When you hear about a singing revolution, what comes to mind? A group of people making a statement or an entire nation standing up for liberty? A little country that no one heard of (and still doesn’t know about) had a peaceful revolution against the Soviet Union.
Estonia is the northern most Baltic state. Estonia declared its independence from Russia in 1918 when the Russian Revolution has crippled Russian power. The United States among many other countries recognized Estonia’s independence and guided Estonia into a democratic political system. The hope for peace and independence faded with the beginning of the Second World War. The Soviet Union took over Estonia in 1940 and from there the country was a war zone with both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fighting for land. After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union maintained control over Estonia.
The first celebration to Estonian culture was in 1869 in Tartu (the second largest city in Estonia). The Estonian people had great nationalism and held on to that through the many occupations and wars that their country endured. The song festivals happened every five years. These festivals were a way for the people of Estonia to rejoice in their nationalism and individuality. The only time when there were no song festivals was during the Second World War. The song festivals continue in 1947, though Estonia was still occupied by the Soviet Union.
The song festivals continued to occur through Soviet occupation because the Soviet Union thought that it would be a good was to show the happiness and joy in the Soviet Union. The choir was not allowed to sing the original Estonian national anthem, but a rewritten version about the Soviet Union. The song festival was the only thing that kept Estonia nationalism alive during Soviet occupation. During the song festival of 1988, the choir sang the original Estonian national anthem. This was the beginning of the Singing Revolution. Estonia was the only country in the Soviet Union to have a peaceful revolution. In 1991, the Soviet Union recognized Estonia has a independent nation.
Today the song festival is a national event. There was a stage erected for the thousands of singers that come to preform for their country. People for all over the world come to see the spectacular performance. I was fortunate enough to study in Estonia for two months this summer and attend the song festival. There is a heart-warming feeling that you get when you hear the choir sing. I didn’t understand the language at all, but you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself. Being at the song festival is an awe inspiring moment. At the song festival this summer, one million people came to hear the choir sing and participate in the festivities. The population of Estonia is 1.3 million. That means that 77% of the population showed up to participate and experience the performance. It is incredible to think about.