The Singing Revolution is a term that’s used to describe a series of events that took place in the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, between the years of 1987 and 1991. This event was particularly significant in Estonia, where thousands of local citizens came together to sing about their newfound independence and restoration.
After World War II, the Baltic states, which had previously been occupied by Germany, were fully incorporated into the Soviet Union. But under communist rule, the proud and distinct cultures within these states began to deteriorate.
In Estonia, citizens were no longer allowed to wave the Estonian flag. Russian was made the official language. And ethnic Russians were moved into the country as Estonians were sent out. Across the Baltic states was an attempt at “Russification”–all nations within the USSR were to forget their old ways and embrace their new Soviet identity.
Many in the Baltics felt as though they had become second-class citizens in their own countries. Farms were collectivized, and these once prosperous regions entered economic decline. Added to all this was a constant threat of arrest or deportation.
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What Was the Singing Revolution?
By the late 1980s, it was becoming clear that the mighty Iron Curtain was beginning to fall. Sensing an opportunity, Estonians began to protest for their Independence, and they did so by singing.
Singing has long been a national form of expression in Estonia. So it wasn’t that unusual when singing was the protest method of choice in 1988. That year, some 300,000 Estonians gathered at a music festival and sang patriotic songs.
More singing protests would follow. Sometimes citizens would sing to protest a specific project. Other times they sang about independence, or to celebrate Estonian culture.
The mass singing not only spread awareness about issues facing Estonia, but it also helped bring the Estonian people together. Citizens began to better mobilize, and freedom finally entered sight. As the Soviet Union was collapsing, Estonia would finally declare their independence on August 20, 1991.
Latvia sought independence for many of the same reasons as Estonia. And much like in Estonia, cracks in Moscow would lead Latvians to organize. Many different groups would emerge in the country, but all with the same goals: democracy and independence. On October 7, 1988, there were large public demonstrations in the country, with protesters calling for an end to Soviet rule.
On August 23, 1989, the 50th anniversary of a famous pact between Hitler and Stalin, all three Baltics states came together in protest for independence. A human chain from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius was made in what was a massive display of Baltic unity.
After continued protest and struggle, Latvia finally achieved independence on August 21, 1991, one day after Estonia.
Lithuania also saw much singing during this period of civic unrest. Patriotic songs became much more popular during the late 1980s, and it became common for people to gather in public places across the country to sing national songs and Roman Catholic hymns. Even popular musicians in Lithuania would use their platform to raise awareness about independence. They would gain their sovereignty back with Estonia and Latvia.
The Singing Revolution lives on today as proof that violence isn’t always necessary, and that you can use peaceful ways to stand up for what you believe in. The Baltics gained independence and liberation in a peaceful, non-violent way. Circumstances can change, when you have strong faith, hope, and willpower.
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