The Power of Song
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The Power of Song

Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution

Guntis Smidchens

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eBook - ePub

The Power of Song

Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution

Guntis Smidchens

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About This Book

The Power of Song shows how the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania confronted a military superpower and achieved independence in the Baltic �Singing Revolution.� When attacked by Soviet soldiers in public displays of violent force, singing Balts maintained faith in nonviolent political action. More than 110 choral, rock, and folk songs are translated and interpreted in poetic, cultural, and historical context.

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Balts Speak to America, July 4, 1998

They walk onto the main stage at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, DC: one hundred fifty Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians, carrying the three national flags: blue-black-white, red-white-red, and yellow-green-red. Lithuanian shepherds’ horns and Latvian bagpipes play fanfares, answered by enthusiastic applause from the audience that fills every available seat. This concert celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the Baltic Singing Revolution.1
[First to speak is Estonian ethnomusicologist Ingrid Rüütel:]
A large empire can assert itself with the power of a Goliath.
A small nation like the Estonians needs the wisdom and cleverness of a David.
Living under foreign powers for hundreds of years, we have developed a strategy of self-preservation.
It is external adaptation, but internal remaining ourselves.
We could not liberate ourselves by brandishing weapons.
For the renewal of our independence, we needed to find our own path.
At the critical moments we managed to unite diverse political forces, and diverse sectors of the people, in the name of a common goal.
And we fought ourselves free singing, raising our blue-black-white flags.
The victorious, bloodless singing revolution of a small nation is unique in the history of the world.
The Singing Revolution was a process, not an event, and because of that it is difficult to determine its beginning.
It was the heritage protection movement.
It was the demonstration in Hirve Park, where the so-called dissidents, who had maintained the idea of freedom throughout the Soviet period, now were first to unfurl the slogan of renewed independence.
It was the Song of Estonia event on the Tallinn song festival grounds, organized by the largest people’s movement, the Rahvarinne [Popular Front], and other mass events.
It was the crowd of people who assembled on Dom Hill, who with their cold-blooded calm, and with their self-control, dispersed the crowds of the Russian so-called Interfront which had attacked the government building of Estonia, and sang and danced through the night, defending this building.
It was the 1990 National song festival, which ended with spontaneous songs and dances, and much much more.
Besides the Estonian national character, which is quite stubborn and obstinate, but at the same time level-headed and determined,
Besides the entire Estonian people’s unshakeable desire for independence,
Our cultural traditions also played an essential role.
For centuries, the rituals of Estonians have been accompanied by group singing.
In the second half of the past century an essential activity of the antifeudal and national liberation movement was the battle for an Estonian-language school.
Another of its essential activities was the large folklore collection project led by Jakob Hurt.
And the massive song festivals.
Song festivals maintained their role as confirmation and expression of national and cultural self-awareness throughout the Soviet period.
During the days of the Singing Revolution, old patriotic songs and old traditional songs came back into circulation,
Also popular songs that appeared at the beginning of this century during the period of Estonia’s political independence.
But during the days of the Singing Revolution, entirely new songs were born, too. Among them songs by the young composer Alo Mattiisen, in which the characteristics of the oldest Estonian folk songs were combined in an original way with elements of modern rock music.
Those songs were performed at mass political meetings by the youth ensemble In Spe, with the popular lead singer Ivo Linna.
His hypnotic, incantation-like verses were repeated by thousands of people.
With one such song I would like to end my brief talk, and after that we will sing a few other songs of the Estonian singing revolution.
[The audience applauds enthusiastically. Heavy-metal electric guitar chords explode over the loudspeakers, and the Estonians on stage sing along to the recorded, amplified refrain of a Singing Revolution anthem:]
Guarding the beautiful fatherland, fighting against the enemy:
Remember, remember, remember, remember!
[The exhilarating feeling of national revival has ominous undertones. Ivo Linna’s voice chants incantations in the eight-syllable meter of regilaul, the archaic Estonian folk songs, and the singers on stage repeat after him:]
If you truly trust yourself (If you truly trust yourself),
And the wisdom of wise people (and the wisdom of wise people),
And the shoulders of strong people (and the shoulders of strong people),
And the power of the ancients (and the power of the ancients),
And the quickness of the young men (and the quickness of the young men),
And the sisters and the brothers (and the sisters and the brothers),
And above all, trust yourself (and above all, trust yourself):
Then you’ll get a better life (then you’ll get a better life).
Guarding the beautiful fatherland, fighting against the enemy:
Remember! Remember! Remember! Remember!
If you trust the wolf’s slick stories (If you trust the wolf’s slick stories),
If you fear the hounds’ mad howling (If you fear the hounds’ mad howling),
If you listen to the landlord’s cursing (If you listen to the landlord’s cursing),
If you trust the servants’ snitching (If you trust the servants’ snitching),
And the glutton’s greed for more (and the glutton’s greed for more),
And the views of the vile person (and the views of the vile person),
And the scolding of the senseless (and the scolding of the senseless):
Then you won’t get anything.
Guarding the beautiful fatherland, fighting against the enemy:
Remember! Remember! Remember! Remember!
If you sink into false stories (If you sink into false stories),
If you drown yourself in dreams (If you drown yourself in dreams),
Grovel when you’re given orders (grovel when you’re given orders),
Bow down low before the ruble (bow down low before the ruble),
You’ll get lice between the legs (you’ll get lice between the legs),
You’ll get hives inside your heart (you’ll get hives inside your heart),
Sores on your skull, bones in your belly (sores on your skull, bones in your belly):
Then you’ll go to hell.
Guarding the beautiful fatherland, fighting against the enemy:
Remember! Remember! Remember! Remember!
If you truly trust yourself (If you truly trust yourself),
Then you’ll trul...

Table of contents

Citation styles for The Power of Song
APA 6 Citation
Smidchens, G. (2014). The Power of Song ([edition unavailable]). University of Washington Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2014)
Chicago Citation
Smidchens, Guntis. (2014) 2014. The Power of Song. [Edition unavailable]. University of Washington Press.
Harvard Citation
Smidchens, G. (2014) The Power of Song. [edition unavailable]. University of Washington Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Smidchens, Guntis. The Power of Song. [edition unavailable]. University of Washington Press, 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.