Revolution Against the Revolution, How Estonia Hijacked Soviet Propaganda
In the post World War Two era the USSR found itself in a strong position, with most of Eastern Europe under its control, and a great armed threat to its existence annihilated, the Soviets were safe within their lands again, but they needed to consolidate their gains, and to do so they needed to harness previously un tapped sources of propaganda. In Estonia, that propaganda came in the form of a traditional singing festival originally started to preserve Estonian national identity in the face of the Tsars. The USSR attempted to harness it for their own purposes, making the festival about the fraternity of Socialist Republics and forcing the participants to carry Soviet slogans and signs, but the Estonians reversed it on them, they used the festival to bind their people together even more tightly, and to preserve and promote their identity with their own unique and long standing traditions.
The revolution is typically described as starting in the late 1980’s, but the truth is that it started far sooner than that, with the first post war singing festival in 1947, the Soviet government was attempting to harness the strong national spirit of the Estonian people to bring them in to the fold, but the Estonians had other plans. The Estonians went along with the Soviet plans for the festival, but they retained their national unity until the time was ripe for them to declare independence in 1991 as the USSR crumbled. Examples of the national unity that kept the Estonians going all those years can be seen everywhere, in one particular artifact it is particularly evident. The former Estonian national anthem (reinstated in 1990) is full of pride, and unity essential to such a small and vulnerable nation:
“My native land, my joy, delight,
How fair thou art and bright!
And nowhere in the world all round
Can ever such a place be found
So well beloved as I love thee,
My native country dear!”
While the Moscow government assumed that the people singing this song meant Russian when they said “Native Land” the vast majority of Estonians referred to their own country.
Ultimately, this iron willed national unity brought about the end of Soviet rule of Estonia in the Singing Revolution of the late 80’s, and was quickly followed by the independence of the rest of the Baltic states.
November 3, 2015 @ 06:16
I find the resilience and the continued sense of nationalism of the Estonians very impressive. Especially after all the years tat the Soviets pushed their communism and propaganda.
John Mark Mastakas
November 3, 2015 @ 11:20
Great post! I find it interesting that the Estonians were able to keep their unity all those years under the Soviet control. I also found the musical festival a curious propaganda method–seeing as it’s not a very common method. The Eastern Bloc countries are all interesting cases that seem to have to fascinating background stories with their connection to the Soviet Union. Thanks for sharing!
November 3, 2015 @ 14:34
Very interesting post. It is cool to see the similarities in present times on how Russia is trying to spread their propaganda to Eastern-European countries. The Soviets were most likely not oblivious to the situation. Did they ever try to suppress the Estonians, and if so how?
November 3, 2015 @ 15:58
It’s funny that the Estonians never gave up their homeland pride. Even today you can see in many Eastern European nations that Russian is widely spoken, but in Estonia, Estonian is the national language and the majority of speakers avoid speaking Russian. I wonder if the other ex-Bloc countries felt the same way as Estonians.
November 4, 2015 @ 09:03
I’m going to post the link to Taylor’s piece on the song festival here even though Matt already commented on it:
What did you think about the Soviets postwar anthem for Estonia? And how did it compare to the old song (which was revived after the collapse)?