Revolution on film, part 2: The Singing Revolution
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down.”
Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy
What do you get when one of the smallest nations in the world is completely absorbed into the biggest, most ruthless empire in the world, and tries to get its independence back with only song for weapons?
Not to mention that the occupying power has colonized the tiny country to the point that they now amount to forty percent of the population.
What do you get when obscure indie film makers with limited funds, and word-of-mouth publicity, make a documentary about a country not one in a hundred Americans could find on a map, and a musical score that is entirely a capella choral singing in a language not one American in a thousand has even heard?
Possibly the best documentary film ever made.
you may request that it be brought to your area.
I just saw it in a beautifully restored theater, vintage 1926 in Fargo. I also saw the aftermath of the The Singing Revolution in Estonia in the early 90s, shortly after independence.
This is not just a stunning video experience, but a video textbook on how a successful revolution against overwhelming odds is managed.
The lesson I saw in The Singing Revolution was, "many strategies - one goal."
The Estonian resistance was run on many competing fronts. From the radicals, lead by people like Mart Laar (a friend of a friend, and a staunch Milton Friedmanite, I'm dying to meet him), to moderates who the radicals scared to death, to members of the Estonian Communist Party who "worked within the system."
But what motivated them all was independence for Estonia - and when the opportunity presented itself, they seized it and voted for independence unanimously.
What brought them together, year after year, was the national song festival, attended by from 20,000 to 30,000 people every four years.
First co-opted by the Soviets and made to sing endless verses of "The International" and "Hymn of the Soviet Union," they spontaneously began to sing their own songs in their own tongue, most notably "Estonia, land of my fathers, land that I love" which became the unofficial national anthem of the nation that lived only in their hearts.
The film is a documentary of immense historical importance - and keeps you glued to your seat with white-knuckled suspense.
When fighting was breaking out down south in Vilnius, Lithuania (I have friends who were there) and the hard-line Communists were staging the coup in Moscow that brought Boris Yeltsin to the attention of the world, a column of Soviet tanks headed for the Estonian TV tower to stop broadcasts by the newly proclaimed government of Free Estonia.
Two Estonian cops prepared to defend the tower by themselves.
Even Horatius had two comrades by his side at the bridge!
How they planned to defend the tower, was to activate the fire extinguishing system, flooding the tower with freon gas, displacing the oxygen and killing everyone inside - including themselves.
And what does it say about a system that would design and put in place a fire-extinguishing system that would deliberately extinguish all life within the structure?
A system which held the equipment in the building more valuable than the lives.
And against all odds, all hope, they won. The Soviets backed down, and in Moscow Boris Yeltsin declared that Russia was seceding from the Soviet Union!
As the film ends, the credits roll and the singing swells the air. And if you can leave the theater without tears filling your eyes, you have my pity, because you have no soul.
And the thought that went through my head as I left the theater was, "Screw you and Realpolitik Pat Buchanan, if we let this nation die, ours doesn't deserve to live."
Go see it, ask it be brought to your area. Buy the DVD when it comes out. (They're holding back until they make their money back on the theatrical release.)
Tell everyone about it, buy it for presents. Never forget what they did - someday your own freedom may depend on it.