The Singing Revolution's
Filmmaker Jim Tusty in an interview with European Weekly
Interview by Elena Goukassian
The Singing Revolution, currently playing in Seattle, is a
remarkable documentary about a small country called Estonia that
gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The film
chronicles Estonia's non-violent march to freedom. The
filmmakers and producers of the documentary, Jim Tusty and his
wife Maureen Castle Tusty, show how powerful music can be in an
attempt to change politics.
European Weekly's Elena Goukassian was able to talk to Jim Tusty
What was the
most interesting story someone who was actually present during
the revolution told you?
When the tanks
came to Tallinn during the 1991 Soviet coup, many Estonians
stood as human shields protecting the radio and TV stations.
One young woman told me of her 70-year-old
grandmother putting on her best Sunday outfit, carefully putting
on make-up in the bathroom, and then, with purse in hand,
announcing, "I am going to go to defend the TV tower against the
Soviet tanks! I'll be back later." This revolution was fought
by all Estonians...not just young men.
Were you in Estonia at the time? Or a friend or relative? How
did they react?
Tusty: I was in
Estonia in 1986, which could be considered the very beginning of
the Singing Revolution. But it was invisible to us at the
time. Everything was totally Soviet controlled. You couldn't
rent a car without an official "driver", and Estonians were not
allowed in the Soviet hotels where foreigners stayed. During a
Soviet-guided tour, our group noticed graffiti on a wall. When
asked about it, the guide said that there are vandals in every
country, it was just the work of hooligans. My father was with
me, and he spoke Estonian. He read the graffiti. It said
"People of the world, hear our cries. The world is being lied
Why had they
come up with singing in particular as a form of protest? Why not
dancing or performance art, etc?
Tusty: Estonia has
a strong and ancient singing tradition. This tiny country has
one of the largest folk song collections in the world. And
since the 19th century, Estonians have gathered every 5 years or
so to sing in massive song festivals where 30,000 singers get on
stage to sing one song. That's half of Yankee Stadium during
the World Series singing in harmony. It takes ten minutes for
the singers just to take their places. Singing is in Estonia's
come up with the idea o singing or was it a spontaneous thing?
Tusty: This was a
leaderless revolution in the beginning. In June of 1988, the
young people at a concert started singing songs that alarmed the
Soviet authorities. The authorities shut down the concert.
Then 100,000 people walked 3 miles to an open field and
continued singing. Then the people gathered every night for a
week to sing these forbidden songs...singing into the early
hours of the next morning. The Soviets just didn't know what to
do. Even they understood the absurdity of beating people up for
What was the
USSR's reaction to it? Particularly that of the soldiers who
witnessed it firsthand?
Tusty: They were
confused. Gorbachev's policies of glasnost and perestroika were
just confusing to the average Soviet bureaucrat. They didn't
know what was expected of them. So they let things happen. By
the time Moscow figured out the power of this revolution, it was
too late. Check mate.
Was it just in
Tallinn or throughout Estonia?
revolution took place throughout all of
film is playing at the
until April 10.
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