I visited Estonia in 1988 while it was still part of the Soviet Union. The display of the colors of the Estonian national flag (blue, black, and white) had just been legalized (in contrast to the Estonia Soviet Socialist Republic’s red flag). We had an evening meal at the home of an Estonian family, and after the food had been put on the table the host proudly planted the Estonian flag in center of the table. Later we saw a basketball game between U.S. collegiate All-Stars and the Estonian team, and the Estonians came out in blue, black and white uniforms.
A few days later we were in Latvia where we heard about Latvian folk music festivals that drew tens of thousands. One of our friends was in a music group that played at the festivals. We later went with him to the square where the second demonstration for Latvian independence was taking place. We talked with the excited Latvian young adults and passed out copies of the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. that we had brought with us. All through the next few years I followed the revolutions in the Baltics with a special interest and connection as well as pride on behalf of these long-suffering people for what they accomplished with almost no bloodshed.
The Singing Revolution
The Baltic Republics, including Estonia, were annexed into the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin. They were all tiny countries unable to withstand the military threats by powers around them. But as communism fell in Eastern Europe and began to unravel in the Soviet Union, the revolutions in the Baltic Republics wrote a new chapter in the story of nonviolent struggle. In Estonia their primary weapon for freedom and national identity was music.
Beginning in the 19th Century Estonians began a tradition of huge music festivals in which various cultural songs were played and sung with mass choirs. This tradition became the way for Estonians to assert who they were, to maintain their identity as a people in the face of efforts to absorb them into the larger Russian and Soviet Empire.
The documentary The Singing Revolution produced by James and Maureen Tusty chronicles the history of Estonia culminating in the extraordinary nonviolent revolution that helped trigger the dissolution of the Soviet Union. From 1987 to 1991 Estonians sang beautiful and powerful patriotic songs in mass gatherings, songs that were sometimes forbidden but could not be stopped. The music maintained the focus and discipline of the Estonians in the face of overwhelming military might without any political party or charismatic political figures. The music was the soul of their freedom struggle that led to the success without a single loss of life.
I invite you to view the trailer, but even more, I invite you to visit “The Singing Revolution” website and purchase a DVD. Show it at your home, school, or congregation to inspire hope.