Wake up Baltic countries, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia!

Three sisters stand by the coast of sea
They are pressed by weakness and tiredness.
There waded land and spirits
Of honour and sense of three nations.

Culture is a complicated word, but people would agree that every nation and every population has a certain culture which differs from the others. Although the Cambridge dictionary defines culture as: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs of a particular group of people at a particular time”. Therefore culture can be defined to be a mixture of language, habits, history, values and cuisine. Especially since the summer 2015 when a huge amount of refugees from Syria entered the European Union a debate was initiated about the European values and about its culture, just like about the national culture of nations. So far this debate has not come to a pleasing end although the states and the governments are searching for an answer that is strong enough to combine the majorities of views in a society. But to which most people would agree to, is the national cuisine. Nothing sounds more Italian than a Pizza Margherita or French than a Baguette served with wine from Bordeaux (the german equivalent would probably be a beer with Bratwurst).

But in the towers of destiny belling loud
And the sea starts to wave.
Three sisters wake up from the sleep,
Come to stand for theirselves.

The Baltic cuisine is surely as original and tasty as the counterparts in Western Europe. Well known are the common and unique dishes like zeppelini, bread soup, piradzini and sweet soup.

Cepelinai_2,_Vilnius,_Lithuania_-_Diliff

Cepelinai – a Lithuanian dish

But what defines the Baltic culture probably the most is the love to music. The Latvian and Estonian language was for a long time only a spoken, but not a written languages. A scripture didn’t exist as Latvians and Estonians weren’t allowed to educate themselves. Finally in the 19th century Latvian and Estonian students studied in universities of the Russian Empire. The students and poets came back with education and the wish to boost the national movements. One of the most important poets was probably Andrejs Pumpurs who wrote the famous work Lacplesis, in which a Latvian hero fights against the evil conquering German knights. In Estonia it was the mystical hero Kalev, who was battling with external forces. Both heroes  strengthen the national spirit and boosted the national awakenings.

The Baltics is waking up, the Baltics is waking up
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia!

Till this moment the only way to submit histories, fairytales and myths was in an oral way. And the most secured way to guarantee that they are submitted to the next generation is via traditional folk songs. Only in Latvia are over 2 million folk songs known, which means that there is at least one song for every Latvian. The songs, called Dainas, tell about the life, the love, the mythology or even about the death. These folkloric songs are seen widely as a cultural heritage and are known by almost every citizen as choirs, song concerts and song contests are part of daily and cultural life in the Baltics. Famous are therefore the Baltic Song Festivals in which amateur crowds are gathering and singing together. The first documented Baltic Song Festival was held in 1864 in Dikļi, which is today in Latvia.  In 1873 the first official song festival in Riga was held and approcimately 1000 singers participated. From this moment on it was held every five years, just like in Estonia. The southern neighbour, Lithuania, celebrates it every four years. During the song festivals people from all over the country come to Riga (or Vilnius and Tallinn) to sing, dance, present their crafting skills and their art. The attendance numbers increase from time to time and 2014 over 33.000 people participated in the song festival in Tallinn, while over 150.000 people attended as guests. Approximately the same numbers can be assumed in Latvia and Lithuania. The participants prepare themselves for several months and even years by crafting their own traditional clothes and singing in choirs. The highlight of the festival is the parade of amateur singers and amateur choirs which starts in the city and finishes in a nearby stadium designed and built only for this purpose.

Three sisters sleep by the sea
They are pressed by the bond, desperation
Wandering like a beggar by the sea coast
The spirit of nations’ honour

The fact that these song festivals were celebrated when  the altic people  lived under the reign of Baltic Germans and tsaristic Russia, tells that the tradition was followed when the three Baltic nations had their own nation states. And even during the soviet times the song festivals continued and was also used as an event to popularize the Soviet Union instead of the cultural heritage. Not just foreign songs were implemented but also the anthem of the Soviet Union and the Internationale were mandatory songs. Today the song festivals are declared as UN heritage.

But the bell of the destiny reaches again
And the sea tousles its waves
Three sisters wake from the sleep
To defend the honour of theirs

The love to music and to singing was even that important to the Baltic people, that they were revolting against the Soviet Union in a singing matter. The uprisal of the Baltic Socialist Soviet Republics is today known as the “Singing Revolution”. Surely no one knew in 1988 that it would work and the extraordinary and unique way of protest would become famous all over the world.

The Baltics is waking up,

the Baltics is waking up,
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia!

The first gathering of people who protested by singing was in 1987 when a cycle of mass demonstrations in Tallinn led spontaneously to a singing protest. Among the songs was the national anthem of the independent Estonia and other forbidden music. In the following months  every concert and festival featured the national anthem and patriotic songs, which were insulting the Soviet Union and the occupation. In October 1988 the song festival “Song of Estonia” gathered over 300.000 people, which was approximately one third of Estonia’s population, and demanded independence from the Soviet Union. But also in Latvia grew the tensions when the Soviet Union decided to build a second hydroelectric power plant, which would destroy the nature of a traditionally protected environment. As an addition the government in Moscow planned the construction of a metro in Riga. The Latvians feared that with this construction project hundred thousands of Russian construction workers would settle down in Riga and shifting the population finally in favor of ethnic Russians. During the Song and Dance Festival 1985 the song Gaismas pils (=Castle of Light) was played. Gaismas pils praised and declared the rebirth of the Latvian nation, which was a direct insult to the Soviet Union. Together with the flower-putting in 1987 at the Freedom Monument by the human rights group “Helsinki-86” these were the starting points of the “Singing Revolution” in Latvia. The flowers should remind the society of the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and shortly afterwards two important organizations were evolved: “Latvian People’s Front” and the “Latvian National Independence Movement”. A popular anti-soviet song was the “Ballade about the Swan”, in which a subtext was referring to the killing of a swan, which stood for the Soviet Union. In Lithuania the movement was similar but was more connected with religion. Roman Catholic hymns that were for a long time forbidden were sung among the old national anthem. 1988 the “Sąjūdis“ was founded that was a political and social movement similar to the “Latvian People’s Front” and in October of the same year the Vilnius Cathedral, that was transformed to a museum was re-opened to protest against the Soviet Union. In the following time the Cathedral was used as a gathering point for protest songs. The organizers, the activists and the protestors had to fear the police and the KGB, who imprisoned people during the gatherings and even after the gatherings to break the will of the protestors.

Three sisters with faces of sea,
they were made sleepy by the song of waves.
Three nations fighting here for centuries
sacrified ancient honour.

Apart from the public singing demonstrations there was also a political side. Activists who were backed by the people negotiated and demanded independence from the Soviet Union and the Supreme Soviets of the Baltic States. The soviet reform agenda of glasnost and perestroika encouraged the people and the leaders, but every fulfilled demand did not weaken or satisfy the spirit of the new national awakening. Soon the police and the KGB weakened their efforts to imprison protestors because of the masses of protestors.

When the bell rings in towers,
the sea is taken by the will of freedom.
To protect the fate and life,
three sisters wake now.

Activists from all three countries agreed on a massive “celebration” of the 50 years anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which led to the occupation of the three sister states. Activists secretly organized buses and advertisement for this event and motivated the so far passive rural population. On the 23rd August 1989 it happened: Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians forged a human chain from Tallinn to Riga to Vilnius. At 19:00 o’clock local time over one million people were holding hands. Over a distance of 600 km over one million protestors were holding hands along streets and highways, over fields, rivers and state borders. They were holding hands and singing together about the sufferings, the occupation and deportations of the last 50 years. Employers gave free hours to their workers so they could join, concerts stopped and theatre plays were interrupted so people could run out and join the singing human chain. The people of the three sisters who stood, slept and faced the sea together in the past joined to stand up, sing and protest against the occupation and this “Baltic Way” was so far the longest human chain ever documented. The human chain put a lot of pressure on the Soviet Party as the revolution was so far mostly unnoticed in the western media.

IMAG2302

The memorial in Vilnius for the human chain

Only because of the singing human chain and the peaceful demonstration of the people’s desire for freedom the situation of the Baltic people’s was covered by the western media. The call for waking up, was not only a call to themselves, but to the world and to the leaders of the Soviet Union.

Wake up Baltic countries,
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia!

The three Baltic countries woke up, but together with the people in the Baltic, the Soviet Union woke up as well and decided that it can’t ignore the protests anymore. The Soviet state news warned from extremist groups with their anti-socialist and anti-Soviet protests, which would harm the peace of the society and threat minorities. In the following days the Central Committee of the Communist Party showed interest in solving the situation by using military force. The Baltic activists responded by a declaration to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, that the peaceful movement is now under threat by the Red Army. Shortly after this declaration the Central Committee decided not to use military but use political instruments. The freedom movement thought the Singing Revolution was just a step away from their final goal: the freedom and independence of the Baltic people’s. The way though was longer and bloodier than they have expected. To continue please click here.

 

Sources:

Anthem of the Soviet Union

Cambridge dictionary: Culture

Latvian Song and Dance Festival

Global Nonviolent Action Database

Perkons: Balade par gulbi

The Internationale

University of Washington: When Songs Trumped Rifles

Wake up Baltics with video footage of the Baltic Way

Picture Sources:

Lithuanian Cepelinai

 

 

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