October 22, 2006
TALLINN: Thousands of people packed into Tallinn’s medieval City Hall Square yesterday to give Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II a musical send-off from the Baltic states.
When the 80-year-old monarch arrived in the cobbled square at 11am, it was teeming with people eager to meet her during one of her popular walkabouts, where she mingles with ordinary citizens, before an open-air choral concert called ‘Estonia Sings’.
Dozens of people had a chance to hand her flowers or small pictures they had painted for the occasion, including 12-year-old Heidi Tiik.
“I was able to present a small picture of a sunset at the seaside to the queen,” Heidi said proudly. I like drawing and I’m so happy the queen now has my picture.”
The queen, wearing a pale pink coat and matching hat, listened attentively afterwards as the music of the choral concert washed over a sea of several thousand people waving the Union Jack and Estonian tricolour flags.
“The idea of the concert is to present Estonia as what we are – a singing nation,” conductor Aarne Saluveer said. Estonia, a nation of 1.33mn people, has been holding huge choral music festivals since 1869.
In 2004, when the last national festival of song was held, 34,000 performers sang before an audience of 200,000.
Yesterday’s concert was also a tribute to the so-called Singing Revolution, the peaceful demonstrations accompanied by Estonian choral songs, that helped at the end of the 1980s to bring an end to nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation.
“We sang Estonia free at the time”; Saluveer said. “It’s very fitting to recall it today, when we, as a free nation, can welcome the British queen.” Elizabeth II began the first ever visit by a British monarch to the Baltic states on Monday in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
There, and in Latvia and Estonia, she has praised the Baltic people for their strength in the face of oppression and their determination to regain independence.
All three Baltic nations were occupied by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II and then wiped off the map in 1945, when they were forcibly incorporated into the USSR.
“I have seen three very different countries but have seen one feature that you all share. It is that indomitable spirit, which was able to keep alive the flame of independence, despite all attempts to extinguish it, during the very worst of times,” the queen said during a state dinner here on Thursday.
“It is this spirit which has driven forward the rapid political, economic and social change in all your countries, change which is not something to be measured simply by statistics but in the freedom, peace and prosperity which all your peoples now enjoy.”
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania regained independence from Moscow in 1991.
After the choral concert, the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, moved on to Tallinn’s Old Port for a ceremony on board British Royal Navy ship HMS Liverpool to highlight the close military ties between Britain and Estonia. – AFP