meeting, we have gathered to remember the struggle for freedom in the Baltic countries. We have gathered to remember those who fell victim to Soviet terror. All those who were killed, tortured, deported and oppressed in the name of communism. And all those who stood up for freedom. Who said enough is enough.
“And we meet here to remember and to never forget. Because that is how we can keep history alive, and pass it on to generations of today and tomorrow. That is how we can defend and develop freedom.
“At the Monday meetings, we met under the banner: “We support the Baltic”. A few years ago, this same banner was given to the Occupation Museum in Riga. This museum, however, does not only portray positive aspects of Swedish-Baltic relations. There are also dark chapters.
“Sweden was among the first countries to recognise the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries. The extradition of the Balts is a dark moment in Swedish foreign policy. And leading Swedish politicians long denied that the Baltic countries were in fact occupied.
“For decades, Sweden did not acknowledge Baltic suffering. I hold in my hand a Swedish school book used during the 1980s. It makes no mention at all of the destiny of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after the Second World War. Not one word.
“In fact, it is hard to find any reference to the fact that there had ever been any Baltic countries. This was the reality when I went to school. This was the Swedish way of dealing with neighbours being occupied. Neighbours being oppressed and denied their freedom.
“But in the hearts of many Swedes, something else was going on. They remembered. They had neighbours and friends who were Baltic refugees living in exile. And when the first tunes of the singing revolution were sung, they wanted to show that they too supported the Baltic peoples.
“This gave birth to the Monday meetings. A peoples’ movement. Sound and clear support for the Baltic struggle for freedom. A new start for Swedish-Baltic relations.
“And as we gather today to celebrate 20 years of freedom and independence in the Baltic countries, we shall bear this in mind. Sweden has a debt of honour to the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We owe it to ourselves – and we owe it to the Baltic peoples – to remember the past, but also to build a common future.”
Agitation for independence from Soviet rule culminated in the formation of a human chain stretching from Vilnius to Talinn on 23rd August 1989. The “Baltic Chain” was made up of over one million people joining hands to demonstrate popular desire for national independence. Popular dissent eventually resulted in national self-determination for each of the three states and will see Estonia join the Euro at the beginning of 2012.