Hongkongers tonight lined sidewalks and linked hands as protesters made good on plans — or at least tried — to replicate 1989’s famed “Baltic Way” anti-Soviet demonstration.
The Baltic Way, which took place 30 years ago to the day, saw more than two million people link hands across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in a human chain that stretched for more than 600 kilometers in a show of support for independence from the Soviet Union.
Hongkongers’ plans may have been less ambitious — all told, the three human chains across Hong Kong Island and Kowloon would come to just over 30 kilometers — but no less symbolic, as protesters reaffirmed their commitment to a long-running pro-democracy movement that has presented the local government, and Beijing, with its largest political crisis in years.
“I think that this is a great idea,” said one young participant, who gave her name as Julia. “When you see so many people making this chain, it’s amazing.”
— Galileo Cheng (@galileocheng) August 23, 2019
Hong Kong’s months-long pro-democracy movement had become increasingly fraught in recent weeks, with protesters routinely clashing with police, who responded with volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets. The antagonism appeared to reach a high-water mark at the airport last week, when protesters succeeded in grounding hundreds of flights, but suffered a PR setback as ugly scenes of prisoner-taking and assault circulated on social media.
In the wake of the airport blockade, a massive protest last weekend was the first in weeks to end without tear gas and clashes, and protesters tonight seemed eager to replicate that mood.
“It is like a flash mob where Hongkongers express our unity,” said one participant in Kowloon, who gave his name as A. Kwong. “Hopefully everyone will leave peacefully at 9 and there will be no clashes today. I hope we can show the world Hongkongers will join together for a great cause.”
— Coconuts Hong Kong (@CoconutsHK) August 23, 2019
There may have been a few gaps in tonight’s chain, and in Sheung Wan, there appeared to be some communication-related difficulties piecing things together, but protesters appeared to be well on the way to resolving that as of press time.
“This is a peaceful way for us to express our voice to our government,” said one protester there, who gave her name as Jenny.
Asked whether she thought nonviolent protests like tonight’s would prove more effective than the unruly ones that have characterized the last few weeks, Jenny offered a flat “no” — without condoning violence — but maintained it was important nonetheless for Hongkongers to come together and show their support.
“I think Hong Kong is fighting for democracy, not independence, but it’s already a long shot,” said one 45-year-old participant from Italy, who was a longtime resident of the city and brought her young children along to take part. “But I think it’s important to try anyway.”
However, the optimistic mood wasn’t shared by all — particularly once the protesters-cum-amateur-vocalists started singing.
As one passerby complained: “They sound like ghosts wailing.”
Reporting by Stuart White, Iris To, Cheryl Ho, and Vicky Wong.