The Singing Revolution Explained

The Singing Revolution Explained

I’m Mr. Beat Say it’s 1986, and you wanna get out of the Soviet Union. Well, you could sing your way out. (Huh?) Here’s the story of the only revolution whose defining characteristic was….um, yeah….singing. (Estonian patriotic singing) Alright you all, they get the point. It was the Singing Revolution. (intro) August 23, 1989. Around two million people join hands to form a continuous human chain spanning 676 kilometers, or 420 miles, across three countries. Those three countries, also known as the Baltic States, are Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Well, today they are independent countries. Back then, not so much. The Soviet Union bossed them around quite a bit, you could say. And that is precisely why these two million people had joined hands. They were protesting being controlled and oppressed by the Soviet Union, a country that uh, does NOT exist today. But hold up, what do I see here? They’re singing? And they’re all smiling? What kind of protest is that? Well, it’s one that worked. The Baltic states were the first three Soviet Republics to successfully declare independence, eventually leading to fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 after 12 other Soviet Republics also declared independence. The Singing Revolution usually refers to all the events between about 1987 and 1991 that led to the restoration of independence of the Baltic states. Heinz Valk, an Estonian artist and activist, first popularized the term, and I think it fits. It started out on February 25, 1987, when Estonian TV reported the Soviet Union’s plans to mine phosphorite in the northeastern part of the state. The ruling government of Estonia, the Estonian Communist Party, had hid the plans from the public and even lied about saying it would give Estonians a say before they approved the mining. Well Estonians didn’t like this so much. These mines would cause a lot of environmental damage. Not only that, the new mines would bring a predominately Russian workforce into their state, and thus further threaten their culture. So they protested, which was a lot easier to do now that Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, had implemented a policy called glasnost, or a policy of having a more transparent government that in turn listened more to the citizens of the Soviet Union. Before, protesting could get you in jail. Now, protesting was easier. Besides, the Estonians protested peacefully. It was classic non-violent resistance. But what about the singing? Well before Estonians had to sing Soviet songs. Now, they could sing whatever. And then two dudes named Alo Mattiisen and Jüri Leesment made a song called “No Land Is Alone,” a song about the bond all Estonians had. A bunch of pop stars performed the song and it became a national hit. And with the song came a huge wave of patriotism across Estonia. Meanwhile, in neighboring Latvia, they had been protesting the Soviet Union’s plan to build another hydroelectric power plant along its largest river, the Daugava, which also would have caused environmental damage. But the Singing Revolution really took off in May 1988, after the aforementioned Mattiisen and Leesment debuted the “Five Patriotic Songs” series at the Tartu Pop Festival. They basically modernized old choral songs, giving them lyrics that referenced the neglect and oppression by the Soviet government. In June, more patriotic songs debuted at the Old Town Festival in Tallinn. Afterward, thousands of Estonians went out to the Song Festival Grounds and continued to spontaneously sing these patriotic songs. A few years before this, they could have been arrested for doing this. Now, it literally seemed like everyone in the country was singing these songs. There was no political party organizing it. It was grassroots…just ordinary people fed up with Soviet rule. Soon after, the Singing Revolution had spread to Lithuania, a heavily Roman Catholic country. They started singing Catholic hymns, in addition to their own patriotic songs. By the end of the summer of ‘88, pop singers were performing these patriotic songs at both music festivals and political events, usually with tens of thousands of folks in the audience singing right along with them. At one festival in Lithuania, singers displayed a pre-Soviet Lithuanian flag on stage. When Soviet officials tried to remove the flag, other choir members blocked them from getting to it. By the end of 1988, the whole world was watching, and Gorbachev knew if he intervened and forced the Baltic state citizens to stop…um…you know, singing, that might look a little bad? And so, they kept singing. In the summer of 1989, the Baltic states united for the first time to send a big message to the Soviet Union, and they wanted to do it on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, aka the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, the secret deal the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany made when they agreed not to attack each other and control other parts of the world. Yep, it was the deal that first set up forced control of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. That big message was the Baltic Way. I told you about that already. Remember? In the first minute of the video? Do we really need to go back and watch this thing again? Oh my gosh, ok…go ahead and put the video up here Let’s show them…yeah That’s it…go ahead August 23, 1989. Around two million people join hands to form a continuous human chain spanning 676 kilometers Is it ringing a bell now? across three countries So yeah, around 2 million of the 8 million people who lived in the Baltic states participated. That’s right, a staggering ¼ of the population showed up, peacefully linking hands for 15 minutes along city streets, country roads, and highways, linking the three capitals of the three countries- Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. It was one of the longest unbroken human chains in history. The Baltic Way showed the world the three countries were united against Soviet oppression. It also inspired singing protests in other Soviet Republics, like Moldova. The Soviet authorities responded to the Baltic Way with verbal condemnation that was mostly ineffective. In the end, the world seemed to be on the side of the Baltic states. Less than seven months after the Baltic Way protests, Lithuania became the first Soviet Republic to declare independence. This was after Soviet troops killed 14 unarmed civilians and injured hundreds more. A few months after declaring independence, Soviet troops killed seven Lithuanian servicemen. Estonians voted for independence shortly after Lithuania, and Latvians voted for it a couple months after that. But the Soviet Union wasn’t done trying to hold on to the countries yet. In January 1991, as many as 32,000 Latvians built barricades to prevent the Soviet Army from reaching their Parliament building and other important buildings and bridges in Riga. The Soviets tried to break through the barricades anyway, killing six Latvians. Estonians chose August 20, 1991 as the actual day that independence was officially restored for the country. The next morning, Soviet troops attempted to take over the Tallinn TV Tower and some radio stations to spew out Soviet propaganda, but were unable to due to Estonian volunteers forming human shields blocking their entrance. After about 10 minutes, the Soviet troops retreated. A few months later, the Soviet Union did not exist anymore. The Singing Revolution was over. The Baltic states had a long history of protesting oppressive governments through singing, so The Singing Revolution seemed like a fitting final chapter for their independence. While researching for this video, I checked out a documentary about the Singing Revolution of the same name and I recommend it if you want to learn more about it in depth. I put a link to the documentary in the description of this video. Oh, and if YOU want to start a revolution, Consider singing. It’s much better than genocide. This video was part of a huge, one could say revolutionary collaboration between myself and 18 other history YouTubers We’ve made a whole playlist, and it’s called Project Revolution It features 19 videos about 19 different revolutions throughout human history. It’s amazing. Just binge watch the whole thing. The video before mine is by Hikma History It’s about the Ataturk Revolution in Turkey The one after mine…well…there isn’t one after mine because I’m the last in the series. I’m LAST. But if you want to go back to the beginning of the series, the very first one is by my friend Stefan Milo. He has a video about the Neolithic Revolution. So again, check out the whole thing. Subscribe to all the channels. Support history on YouTube. Thank you so much for watching.

100 thoughts on “The Singing Revolution Explained

  1. Project Revolution (the entire playlist):
    What do you think was the most important revolution in human history?

  2. I was only 2 years-old when I stood there in that human chain. (well, kind of stood, more like been held by my parents)

  3. The Rest of the playlist: we killed people and did incredible patriotic deeds to get independence
    The Estonians: hold my microphone

  4. Never did I think I'd see a reliable video in english on Youtube about the Singing Revolution. I'm happy to be wrong! 🇱🇻

  5. When I saw the title I thought the video was going to be about the changes in singing throughout history

  6. I'm convinced Mattiisen and Leesment were just David Hasselhoff in disguise, practising for tearing down the Berlin Wall.

  7. Thank you so much! It means a lot to us Estonians, also to Latvians and Lithuanians that this topic is being covered!

  8. If you gaze long into a video on the singing revolution gazing into itself the singing revolution stares back at you

  9. It touches me to see this video. Not only because I’m Estonian. But twice you briefly feature my late mother in the video. She was among many of those who spoke publicly about the oppressive Soviets and virtually spent her whole adult life helping push for re-independence of the Baltic States.
    Thank you so much for making and sharing this video!

  10. The Baltic States did more to bring down the Soviet Union that anyone in the USA thinks Reagan did.

  11. Indirect protests of the SSRs goes back to the mid seventies looking at the art of the time. This is just an example of direct rebellion.

  12. Great video! As a Latvian myself I appreciate people shining light on this topic as few people outside the Baltic know about this event. Can I also mention that before all these events there were secret meetings that discussed independence (my grandmother participated in these meetings).

  13. Many thanks for this video, most of the facts and pronunciations were on point, good luck in the future from Estonia!

  14. The revolution started 100 years earlier with nationalism rising worldldwide. Lookup Talling Song Festival Grounds in wiki.
    tionalistic dongs

  15. The Baltics, though in military not too powerful, through culture, one of the strongest we've ever seen

  16. Um… I'm here to support history on YouTube. Uh… thank you to everyone involved in this thing. I'm feeling more well informed by the hour.

  17. When soviet Union exist in 70s the there was peace, but after the collapse in 90s there was war, crisis, murderers

  18. Wow, such a beautiful thing
    Very brave and nice people
    Respect from 🇹🇷 to 🇪🇪🇱🇹🇱🇻

  19. We estonians like to say that we were peaceful and tore down soviet union with other baltics. Estonians, latvians and lithuanians will stay strong together. Ei ole üksi ükski maa!

  20. Fuck, I cant stop crying! These songs are so beautiful, I always sing them proudly on indipendence days of Estonia and yes we have 2 indipendence days.

  21. Ugh… You picked the lamest revolution out of the Baltics.

    The Forest Brothers is the better revolution.

    Also the singing didn't do much in Lithuania, rather it was the massacre at the Television tower that was the tipping point.

  22. They wanted to build a metro in Riga also, many were against it for the same reason as Estonians protested against that mine

  23. Soviet Union was on the verge of bankruptcy due to Afghan war and the subsequent arms race started by Reagan who was aware of USSR's financial situation. So the glasnost had to happen.

  24. I'm from Lithuania, so this revolution has a special place in my heart 😀 (also, Baltics vs USSR, Baltics win, gg)

  25. Respectfully, I disagree. Genocide is a much better way to get what I want in a revolution, over singing. At least if I kill off the people I don't want to be here, they can't shut down my revolution.

  26. I had heard about this some time ago in Estonia and found it really interesting. Best revolution 10/10

  27. It needs to be admitted, this could not have happened w/o Gorbachev. I am not saying he WANTED this to happen, but he let it happen b/c of his own peculiar character. I know he was a truly passionately committed Marxist & he did everything to save the Marxist state. In the end he was a decent, fair minded person. He might have really believed the democratic & justice minded rhetoric of the communists. He didn't see that the Soviet Union was built on the power of the KGB.
    Thank God these people got free b/f the old KGB colonel took over Russia.

  28. Great video as always Mr. Beat! Sorry I’m late to the party. It took a while to get through the rest of this fantastic revolutions series. I heard about The Singing Revolutions before, but wow! They kind of put Woodstock and Live-Aid to shame. A great follow-up might be about the rock band, The Plastic People of the Universe and The Prague Spring.

  29. Dude, mr beat, why did you talked about in more detail about Estonia and Lithuania, but not that much Latvia? Why do anybody always exclude Latvia or just swipe it under the rug? #offended

  30. There is a really good movie about the Lithuanian side of the singing revolution , called "Mes Dainuosim" or "We will sing" It is in Lithuanian , and I do not know if they have an English translation.

  31. Hey, great video, one comment: the baltic countries were occupied by the soviet union, we have officially been an independent country since 1918

  32. Why were the Baltic states annexed rather than being independent parts of the Warsaw Pact that would come later?

  33. So, the Soviet Union could handle

    1. The White Russian Army
    2. Nestor Makhno's army of Anarchists
    3. The Freaking Nazis
    4. Hungarian Revolutionaries
    5. Czechoslovak College Students

    But not a bunch of signing Baltic people?

  34. I think i'm late to watch the video. lol But greetings from Lithuania! I don't usually name real name on anywhere except facebook. :)) SO I love the freedom!

  35. Why The Baltics Hate Communism… it’s Because They’re Reactionary Assholish, Bootlicking Fascist Fuckfarts Who are Loyal to The Nazi Bourgeosie.


  36. I haven't been there as I haven't been born then. I born in free Lithuania next year after events. but I am so grateful for my parents and sister and all other people joining the human chain and January 13th events. <3

  37. I really appreciate you making this video because the Baltics deserve recognition for their strength. However, there are a few small but vital pieces of fact that I wish could be corrected:
    Lithuania declares independence: March 11, 1990
    Soviet soldiers forcefully try to retake the power in Vilnius, killing 14 Lithuanian civilians: January 13, 1991 (a month after Gorbachev received the Nobel Piece prize)

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