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A single nation joined in song 20 years ago in a peaceful demonstration against Soviet annexation and the Communist system. The mass protests against Russian occupation by Estonia and the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania, began in the late 1980s.
View of Tallinn
But precisely 20 years ago this summer, thousands of Estonians packed into the Tallinn Song Festival grounds broke into spontaneous song, chanting patriotic and national songs forbidden by the Soviet regime. The Estonian Singing Revolution, which culminated in full independence in 1991, had begun. The capital, Tallinn, has been commemorating and re-living the events of 20 years ago.
In a park by the sea, not far from the centre of Tallinn, some 100,000 Estonians gathered on Tuesday evening this week to celebrate Estonia’s independence from the Soviet Union.
They remembered how the climate of perestroika and glasnost under the then-president, Mikhail Gorbachev had inspired them to protest in various ways. There was the creation of a human chain between the three Baltic capitals, and then the choral revolution.
Not a Carnation Revolution, not a Rose Revolution this time. But then again, singing is in the Estonian blood.
Many who gathered for the commemoration on Tuesday evening are too young to remember the emotional song protest of two decades ago. According to 25-year-old Tenn, who wandered around the Singing Revolution as a toddler, many young people came to the commemoration this year as a mark of support for Georgia.
Estonia – like Georgia, a small neighbouring country of powerful Russia – feels politically connected with the Caucasian republic. Last week, the Estonian president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, travelled with his Lithuanian and Polish counterparts to Tbilisi to support Georgia. And Estonia has sent aid workers to the areas ravaged by the conflict.
Soviet memorabilia such as this poster of Stalin can now only be found in antique stores in Tallinn
Georgia and Estonia are united both by their political ties and their troublesome relations with Russia. Last year, relations between Estonia and Russia deteriorated even further after Tallinn removed a Soviet-era war memorial, a sculpture known as The Bronze Soldier, from the capital’s city centre.
For many Estonians, the recent events in the Caucasus show that Russia’s past imperialist behaviour can still be revived. According to a survey, a large percentage of the Estonian people feel that the events in Georgia increase the threat of a possible Russian invasion of their country. That’s the overriding feeling of the ethnic Estonians, who constitute 75 percent of the population. The other 25 percent, made up of Russians, don’t share that sentiment.
The events in Georgia have given the Estonian commemoration of the Singing Revolution a whole new dimension. They show that freedom still can’t be taken for granted, said President Ilves during Tuesday’s gathering:
“Forty years ago, the west abandoned Czechoslovakia”, he said, referring to the Prague Spring. “Today, Estonia will not abandon Georgia.”