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.

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

  2. Great video 👍 as usual. I signed up to be a patreon but received an email that they couldn't take it out of my military pension account.. I guess they are trying to protect us old folks.. I straightened it all out with the bank.. hopefully it will work out next apologies, I really love your show.. sincerely jeffrey..have a great weekend sir

  3. In Youtube is Alo Mattiisen Mingem Ules Magedelle LP . Singing Revolution in estonian language is Laulev Revolutsioon.

  4. You can't talk those processes at large without talking about stuff that was going on in Russia at that same time or it would seem that Russians were there to supress Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1980s-1990s. Of course, there were huge crimes against people of Baltic states in 1940s committed by Stalin's regime (though we certainly have no right to say that Russian people were not damaged by this regime – one of two bloddiest dictatorships in European history), but in times of Gorbachev most of Russians were pro-democratic and were against any decision on Baltic states' independence problem that would lead to violence.
    As a lot of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian nationalist propaganda sources do, you (I'm not saying that you are Baltic nationalist sources – of course, you aren't; I just don't know how to better express it in English, meaning that you do the same mistake) make a lot of mistakes just by tearing the Baltic events out from events in all-Union political stage, especially those that were happening in Moscow. For example, you describe the attempt to capture television center in Tallinn, but this attempt was committed by supporters of anti-democratic military coup, that was acting in a lot of places along Soviet Union. As most Soviet republics were ruled by democratic forces (for example, in 1990 Russia elected Boris Yeltsin – a man who was kicked out of Communist Party for criticizing Gorbachev's perestroyka and glasnost reforms for being not enough – as President of Russia), some high members of all-Union government (in particular, Vice President of USSR, Prime Minister of USSR, USSR Minister for Internal Affairs, USSR Minister for Defence and Head of KGB) supported by several military divisions tried to "save" USSR (and their own positions). They arrested President of USSR (it was a real position since 1990, when it became a prize on open competitive election) Gorbachev in Crimea and captured several key buildings in Moscow, including Ostankino, which is the main television center in Moscow. Several days later hundreds of thousand democratic volunteers – ordinary people who lived in Moscow – led by Yeltsin convinced military leaders in Moscow to switch sides and support common people, ending this coup. After all that, all-Union government lost any meaning, but still most of republics (9 out of 15) supported the idea of being one single democratic federative state, the independence of Baltic states (as well as Moldova, Georgia and Armenia) was officially recognized and noone cared to bring them back to Union in late-1991. Fate of the Union was, actually, decided in December 1991, when leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus met and came to the conclusion that final dissolution of Union is better and confirmed the independence of their three states and leaders of other six states were officially recommended to leave the Union too (President of USSR got to know about the event from media and immediately recognised this decision, though being humiliated).
    As you see, saying that "Soviet soldiers tried to capture the television center in Tallinn" and saying that "members of military coup, in attempt to overthrow democraticly-elected governments of Soviet Union and its member states, tried to capture the television center in Tallinn at the same time as their allies were trying to capture the television center in Moscow" are crucially different things with different meanings.

    I am a huge fan of your videos for three years and this channel is one of three channels of YouTube that I have notification bell turned on, but I'm very sorry, it was the first video of yours I ever disliked (I know that it's no big deal for you, but it is a big deal for me).

    The Singing Revolution is a part of a huge democratic movement that was happening in every corner of Soviet Union, including the main one – Russia. The baltic part of this movement was very nationalistic (it's very understandable – those countries were independent for 22 years before official annexation in 1940 and came up to a distinctive legacy, which was critically harmed by Stalin and later – by huge amount of Russians and Ukrainians who came to live in these republics) and they often want to see themselves as the only heroes in their struggle for independence, but several years before that the Singing Revolution really could be drowned in blood by Soviet government and the reason why it did not happened is the democratic evolution of USSR and, most of all, Russia in the late 1980s. Russian people and Soviet soldiers (who were mostly Russian people) are not enemies in this situation as they are often described.

    P.S. As I've wrote this comment, I would actually like to thank you for your job and your research. In 99,99% of cases you are doing a great job and I, as many of your followers, appreciate it very much, though being quiet in this appreciation.

  5. This feels like trying too hard to form a simple narrative with revolution starting in Estonia and spreading southwards gradually. People were never all that happy with occupation, but in 1980s Soviet Union had many troubles and then also allowed for people to discuss its past crimes and protest, so the dissent grew. And that happened simultameously in three different countries, but since the goals were simmilar, there was collaboration and each took inspiration from others. An Estonian seeing what was happening came up with a poetic name that was seen as good and adopted by other countries, but the revolution itself didn't start at that point. In general you don't come up with a name for your revolution and then proceed to have it in orderly fashion, things are allready happening when someone looks around at what's happening and suggests a name accordingly.

  6. Very cool! I'm a lithuanian myself and i'm very proud of this revolution. 😀

    Edit: Thanks for the heart!

  7. Ah yes you didn't mention that the 1st country that leave the USSR was Russia and these people protests against socialism as well not just against the Russians
    And really do you think that the singing do change something

  8. So you say singing is much better than genocide?… Hm… Never thought about it in that way.. Maybe I'll have to change my plans…

  9. 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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

  16. 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!

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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).

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

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

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

  23. 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.

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

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

  26. 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!

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

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

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

  31. 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.

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

  33. 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.

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

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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

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