Archive for Thursday, August 14, 2008

Film details march to independence

August 14, 2008

"The Singing Revolution" opened recently in Kansas City. Within hours the lines were long and people were unable to buy tickets. I was fortunate to attend the opening performance.

It is in many ways a simple movie: a country occupied by Germany, then Russia, its people longing to be free, their longing propelling them into a struggle against oppressive forces, which ultimately they overcome. How did they do it?

Sheer grit and singing. A whole nation of people gathered, dressed in clothing representing individual cultures within a culture, in an assembly -10,000 of them defiantly singing native songs.

So strong was their commitment to freedom and to their country's struggle that when forced to learn Russian and perform Russian folk songs, they ended the performance with a song in their native tongue: "Estonia, my Estonia", which emboldened the Estonians and baffled the Russians who never bothered to learn the language of the country they occupied.

Sheer defiance brought them through an evolving revolution, under the tyranny of brutal occupiers. At one point in their history, they stood shoulder to shoulder across three countries, 600 kilometers - a human chain, silently defiant, standing for freedom.

At another point in their history, two men alone occupied a tower in the middle of a city and held out the Russian army while the townspeople gathered thousands of them and refused to back down; ultimately the Russians abandoned the city.

One tends to think of such struggle and revolutions as taking place hundreds of years ago. Estonia struggled and won its independence in the late l980s. I couldn't help but sit through that movie and wonder why their struggle was not better known and why it only recently has become a part of our consciousness.

Without this film perhaps it would never come to a level of awareness of ordinary people like you and me, who take our freedom for granted. Ordinary people, like you and me, who began our grade school days knowing mostly, American folk songs; ordinary folk like you and me who can barely get through "America the Beautiful" or the National Anthem without stumbling over forgotten words.

We are reminded of the power of the song to move the soul, to imbue the individual and collective spirit toward loftier goals; to embolden the cultural consciousness of a nation.

What if, next July 4, citizens of each state in our union gathered at their respective statehouses to sing American songs. Would our collective, cultural consciousness be raised? Would we feel a sense of national pride? Would we be willing to stand shoulder to shoulder, a human chain standing for freedom; celebrating our freedom in song? My hunch is that we would. There is yet time to remember that which we once knew so well.

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