The question of the MRP secret protocols
On 23 August 1939, the representatives of two totalitarian states – the Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union Vyacheslav Molotov – signed an infamous treaty, the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (MRP), which was formally a mutual declaration of friendship, a non-aggression pact, with which both parties committed themselves to refraining from any act of aggression or harm against the other. In a secret protocol of the publicly announced treaty, however, they delineated their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. That is to say, the two effectively split the countries in the region between themselves and agreed not to interfere when either side invaded the regions assigned to it. The seizing of the booty began just a week later, on 1 September 1939, as the Second World War broke out with Germany invading Poland and with the Soviet Union jolting into action two weeks later and seizing the part of Poland that had been assigned to it. As a result of the war, Estonia, among others, fell under Soviet domination for decades.
The friendship between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union came to an end two years later when the former invaded the latter. With this, the pact was invalidated. After the Second World War, the full version of the pact came into the possession of the British and the Americans and was fairly quickly published. The Soviet Union was embarrassed about its collaboration with the Nazis and therefore persistently claimed for the next four decades that it was a forgery and no secret protocol had ever existed.
Although on the one hand the MRP was merely a piece of paper that had lost its validity half a century ago, its secret protocols, which directly implied the Soviet Union’s plans of aggression against the Baltic States, held political significance. In the more liberal climate of the late 1980s, the political figures in the Baltics therefore set themselves the goal of revealing the truth and making the Soviet Union admit to the secret deal. Although not voiced, there was a hope that the admission of the existence of the secret protocols by the Soviet Union, which indirectly would have meant the admission of the unlawful seizure of the Baltic States, would ultimately lead to the freedom of these countries.
The fight for the admission of the secret protocols of the pact in the Kremlin political circles was long and arduous. It took a lot of explaining and persuading. Even the German copies of the secret protocols were brought over as evidence from US archives. The Congress of People’s Deputies of the Soviet Union recognised the existence of the secret protocols and condemned them on 24 December 1989. By demonstrating to the Soviet Union and the whole world the will of the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic Way played a very significant role in the strenuous political struggle that lead to this decision.