The Singing Revolution Explained

Mr. Beat is a social studies teacher who specializes in making history and geography more engaging

Mr. Beat tells the story of the only revolution in world history that was all about singing- The Singing Revolution.

Project Revolution playlist:

Hikma History's video:

Stefan Milo's video:

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Produced by Matt Beat. All images by Matt Beat, found in the public domain, or used under fair use guidelines. Music by Electric Needle Room (Mr. Beat's band). #projectrevolution #singingrevolution #apeuro

Special thanks to the AP Archive for footage for this video.



The Singing Revolution- Nonviolent Protest in Estonia (2006) (excerpts shown in the video)

Photo credits:


Ave Maria Mõistlik


James St. John


archer10 (Dennis)

Rimantas Lazdynas



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.

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.

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

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Comments (2)
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Philip Carino
Philip Carino

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