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August 23 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided Europe and facilitated the start of the Second World War. Now remembered as Black Ribbon Day in many countries, it coincided this year with the 25th anniversary of the Baltic Way event. There were several commemorations in the United States that started early in the morning with a ceremony in the United States Congress and later the same morning at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis. Photo Ludo Segers
Ambassador Žygimantas Pavilionis. Photo Ludo Segers

Congressman John Shimkus, of Lithuanian origin, sponsored a bill to designate 23 August officially as Black Ribbon Day. Now that legislation has passed the House of Representatives, it was the first time that the Black Ribbon Day was commemorated in the Freedom Rotunda of the Capitol. John Shimkus reminded the audience of the fight for freedom in the three Baltic countries that led eventually to the successful integration into the EU and NATO. It was a particularly moving experience to hear Congressman Shimkus read a quote by Rasa Juknevičienė’s mother from the book "Children of Siberia” in which she recounts her family’s experience whilst in exile in Siberia.

The Georgian and Ukrainian ambassadors reminded the audience that the fight for freedom is still an ongoing struggle. Ukrainian Ambassador, Olexandar Motsyk stated, "We need to mobilize all forces to ensure that Ukrainians retain their freedom and that we gain a free and united Europe." Ambassador Motsyk thanked Lithuania for the full support and expressed sympathy with Honorary Consul Mykola Zelenec who was kidnapped and murdered on Friday in Lugansk.

Lithuanian Ambassador to the United States, Žygimantas Pavilionis, thanked Congressman John Shimkus for initiating the bill to designate Black Ribbon Day. Ambassador Pavilionis expressed the hope that the United States Senate will in turn pass the bill soon. "Congress is a crucial part of democracy in the United States and a symbol for the world, and therefore the commemoration of the Black Ribbon Day, will not only remember all the victims of totalitarian regimes, but honour them," said ambassador Pavilionis. He concluded, "Any attempts to cover lies and the use of intimidation and violence in an attempt to subjugate freedom, such as at present in Ukraine, will need to be confronted and unanimously supported by all forces.”

The events in Washington continued at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C. The monument was inaugurated in 2007 and the Black Ribbon Day remembrance has been an annual event. Marion Smith, executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, expressed the wish that "In the future, we hope Black Ribbon Day will become a better known day and that more people in the USA would use the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact anniversary to remember all of the victims of communism and fascism in Europe." Karl Altau of the Joint Baltic American National Committee and the incoming Estonian Ambassador, Eerik Marmei also reminded the audience of the wider significance of Black Ribbon Day. It was also announced that there are plans to build a museum about the history of communism on the National Mall in Washington DC, starting in 2017. The Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Georgian, Hungarian, and the Czech embassies placed flowers and wreaths in honour of the victims of Communism. All the participants finally held hands around the statue to mark the Baltic Way’s 25th anniversary.

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