Singing Revolution

Singing Revolution

The Singing Revolution is a commonly used name for events between 1987 and 1990 that led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. [*cite book | last=Thomson | first=Clare | title=The Singing Revolution: A Political Journey through the Baltic States | location=London | publisher=Joseph | year=1992 | isbn=0718134591 ] [cite journal | last=Ginkel | first=John | year=2002 | month=September | title=Identity Construction in Latvia's "Singing Revolution": Why inter-ethnic conflict failed to occur | journal=Nationalities Papers | volume=30| issue=3| pages=pp. 403–433 | doi=10.1080/0090599022000011697] The term was coined by an Estonian activist and artist, Heinz Valk, in an article published a week after the June 10-11 1988 spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. [ Between Utopia and Disillusionment By Henri Vogt; p 26] ISBN 1571818952 ]


After World War II the Baltic States had been fully incorporated into the USSR after military occupation and annexation in 1940. Mikhail Gorbachev introduced "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (restructuring) in 1985, hoping to stimulate the failing Soviet economy and encourage productivity, particularly in the areas of consumer goods, the liberalisation of co-operative businesses and the service economy. Glasnost rescinded limitations on political freedoms in the Soviet Union which led to problems within the non-Russian nations occupied unlawfully in the build-up to war in the 1940s. Hitherto unrecognised issues previously kept secret by the Moscow government were admitted to in public, causing dissatisfaction within the Baltic States. Combined with the war in Afghanistan and Chernobyl, grievances were aired in a publicly explosive and politically decisive manner. Access to Western emigre communities abroad and, particularly in Estonia, informal relations with Finland and access to Finnish TV showing the Western lifestyle also contributed to widespread dissatisfaction with the socialist system and provoked mass demonstrations as repression on dissidents, nationalists, religious communities and ordinary consumers eased substantially towards the end of the 1980s.

Massive demonstrations against the Soviet regime began after widespread liberalisation of the regime failed to take into account national sensitivities. It was hoped by Moscow that the non-Russian nations would remain within the USSR despite the removal of restrictions on freedom of speech and national icons (such as the local pre-1940 flags). However the situation deteriorated such that by 1989 there were campaigns aimed at freeing the nations from the Soviet Union altogether.


From 1987, a cycle of mass demonstrations featuring spontaneous singing eventually collected 300,000 Estonians in Tallinn to sing national songs and hymns that were strictly forbidden during the years of the Soviet occupation, as Estonian rock musicians played.

On 14 May 1988, the first expression of national feeling occurred during the Tartu Pop Music Festival. "Five patriotic songs" were first performed during this festival. People linked their hands together and a tradition had begun.

In June the Old Town Festival was held in Tallinn, and after the official part of the festival, the participants moved to the Song Festival Grounds and similarly started to sing patriotic songs together spontaneously.

On 26-28 August 1988, the Rock Summer Festival was held, and patriotic songs, composed by Alo Mattiisen, were played.

On 11 September 1988, a massive song festival, called "Song of Estonia", was held at the Tallinn Song Festival Arena. This time nearly 300,000 people came together, more than a quarter of all Estonians. On that day political leaders were participating actively, and were for the first time insisting on the restoration of independence.

On 16 November the legislative body of Estonia issued the Declaration of Sovereignty.

The Singing Revolution lasted over four years, with various protests and acts of defiance. In 1991, as Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, the Estonian Supreme Soviet together with the Congress of Estonia proclaimed the restoration of the independent state of Estonia and repudiated Soviet legislation. People acted as human shields to protect radio and TV stations from the Soviet tanks. Through these actions Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed. [ [] ]

Independence was declared on the late evening of August 20 1991, after an agreement between different political parties was reached. The next morning Soviet troops, according to Estonian TV, attempted to storm Tallinn TV Tower but were not successful. [ [ History of ETV (in Estonian)] ] The Communist hardliners' coup attempt failed amid mass pro-democracy demonstrations in Moscow led by Boris Yeltsin.


During the second half of the 1980s as Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost and perestroika in the USSR, which rolled back restrictions to freedom in the Soviet Union, aversion to the Soviet regime had grown into the third Latvian National Awakening, which reached its peak in mid-1988. The dissident movement that had been subdued in the first half of the 1980s revived in 1986.

In 1986, it became widely known to the public that the USSR was planning to build another hydroelectric power plant on Latvia's largest river Daugava, and that a decision had been made to build a subway in Riga. Both of these projects planned by Moscow could have led to the destruction of Latvia's landscape and cultural and historical wealth. In the press journalists urged the public to protest against these decisions. The public reacted immediately, and in response the Environmental Protection Club was founded on February 28, 1987. During the second half of the 1980s the Environmental Protection Club became one of the most influential mass movements in the region and began to make demands for the restoration of Latvia's independence.

On June 14, 1987, the anniversary of the 1941 deportations, the human rights group "Helsinki-86", which had been founded a year earlier, organized people to place flowers at the Freedom Monument (Latvia's symbol of independence that was erected in 1935). This was an unprecedented event that demonstrated the rebirth of national self-confidence in Latvia.

On June 1 and 2, 1988, the Writers' Union held a congress during which the democratisation of society, Latvia's economic sovereignty, the cessation of immigration from the USSR, the transformation of industry and the protection of Latvian language rights were discussed by delegates. Over the course of this conference, for the first time in post-war Latvia, the secret protocol of the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact", which had determined Latvia's fate after 1939, was publicly acknowledged.

The congress of the Writers' Union stirred up public opinion and provided an additional stimulus for the general process of national revival.

In the summer of 1988, two of the most important organisations of the revival period began to assemble themselves - the Latvian People's Front (LPF) and the Latvian National Independence Movement (LNIM). Soon afterwards the more radically inclined Citizens' Congress called for complete non-compliance with the representatives of the Soviet regime. All of these organisations had a common goal: the restoration of democracy and independence. On October 7, 1988, there was a mass public demonstration, calling for Latvia's independence and the establishment of regular judicial order. On October 8 and 9 the first congress of the Latvian People's Front was held. This organisation, which attracted 200,000 members, became the main representative of the return to independence.

On August 23, 1989, the fiftieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the People's Fronts of all three Baltic countries held a huge demonstration of unity - the "Baltic Way". A 600 km long human "chain" from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius was assembled. This was a symbolic demonstration of the people's call for independence from the Soviet Union.

New elections to the Supreme Soviet took place on March 18, 1990, in which the supporters of independence gained a victory. On May 4, 1990, the new Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopted a motion, "Declaration of Independence", which called for the restoration of the inter-war Latvian state and the 1922 Constitution.

In January 1991, however, pro-communist political forces attempted to restore Soviet power. With the use of force, attempts were made to overthrow the new assembly. Latvian demonstrators managed to stop the Soviet troops from re-occupying strategic positions, and these events are known as the "Days of the Barricades".

On August 19, 1991, an unsuccessful attempt at a coup d'état took place in Moscow when a small group of prominent Soviet functionaries failed to regain power due to large pro-democracy demonstrations in Russia. This event resulted in Latvia swiftly moving toward independence. After the coup's failure the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian Republic announced on August 21, 1991, that the transition period to full independence declared on May 4, 1990 had come to an end. Therefore Latvia was proclaimed a fully independent nation whose judicial foundation stemmed back to the statehood that existed before the occupation on June 17, 1940.


Thousands of people regularly gathered in public places across Lithuania and sang national songs and Roman Catholic hymns. The popularity of patriotic songs had risen significantly during this period. Many popular singers had followed this trend, often using the poetry of nationalist poets, such as Bernardas Brazdžionis or Justinas Marcinkevičius as the lyrics of their songs.

On June 3, 1988, the Sąjūdis, a political and social movement to lead the independence and pro-democracy movement, was established.

The active nationalist opposition towards the regime culminated in the return of Vilnius Cathedral, formerly used as a museum of fine arts, to the Catholic community on 21 October 1988, followed by the gradual restoration of national symbols, which included the erection or restoration of independence monuments throughout the country. The national anthem of Lithuania and the traditional national Tricolore were legalised in Lithuania on 18 November 1988, officially replacing the flag and the anthem of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Five decades after Lithuania was occupied and incorporated into the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first republic to declare its independence from the USSR on March 11, 1990, and was later followed by Latvia and Estonia. However, almost all nations in the international community, except Iceland, hesitated to recognize independence for Lithuania until August 1991.

The Soviet military responded harshly. On January 13, 1991, fourteen non-violent protesters in Vilnius died and hundreds were injured defending the Vilnius Television Tower and the Parliament from Soviet assault troops and tanks. Lithuanians referred to the event as Bloody Sunday. The discipline and courage of its citizens - linking arms and singing in the face of tanks and armor-piercing bullets - avoided a much greater loss of life and showed the world that Lithuania's citizens were prepared to defend national independence.

The international community recognised Lithuanian independence after the failure of the coup d’état in August 1991.

ee also

* Baltic Way
* Non-violent revolution

Notes and references

External links

* [ Lithuanian history, including information about Bloody Sunday]
* [ Audio interviews of two leaders of Lithuania's Singing Revolution: Vytautas Landsbergis and Valdas Adamkus, current President of the Republic of Lithuania]
* [ The U.S.-Baltic Foundation: "Film: Estonia's Singing Revolution"]
* [ Tallinn-Life: "A Brief Guide to the Estonian Singing Revolution"]
* [ US documentary film of the Estonian Singing Revolution]
* [ Singing Revolution on YouTube (brief intro only)]

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