Estonia's singing revolution (1)
Eestlased USAs 30 Jan 2018 EWR OnlineEWR
Estonians enjoy a collective culture - and that includes sharing food and drink. (Rick Steves, Rick Steves Europe)
By Rick Steves, Chicago Tribune

On my last visit to Tallinn, while I was admiring the view from the terrace atop the city walls, a kindly middle-aged man approached. From a satchel on his shoulder, he pulled out a stack of music CDs, all recordings of Tallinn's famous Song Festivals. While he was eager to make a sale, my friend was even more intent that I learn the story of how singing helped lead his country to independence.

In 2018, the scrappy Republic of Estonia marks the 100th anniversary of its founding. Having endured 200 years of czarist rule, the unraveling of the Russian Empire and the turmoil of World War I, the Estonian people faced an uphill battle when they declared their republic in 1918. They quickly adopted a democratic Western European-style government and set about building a robust economy.

But when you are a small, humble nation lodged between two giants like Russia and Germany, simply surviving is a challenge. The good times didn't last -- in 1940 the Soviets marched in, and Germany invaded in 1941. By the end of World War II, Estonia found itself annexed again to its neighbor, now the Soviet Union.

Thus began a 50-year nightmare. Estonians saw their culture swept away, with Russian replacing Estonian as the language in schools. Russians and Ukrainians were moved in, and Estonians were shipped out. Moscow wouldn't even allow locals to wave their own flag.

But Estonians were determined to maintain their cultural identity. They had no weapons, but they created their own power -- remarkably -- by banding together and singing.