During my first visit to Tallinn in 2009 I was privileged enough to witness a magnificent spectacle…
25,000 Estonians – young and old – all wearing national dress, standing on a magnificent semi-circular stage in front of a crowd well in excess of 100,000, all singing patriot, historic, emotional songs of freedom, together. United.
This is the essence of the National Song Festival. Every five years, a huge portion of the population gather here in The Song Festival Grounds to celebrate freedom from the Soviet Union. Singers from up and down the whole country will make their way to the capital for this very important day. The pride of being chosen to be part of this giant choir is evident from the volume and power with which the songs are sung.
This day of national celebration has its roots in the Singing Revolution: a series of mass demonstrations that began gathering pace in the late 1980s, where huge crowds would congregate in public places to sing national songs and hymns that had been strictly forbidden by the Soviet regime. These gatherings formed part of a singing tradition that pre-dated the Soviet occupation, providing extra gravitas and symbolism to these brave acts of defiance.
As many as 300,000 Estonians were drawn to Tallinn to participate in these demonstrations.
As theses public displays of patriotic, non-violent protest gained pace, the Soviet Union was showing all the signs of a regime in decline. It was almost as if the strength of Estonian patriotism was driving out the unwanted totalitarian presence.
Independence was declared in 1991, over four years after The Sing Revolution had begun. As Soviet tanks attempted to stop the progress towards independence, ordinary Estonian citizens joined hands to form human shields and protect radio and TV stations from the last desperate actions of a superpower on its knees.
Remarkably, Estonia regained its independence without any bloodshed.
As a fresh-faced traveller, discovering this wonderful city for the first time, the June of 2009 was a special time for me. To witness this outpouring of emotion, the power of 150,00 voices singing as one and the juxtaposition between the euphoria of freedom and the memory of those who perished in the darker times was a very moving experience. I truly believe that my relationship with Tallinn began on that day.
I came back to Estonian again last summer to be there for the next National Song Festival. The pictures featured in this post were taken on this second visit, in June 2014. Thanks to Kerli Luure for providing them.