Black Ribbon Day – the Baltic Way

The West read the headlines in shock…

The two most bitter enemies in Europe, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, had signed a non-aggression pact.

What did it mean? The end of peace and the beginning of the most devastating war in history.

In spite of concern over Nazi Germany’s buildup of military power, the Britain and France had been wary of signing any alliance treaty with the Soviet Union, whom they considered merely the lesser of two evils (and the further of the two, geographically).

Russia had no choice but to oppose Germany, or so the Britain and France believed. Hatred of communism was a founding principle of Hitler’s Nazi movement, and the feeling in Russia toward Nazism was mutual.

Evidently though, pragmatism outweighed principle.

Hitler used the West’s alienation of the Soviet Union to his advantage. On August 23, 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. It stated, simply, that the two countries would not attack each other.  In other words, it cleared the path for Hitler to attack Poland, knowing Russia wouldn’t attack from the East, should Britain and France attack from the West.

With the two-front war threat out of the way, German tanks rolled into Poland, claiming to do so in retaliation for outbreaks of violence on the German-Polish border.

Weeks later the world got a hint of the other part of the Non-Aggression Pact. It was actually a co-aggression pact. Hitler would attack Poland from the West; Stalin would attack from the East. The USSR would get Estonia and Latvia, Germany would get Lithuania, and the two would “split” Poland down the middle.

Germany’s blitzkrieg against Poland was so swift that Stalin was forced to attack Poland sooner than he’d expected. The Poles, who had managed to hold off Germany for two weeks, fought on for another month as their country was hopelessly devoured from both ends by two of the strongest military powers in the world.

The Pact was meant to last 10 years. Hitler broke it in less than two, invading the Soviet Union in 1941.

Though Germany was defeated in 1945, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia remained in Soviet possession. The West was not anxious to spill more blood in central Europe after 6 years of war. Poland was recognized as an independent country in 1952 but remained under Soviet control. However, the Baltic States would wait until the 1990s to regain independence.

In 1986, protesters gathered in 21 cities across the world on the anniversary of the infamous pact, to protest specifically the secret provision signed by Hitler and Stalin that still determined the map of the Baltic. A provision that the Soviet Union still officially denied existed. Three years later, on the 50th anniversary of the pact, two million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands to form the “Baltic Way”. A human chain that stretched 600 kilometers across the three republics.

The Baltic Way – 1989

Four months later the Soviet Union officially acknowledged the existence of the secret provision of “the Devil’s Pact”.

The nationalistic fervor that spread from to Baltic to other Soviet republics hastened the breakup of the mighty empire that once swallowed them.

Today August 23 is recognized as “Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism”.

Constitution Day – Japan & Poland

May 3

May 3 is Constitution Day in two countries on opposite sides of the globe.

May 3 Constitution, by Jan Matejko, 1891

Poland’s most recent constitution dates only to 1997, but it stems from the Constitution of May 3, 1791, one of the oldest codified constitutions in the world. Only the Constitution of the United States is older. [The Constitution of San Marino dates to 1600, but apparently is not codified enough to compete with the big boys. — Ed.]

The 1997 Constitution was a response to Poland’s changing position in the world, from a one-party socialist state under the control of its powerful neighbor, the Soviet Union, to a multi-party independent state.

The Japanese Constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947. Its creation dealt with Japan’s changing role in the world after World War II. The Constitution altered not only the government—a government in which the Emperor would have less say in matters of state—but also the Japanese way of life. The Constitution protects standard basic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, but goes one step further. Article 19, for example, proclaims:

“Freedom of thought and conscience shall not be violated.”

One of the most long-reaching impacts of the Constitution is Article 9, which deals with the renunciation of warfare:

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.”

So you’re probably thinking, No military? I could go over there with a dinghy and a BB gun and take over the country!

You would be met with a surprisingly powerful defense force. Japan still maintains its ability to defend its homeland, and…

“By 1990 estimates of Japan’s defense budget were that it was either the third or fourth largest in the world and Japan’s SDF was a high technology fighting force.”

The Rule of Law in Japan — Carl F. Goodman

Japan’s Constitution Day falls right in the middle of “Golden Week”, a congruence of four holidays, beginning with Showa Day (April 29) and ending with Children’s Day (May 5).

Japan’s Commission on the Constitution — the Final Report, 1980