One of the axioms of religion is there is no religion other than truth. Another is, religion is love. And as there can only be one religion, it follows that truth is love and love is truth. We shall find too, on further reflection, that conduct based on truth is impossible without love. Truth-force then is love-force. We cannot remedy evil by harboring ill will against the evildoer. -Mahatma Gandhi Nonviolent resistance is the practice of achieving socio-political goals without the use of violence. An advocate of this practice was Mahatma Gandhi, who through his use of civil disobedience, gained independence from the British in India.
Gandhi defined this form of civil resistance as Satyagraha, which meant to respectfully disagree with one’s government. There have been many nonviolent resistance movements following Gandhi’s that have used the same strategy of civil disobedience. One such event was the Singing Revolution in the Baltic States, which was used to release those countries from the control of the Soviet Union. In this particular movement, Gandhi’s use of Satyagraha proved to be effective due to the success of the Baltic States regaining their independence from the Soviets without any bloodshed.
In Gandhi’s letter “Meaning of Satyagraha”, he describes the literal meaning of Satyagraha as “insistence on truth, and force derivable from such insistence” (Gandhi 447). Satyagraha is more than just a form of passive resistance, but an actual spiritual feeling of strength brought about by practicing these methods of nonviolence. He also emphasizes strongly the insistence on and power of truth. His goal was to unite the people of India to stand up against their oppressors. In this case, it was British imperialists. However, by the laws of Satyagraha, it was not the responsibility of the Indians to gain their independence through defeating he British, but rather cooperating with them in order to prevent a war. And India did just that. Through their act of nonviolent resistance, they convinced the British that they deserved their independence, and in return, they received it. The Indian independence movement is proof that Gandhi’s method of Satyagraha works, and can result in success regarding nonviolent resistance occurrences. In the case of The Singing Revolution in the Baltic States, the use of Satyagraha allowed for success in this social justice movement regarding the Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia’s strive for independence from the Soviet Union.
The Singing Revolution, which occurred from 1987-1991, was a civil resistance movement that dealt with restoring independence to the Baltic States of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. After World War II, those States were under control by Soviet Russia. The first straw for the Baltics was the public airing of Estonia’s discontent with foreign ethnic groups who were taking away job opportunities in Russia. Estonians were concerned about the demographic threat to their national identity, and the Soviets leaked this information to the public. This caused many people to feel deep dissatisfaction with the Baltic countries (Chakars 111).
The last straw for the Baltics occurred in the late 1980’s, when the States, particularly Estonia, began to have informal relations with Finland and became acclimated with Finnish television shows that depicted a Western lifestyle. The Soviets were not pleased with these relations, and began to repress all groups ranging from nationalists, religious communities, and ordinary people. This caused massive demonstrations and protests in Russia. The largest instance occurred when the regime failed to take into consideration the national sensitivities of the Baltic States.
This included restricting freedom of speech and national icons such as flags. Even after Russia removed the restrictions, the damage had been done. The Baltic States wanted to be free of the Soviet Union entirely. Out of the three Baltic States, the two that helped define the “singing” part of the Singing Revolution were mainly Estonia and Lithuania. Starting in 1987, Estonian demonstrations for democracy began with large amounts of people, estimated to be near 300,000, gathering together to spontaneously sing hymns and patriotic songs that were forbidden during the Soviet occupation.
Events similar to these occurred multiple times over a span of four years in the form of music festivals where Estonians joined together, hand-in-hand, to sing songs that were outlawed by the Soviet government. The Revolution reached its climax in 1991 when the Soviets decided to use tanks to break up one of the music festivals. Many outraged Estonians, overcome with love for their country, put their lives on the line that day and decided to act as human shields for the radio and television stations that the tanks were attempting to demolish.
It was at these actions that the Soviet government gave up their fight. On August 20, 1991, Estonia finally gained their independence from Russia. No blood was shed achieving this goal (Tallinn Life). For Lithuania, the story is very similar, but yields different results. Thousands of Lithuanians gathered together, hand-in-hand, to sing national songs and church hymns to prove a point to the Soviets in order to gain their independence. And yet again, the unhappy Soviet government fought against them, except the Lithuanians didn’t achieve their independence free of blood being shed.
On January 13, 1991, fourteen non-violent protestors died defending a television tower being gunned down by Soviet troops. Lithuanians referred to this event as Bloody Sunday. While there were casualties, the discipline and courage of its citizens, linking arms and singing in the face of tanks and armor-piercing bullets, avoided a much greater loss of life and showed the world that Lithuania was prepared to defend national independence. The country was granted its independence in August of 1991 (Lithuania).
Although all participants in the Singing Revolution did NOT achieve independence with out bloodshed, the use of Satyagraha was still effective. More so, the use of social defense proved also to be very effective. In Petra Kelly’s article “Nonviolent Social Defense” she mentions, “Social defense is practical and pragmatic. It requires excellent preparation, organization, and training; a courageous, creative, and determined citizenry; and a radical commitment to democratic values. Independent, resourceful, freedom-loving people that are prepared and organized to resist aggression cannot be conquered.
No number of tanks and missiles can dominate a society unwilling to cooperate” (Kelly 499). The Singing Revolution embodies Kelly’s message completely. Also in her passage, Kelly alludes to Gandhi’s use of Satyagraha in saying, “The power of nonviolence arises from what is deepest and most humane within ourselves and speaks directly to what is deepest and most humane in others. Nonviolence works not through defeating the opponent but by awakening the opponent and oneself through openness.
It is not just a tactic—it embraces life” (Kelly 501). Both the Indian independence movement and The Singing Revolution saw nonviolent passive resistance as the only pure and ethical way to achieve the goal of independence, but suffering still occurred at both events. Gandhi believed that not only was suffering inevitable, but also necessary to achieve social progress. In his letter “The Law of Suffering”, he writes, “Without such suffering it is not possible to attain freedom” (Gandhi 453).
He also believed suffering needed to occur in order to prevent a country from being emasculated by their oppressors. The Baltic States came together, united as one in song, to protect their nationalism from the stronghold of the Soviet Union, but they did not achieve their independence without first suffering. While fourteen lives were sacrificed in Lithuania for the sake of the entire country’s freedom, nonviolent passive resistance is still proven here to be the most effective means of acquiring social justice.
Yes, lives were taken, but it was a necessity to achieve progress. What was gained from the actions of The Baltic States is what is most important. A country was given its life back by choosing not to use violence against its oppressor. Taking hold of the power of Satyagraha is what led to the overall success of The Singing Revolution. A country united by a strong sense of patriotic virtue chose nonviolence to prove that they could gain their freedom without war, and they did. This form of resistance worked then, so it can definitely work in the future.