Guntis Smidchens

The Power of Song

Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution

University of Washington Press 2015

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Eastern European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Russian and Eurasian StudiesNew Books Network December 18, 2015 Amanda Jeanne Swain

In the late 1980s, the Baltic Soviet Social Republics seemed to explode into song as Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian national movements challenged Soviet rule....

In the late 1980s, the Baltic Soviet Social Republics seemed to explode into song as Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian national movements challenged Soviet rule. The leaders of each of these movements espoused nonviolent principles, but the capacity for violence was always there – especially as Soviet authorities engaged in violent repression. In The Power of Song: Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution (University of Washington Press, 2015), Guntis Smidchens tackles the question “of whether it is possible to reconcile nonviolent principles with a pursuit of nationalist power” and his answer is yes. As evidence, Smidchens presents the events of 1988 to 1991 in the Baltic countries and their national song cultures, considering them through the lens of principles of nonviolence. Smidchens analyzes the role of choral, folk and rock music in the national movements, demonstrating that choral music provided mass discipline, folk songs pulled in people not already involved in song culture, and rock music integrated ideology and responsiveness to rapidly changing events in the Baltic and the Soviet Union more broadly. He also provides English translations of over 100 Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian songs, setting them in their historical, cultural and poetic contexts. The Power of Song: Nonviolent National Culture in the Baltic Singing Revolution explains why Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians chose music as their weapon of choice to regain independence from the Soviet Union.


Amanda Jeanne Swain is executive director of the Humanities Commons at the University of California, Irvine. She received her PhD in Russian and East European history at the University of Washington. Her research interests include the intersections of national, Soviet and European identities in the Baltic countries. Recent publications include articles in Ab Imperio and Cahiers du Monde Russe.

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