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The Singing Revolution Digital Library
Throughout the course of creating The Singing Revolution over 100 hours of original footage was filmed, and another 20 hours of archival footage and research materials acquired from a wide variety of sources.
The very first rough cut of the film was more than four hours long! It took us over a year to cut the film down to the 97-minute version that is now the film known as The Singing Revolution.
But there were many, many stories and nuances that could not be included in a film 1½ hours in length. We have now assembled over 4 ½ hours of additional interview sound bites into 23 different videos arranged by subject matter. We identified seven historical newsreels related to that content. We also selected 30 relevant documents that correlate to the commentaries. And we have put together 15 maps of Europe from 180 AD until 1997 that make clear Estonia’s evolving political history.
In our library we also provide a full cut of the final film with filmmaker commentary on decisions made while crafting the story, shooting challenges and what happened behind the scenes. We explain the challenges and ultimate decisions made in making The Singing Revolution. There also is a brief interview with the Tustys made just after the film was completed but before it was released.
We have tried to create a library that is user-friendly for people to find the material that interests them without slugging through material not of interest. Clicking on any headline below will reveal a short description of the content and suggestions for other relevant material to review.
The TSR Library is intended for those academics, students, film fans, Estofiles, nonviolent activists, history buffs, choral singers and others who wish to learn more about the extraordinary events that led to the successful nonviolent revolution known as the Singing Revolution.
Click on each title below to learn more.
Special Thanks to the Estonian American National Council for their support of the TSR Digital Library.
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Hear the stories of two people whose parents fled Stalin with them as small children, both of whom ended up in the United States. How did Estonians who stayed behind in Estonia feel about the many refugees?
Enn Sarv resisted both the German occupation and the Soviet occupation. As a result, he was imprisoned first in a German Concentration Camp. Then, after the war, he came home and subsequently was arrested by the in Soviets and sent to the Gulag. His fiancée waited for him all that time.
Heiki Ahonen’s parents met while both were imprisoned in Soviet Labor Camps in the 1940s. He shares their story. Due to this history of his parents, Heiki was a marked man to the Soviets and was arrested himself in 1983 due to his anti-Soviet activities.
Heino Noor was imprisoned simply because his parents were put into Labor Camps because they had been in the Estonian Army. Heino’s mother was executed by gunshot while at the camp. In 1991, after Estonia regained its independence, Heino learned the name and address of his mother’s executioner. The man was living in Tallinn, and Heino knew where. He agonized over what to do.
Tiia-Ester Loitme is featured in The Singing Revolution, and her story of being sent to the Gulag at age 14 is covered in the film. Learn more about how she survived and became a noted Estonian choir conductor. Since 1989, she has been chief conductor of the Grammy Award-winning choir Ellerhein.
Matti Päts is the grandson of Estonian President Konstantin Päts. When the Soviets occupied Estonia in 1939, President Päts, his children and grandchildren became the second family to be deported to the Gulag (the first being Estonian Army General Laidoner’s family). At 8 years old, Matti was sent to a Soviet orphanage along with his younger brother, who died of starvation. Hear his family’s story.
Alfred Käärmann fought the Soviets as a Forest Brother from 1944 – 1952. He was captured and sent to Soviet prison. He was released in 1967. But he was constantly harassed by the Soviets until Estonian independence in 1991. This is a sample from his full interview.
Alfred Käärmann fought the Soviets as a Forest Brother from 1944 – 1952. He was captured and sent to Soviet prison. He was released in 1967. But he was constantly harassed by the Soviets until Estonian independence in 1991. Hear his full, powerful story.
World War II was started with the Nazis invading Poland from the West and the Soviets from the East. The Soviet and Nazi armies met in the middle of Poland and celebrated with a joint victory parade. The Soviet general was Jewish.
Purchase to Watch 1939 German Newsreel of Soviet/Nazi Joint Victory Parade in Poland (4:14)
In 1956, Hungarian partisans overthrew their Soviet occupiers. They had been led to believe that the Western nations would support them. No one came to help them, and the Soviet army came back to crush the resistance. These 4 contemporary newsreels reveal how the story unfolded.
The Treaty of Tartu is the agreement between the new country of Estonia and the Soviet Union. Part of the agreement reads, “Russia unreservedly recognizes the independence and sovereignty of the State of Estonia, and renounces voluntarily and forever all sovereign rights possessed by Russia over the Estonian people and territory.” This clause was blatantly violated by Stalin some 20 years later. After an English translation of the Treaty is a facsimile of the original last page with signatures.
The agreement between Stalin and Hitler that started World War II, including the secret protocols that divided parts of Europe up into Soviet and Nazi spheres. An English translation of the Pact is followed by facsimiles of the Russian and German language agreements.
This chilling 33-page transcript reveals the difficult negotiations Estonian representatives had with an overwhelmingly more powerful Soviet Union, led by Stalin. What was the best the Estonians could negotiate? Stalin’s assessment is thus, “I can tell you that the Estonian government acted well and wisely in the interests of the Estonian people by concluding the agreement with the Soviet Union. It could have happened to you what happened to Poland. Poland was a great country. Yet, where is Poland now? Where is Moscicki, Rydz-Smigly, Beck? Yes, I am telling you frankly—you acted well and in the interests of your people.” In other words, “Sign or we will crush you.”
Helgi-Alice Päts was daughter-in-law of Konstantin Päts, President of the Republic of Estonia when the Red Army came in and occupied the nation. This is her chronicle of the ordeal that Päts and his family endured.
In order to establish who ruled Estonia, Stalin established “Destroyer Battalians”, whose only purpose was to kill entire villages and burn them to the ground. This 1988 article calls for identifying all those murdered by the Battallians.
In 1941, the Soviet Army sent 246 Estonian military officers to Labor Camps. Not much was known about what exactly happened to them. This document shares the 1950 account given by one of the imprisoned officers to another prisoner.
In 1992, the Riigikogu of the Republic of Estonia (the Estonian Parliament) established the Estonian State Commission on Examination of the Policies of Repression (ESCEPR) and set a goal of publishing a scientific investigation into all the losses and damages suffered by the Estonian nation during the Soviet and Nazi occupation regimes. After 12 years of research, they completed this 176-page report.
Truth was hard to come by in the Soviet Union. The government controlled all sources of information, and used those pipelines to endorse itself. Due to their geographical location, Estonians in the north could access Finnish TV for a window on the West. Voice of America and Radio Free Europe also provided important information. The Soviets spent much time and money trying to scramble those signals.
Learning how to camouflage plans for independence from the Soviet authorities became a masterful art form in Estonia. The Acorn Book Club is a great example. In the 1970s the Soviets announced plans to fight illiteracy. Freedom-minded Estonians formed a “book club” under the guise of fighting illiteracy (which didn’t really exist in Estonia). In reality, members were reading books, some forbidden, to prepare themselves to create a free Estonia some day.
Hear about the conflicting lessons of history Estonian children learned at home compared to what they heard at school. Hear the full story of a teenage rebel being arrested and interrogated by the Soviet Secret Police (the KGB) for simply sporting a Mohawk haircut dyed bright red. This is a sample clip from the full segment.
Hear about the conflicting lessons of history Estonian children learned at home compared to what they heard at school. Hear the full story of a teenage rebel being arrested and interrogated by the Soviet Secret Police (the KGB) for simply sporting a Mohawk haircut dyed bright red.
Gorbachev introduced the concept of “Glasnost”, or open discussion of political and social issues. He never dreamed how far Estonians would take that concept. The 1987 Hirve Park demonstration was a bold challenge to the legality of the Soviet occupation. Demands were made to put Stalin’s henchmen in jail.
The Popular Front sought change, but not full independence. They felt they were more realistic than those seeking outright independence, and therefore would be more successful. They were hoping for greater freedom within the confines of being part of the Soviet Union. Revolutions, even successful ones, are not always united. Hear about some of the tensions within the various Estonian movements.
In 1988, over 800,000 Estonians (virtually every adult in the country) signed a petition denying the legality of the Soviet occupation and declaring themselves citizens of the 1939 Republic of Estonia. This led to an election of the “Congress of Estonia” in 1990…done while the Soviets were still in power. Hear Tunne Kelam explain the legal concept, share what was behind those events and their astonishment at the turnout.
Learn how Shakespeare’s play Hamlet was turned into a message of hope for a free Estonia…right under the eyes of Soviet authorities. When government controls schools, television, radio and the print press, double entendre in the arts becomes a principal pipeline of truth.
From 1978 until 1988, Estonian’s Communist Party was led by hard-liner Karl Vaino. In 1988, in order to calm down the Estonian hunger for independence, Gorbachev replaced him with native Estonian Vaino Valjas, a childhood friend of Gorbachev’s with a much softer approach than Karl Vaino. Valjas was a dedicated Communist who was not seeking Estonian independence, yet he tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, a great deal of Estonian independence aspirations. So was he a good guy or a bad guy? This clip starts with some Estonian perspectives on Valjas, but it predominantly consists of Vaino Valjas’s own words about what happened. You can judge for yourself. It is rare to have access to such “inside baseball”.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was an agreement between Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union that contained secret protocols turning the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) over to Stalin. For 50 years, the Soviet Union denied that these protocols existed. Hear the story of how they were finally exposed.
The Moscow Coup happened in 1991. Tanks rolled into Estonia. Hard-line Soviet occupation was back and no one knew how it would end. We now know the Coup would collapse and Estonia would become a free nation. But how did things seem at that time? Several interviews share their thoughts on this time period. This is a sample from the full video.
The Moscow Coup happened in 1991. Tanks rolled into Estonia. Hard-line Soviet occupation was back and no one knew how it would end. We now know the Coup would collapse and Estonia would become a free nation. But how did things seem at that time?
When government controls all press and education, truth often emerges through double entendre in the arts. In that sense, artists became Estonian cultural leaders, even political leaders, during the Soviet Occupation. In 1988, speeches at the Cultural Union meeting became ever more open about the desire for a free Estonia.
The Estonian Supreme Soviet condemned the registration of Estonian citizens and the establishment of Citizens Committees. This document refutes accusations of “adventurism, separatism and inflammation of inter-ethic tensions”.
Not only was Moscow skeptical of the election of the “Congress of Estonia” in 1990, even many Estonians felt this move was pushing too far and too hard. This is a defense of the elections written by the Citizens’ Committee.
The Estonian Song Festival Laulupidu is a high level artistic event. But it also has been a critical tool for unifying the country…especially during foreign occupation. Hear about the meaning of Laulupidu to Estonians.
More than a song festival, "Laulupidu" is an Estonian miracle that at least twice in history gave freedom to that country. "To Breathe As One" explores the beauty and meaning of the choral festival through the eyes of the young members of the California-based Piedmont East Bay Children's Choir, one of the few American choirs invited to participate. Learning difficult songs — all in Estonian — the youngsters prepare for months and then set off to join the many thousands from around the world who gather every five years in Tallinn.
Forming cross-cultural friendships that span the oceans, there they discover the unique role that music has played for Estonians for over 150 years, as an integral force in maintaining strength and identity for a people who have faced cultural genocide — more than once.
From the filmmakers of the acclaimed "The Singing Revolution", the film reveals that for Estonians singing is not just a means of cultural expression but a defining part of their national identity.
Mu isamaa on minu arm (Land of my Fathers, Land that I Love) was arguably the most important Estonian song during the Soviet occupation. Its lyrics come from a poem written during the "Great Awakening" by national poet Lydia Koidula. The poem was set to music for the first song festival (Laulupidu) in 1869. Gustav Ernesaks composed new music for the poem for the 1947 Laulupidu…the first song festival held while under Soviet occupation. Immediately after the 1947 song festival Land of My Fathers, Land that I Love was banned, but Estonians kept the meaning of the song in their homes and hearts for decades. At the 1960 festival, although still banned, the Estonian choirs spontaneously sang the song at the end of the festival, showing the Soviet authorities that the Estonian spirit was still alive and strong. Even today, Mu isamaa on minu arm is sung at every song festival.
Filmmakers James Tusty and Maureen Castle Tusty talk over the entire film explaining why certain decisions were made. Gain an understanding of the thinking and difficult choices that went into the creation of The Singing Revolution.
25 lesson plans were developed for a variety of subject areas using the additional source materials provided in the TSR Digital Library. Most lesson plans have been designed to fit within a 50-minute class period by using only clips from the film. The variety of lesson options including lessons on nonviolent revolution, the power of music, the influence of geography on a country’s history, and much more. These plans were designed for middle and high school students, but can be adapted for other audiences as well. This booklet provides an overview of the plans. For the full lesson plans, including forms, PowerPoints and more, one has to subscribe to the Educational version of the TSR Library.
25 lesson plans were developed for a variety of subject areas using the additional source materials provided in the TSR Digital Library. Most lesson plans have been designed to fit within a 50-minute class period by using only clips from the film. The variety of lesson options including lessons on nonviolent revolution, the power of music, the influence of geography on a country’s history, and much more. See the “Lesson Plan Overview Booklet” above for brief summaries of each lesson plan.