The Singing Revolution


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My wife and I have been fascinated with the country of Estonia and its culture ever since we began the process to adopt our daughter from there.

What we discovered as we researched the country, its culture, and its language was a people rich in heritage, strong in personality, and with a burning desire for freedom.

The Singing Revolution” is the title of a documentary and book detailing the story of how Estonia regained its independence from the USSR.  Prior to World War II, Estonia had gained its independence from Russia during World War I.  They lost their freedom again when Josef Stalin’s troops invaded and took over the country in 1944.

During this period of time, many Estonians lost their lives, up to perhaps 25% of the population, by the murderous Soviet army and many were sentenced to imprisonment in Siberia.  As was the custom, many Russian citizens were sent into the newly enslaved territory to influence the culture there.  The Estonian language was forbidden to be spoken and many of their customs were outlawed.  Because of the overwhelming odds faced by the Estonian people, many fled and became refugees, a good number of them settling in the United States and Canada.

In the late 1980s, Estonians began demonstrating against the Soviet regime.  Despite the repression they had experienced over the previous 40 plus years, the Estonians had retained their national spirit and had never truly capitulated to Soviet rule.

In 1987, Estonians began a cycle of mass demonstrations featuring spontaneous singing, similar to their national Estonian Song Festival that occurs every five years.  Many of the songs are of Estonian origin and contain patriotic themes.  Anyway, the demonstrations eventually reached as many as 300,000 people in their capital city of Tallin.  The participants sang national songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden by the Soviet government.

This “singing revolution” lasted over four years, with many protests and defiant acts.  In 1991, as the Soviet army attempted to quell these demonstrations and Estonia’s progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet and the Congress of Estonia together proclaimed the restoration of the state of Estonia.  Estonians acted as human shields, protecting radio and television stations from the Soviet tanks.  Because of this, Estonia’s independence was regained without bloodshed.  Independence was later declared on August 20, 1991.  The next morning, Soviet troops attempted to storm the Tallin TV tower but were unsuccessful.

All this makes me wonder something…Would we here in the United States be able to maintain our thirst for freedom if the same thing happened to us?  Would we retain our national identity and culture under the same circumstances?  I’d like to hope so.

I also fear for the Estonian people during this time when Russia’s leaders seem to be becoming more bold once again in their actions towards some of the former Soviet states.  It’s been reported that some of those in power, although behind the scenes to some degree, long to restore the supposed glory of the USSR.  I pray that is not the case.

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