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On Movements and Revolutions around the Baltic Sea: Part III

While the history I briefly covered for Sweden, Finland, and Russia seems a bit more distant, revolution in Estonia and Poland is much closer in time to us today.

I left off in Part II in the early 20th century, but if I were to jump forward in time another 60 or so years, and cross the Baltic Sea once again, Tallinn, Estonia would be the next stop on this journey through movements and revolutions. While on our Baltics Sea Tour, my traveling companions and I learned about the rich history of the Song Festival, an Estonian tradition since the mid-19th Century. For Estonians, singing had served as a unifying activity for over 100 years, and in 1947, the Estonian composer and conductor, Gustav Ernesaks, set the national poem, “Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love,” to a tune, and it became a symbol for freedom, national pride, and protest. At various times from the ‘40s through the ’80s, song was used in protest against the enduring hardships created under Soviet Rule. We were introduced to Estonia’s Singing Revolution, a non-violent, year’s long movement that was called such because of the role that singing played during the protests of the 1980s that eventually led to Estonian independence from Soviet rule. While in Tallinn, we visited the monument to Ernesaks, located in Tallinn's Song Festival Grounds, which is open to the public year-round and used every five years for the national Song Festival.

(Photo: Ernesaks monument at the Song Festival Grounds in Tallinn, Estonia)

One final trip across the Baltic Sea and we found ourselves learning about the Solidarity Movement in Poland. We docked in and visited Gdansk to tour the shipyard where Lech Wałęsa, who, in the 1980s, was a dissident of Soviet Communism, began as a trade-union activist and leader of the pro-democracy efforts in Poland in the 1980s. Wałęsa led workers in striking against the Communist government and Soviet rule, and helped to grow the Solidarity movement to over ten million members through the 80s. He was arrested multiple times because of his activism, and yet continued to push for a free-market liberal democracy and free parliamentary elections in Poland, which were established in 1989 following the Round Table Agreement. Wałęsa became the first president of Poland to be elected by popular vote, and helped Poland transition from Communism to a free-market economy. Wałęsa has since won the Nobel Peace Prize and many other awards in recognition of his dedication to democracy, and we had the honor of hearing him speak to us on our cruise ship at the end of our tour following our day in Gdansk.

(Photo: Gdansk Shipyard monument in Gdansk, Poland)

Our Baltic Sea cruise reminded me of the importance of movements and revolution—that there is always room for greater progress. While we can look back in time at how countries (including our own) have fought for independence or greater rights, we can also focus on the days ahead of us and continue to push for a better future for ourselves and each other. Learning about history is important. It can serve as a reminder of how far we have come, and it can also continue to motivate us to strive for a better future—to never settle when there’s still a ways to go.

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