The Estonian “Little Singing Revolution” of 1960: From Spontaneous Practices to Ideological Manipulations

In: East Central Europe
Aigi Rahi-TammInstitute of History and Archaeology, University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia,

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The article covers the 15th General Song Festival “20 Years of Soviet Estonia,” held in Tallinn in July 1960, with about 30,000 participants. During the festival, the choirs started to sing popular songs and banned songs on their own initiative, leading to the festival being called “a small singing revolution”. It was a time of changes when both the authorities and the people were testing the limits of what was allowed and forbidden. As the message of songs plays an important role in influencing the people, the authorities hoped to exploit the song festival tradition in their own interest. The goal of Khrushchev’s new cultural policy was to promote the Soviet model for success to the West and to activate foreign relations. The intermediation of cultural contacts required breaking the anti-Soviet attitudes prevailing among the Baltic exiles, and for this purpose diverse tactics were applied. The article analyses the different manifestations of the people’s will both in Estonia and among the exile community as well as the measures and manipulations of the authorities. Thus, diverse practices of social control unfolded in the context of 1960 from initiatives to support each other to against state surveillance and exclusion.

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