Today, 23 August, marks Black Ribbon Day: the EU-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes.
The day of remembrance commemorates the signing in 1939 of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a treaty of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, shortly before the outbreak of World War 2. On 23 August 1989, the 50th anniversary of the pact’s signing, the Baltic Way demonstration saw two million citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania hold hands to form a human chain more than 600km long between the three countries, in a peaceful protest against authoritarianism. Protestors in Hong Kong, where civil unrest has been ongoing for the last 11 weeks, are reportedly planning a similar protest today, taking inspiration from the Baltic Way demonstration.
In a joint statement to mark the occasion, European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality Věra Jourová said: “Every 23 August, we honour the memory of the millions of victims of all totalitarian regimes. The signature of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on this day in 1939 opened a dark chapter in European history. A time during which citizens were neither free to make their own decisions nor had a say on political choices. A Europe in which freedom and democracy were not more than a dream. Tens of millions of victims were deported, tortured and murdered under totalitarian regimes in Europe. Because of this cruelty, lack of freedom and disrespect for fundamental rights, in parts of Europe several generations never had the chance to enjoy freedom and democracy.
“This year we also mark the 30 years of events in 1989 when citizens of Central and Eastern Europe stood up and broke through the Iron Curtain and accelerated its fall. The courageous actions of citizens brought back freedom and democracy to all of Europe. They helped overcome divisions and unify Europe. This then is a collective European legacy that we all must cherish, nourish, and defend. 80 years have now passed since 1939 and the generation that has witnessed the scourge of totalitarianism is almost no longer with us; living history is turning into written history. We must therefore keep those memories alive to inspire and guide new generations in defending fundamental rights, the rule of law and democracy. It is what makes us who we are. We firmly stand together against totalitarian and authoritarian regimes of all kinds. A Free Europe is not a given but a choice, every day.”