The Singing Revolution, by Priit Vesilind
Review by W. J. Rayment / ConservativeBookstore -- The Singing Revolution by Priit Vesilind, with James and Maureen Tusty, is a fascinating and inspiring story of modern Estonia and its long struggle for freedom. There is both a book and a documentary film on the Singing Revolution. This is a review of the book.
The Estonian language and people derive from Finnish-Hungarian roots. Yet the people were long dominated by German invaders attempting to conquer the region economically, militarily, and culturally. The location of Estonia has made it (much like Belgium) a pathway for armies. The nation has typically been exploited by its large and belligerent neighbors (either the Germans or the Russians). Ivan IV of Russia coveted the region for its outlet to the Baltic Sea. The book, "Singing Revolution" gives a concise overview of this history. Priit Vesilind, himself a native of Estonia, writes a clear narrative that is both interesting and enlightening on a subject not very familiar to most.
Singing and song has always been a vital part of Estonian culture. It early manifested itself in songs of sorrow, toil, and determination under Germanic occupiers. Later this folk music would spring to full life, with vibrant meaning, in resistance to Soviet occupation. Though the people long hungered for freedom from foreign oppressors, it was not until the end of World War I that Estonia would first gain independence. As a result of the Treaty of Versailles this ethnic area, with barely one million people, became a country. However, independence did not last, in 1939 the Russians invaded Estonia, claiming it as a part of the Soviet Union.
At this point in the book, Priit Vesilind does a great job tying in personal stories of individuals. He brings to life the true nature of the Soviet occupation where hundreds of thousands were executed, deported, or driven into exile. In 1941 the Germans once more marched their way through Estonia, throwing out the communists, but imposing their own brand of cruelty on the people. The Germans remained for three years. There is a very interesting comment in the book by an engineer, Paul Vesilind, "The Germans were after your things, but the Russians were after your mind and soul."
Of course, the Soviets came back through and retook Estonia. After World War II the country would be given to the Soviet Union by the western powers, which were worn out with the long war with Nazi Germany. Under Stalin, repression remained severe. A massive immigration of Russians was forced upon the country. But the people resisted, not militarily, but with their culture. It manifested itself in the form of singing. Every five years or so, nearly the entire country would gather in a concert/festival to sing. The songs mandated by the Soviet Union praised the dictator, but free thought somehow slipped in, and in the folk songs of the nation the people's yearning for freedom found expression.
This book is really the story of how this singing transformed the country, and ultimately gave the people the courage to stand up for their independence from the Soviet Union. Eventually, Estonia would gain its freedom. This is an inspiring story that should be read and understood by all peoples - the idea that totalitarianism can and must be resisted the world over.
The Singing Revolution DVD is available at Amazon. The book is available at the Singing Revolution Store.