Folk songs have always been a central element to Estonian culture; therefore, it is no suprise that singing became the unifying force during protests against Soviet rule in the 1980’s. With one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world, Estonians have used the form of song as an expression for freedom, self-determination, and national identity since the 19th century. Before the Soviet Union control the Estonians were ruled under Czarist Russia.
The hope and perseverance of the Estonians to gain freedom from outside rule culminated in a non-violent protest that included singing songs that spoke of such ideas. This tradition has been alive since the Post WWII period when the Soviets used singing festivals to encourage unity of Marxist ideals. However, the Estonians began to sing the song, “Land of my Fathers, Land that I Love,” in their native language. The 30,000 people in attendance at the festival were able to keep the Estonian spirit alive.
The non-violent movement of self-determination in Estonia began to make ground from 1987-1991, and was ended by Estonian independence. Once leaders in Moscow began to speak of free speech the movement used songs as a way of testing the Soviet’s new policies. The Estonians chose non-violence to unify against the brutality of the Soviet rule, and knowing that the Soviet Union was in a fragile state the non-violent protestors would not be harmed for fear of bad self-image. Ultimately, the non-violent protests unified through singing won over Soviet rule, starting a new kind of revolution using a smile and a song, proving that culture can save a nation.
To learn more visit www.singingrevoution.com.
By Kassy Fineout, MPT Intern