Baltic national movements, 1986-1992. Origins, trajectories, agendas


  • Jörg Hackmann


Baltic Nations, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Singing revolution, national movements


The public appearance of national movements in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is closely connected to Gorbachev’s attempt to reform the Soviet Union through the politics of perestroika and glasnost. The evident similarities of these mass movements in their agendas and trajectories result from the parallel political history of the Baltic nations with the Soviet annexation in 1940 and the renewal of their independence in August 1991. Apart from this general framework the single movements show path dependencies, which are based on different social and cultural developments and shaped by the diverging scale of Russian-speaking immigrants during the Soviet period. In fact, after August 1991, the term ‘Baltic’ may serve only as a regional term for analytical purpose, as it does not mark an essentialist coherence within these movements.

This paper focusses on the origins and trajectories of the Baltic national movements between 1986 and 1992, when they ceased to exist as social movements after their success in restoring political independence. The origins of the ‘popular fronts’ (Rahvarinne in Estonia, Tautas fronte in Latvia) or ‘movement’ (S?j?dis in Lithuania) are connected first with the support of perestroika, second with public historical debates about the Molotov-Ribbentrop-Pact and Stalinist repressions, and third with the restoration of national symbols of the pre-war republics. Music performances and festivals, and in particular the ‘Baltic chain’ on 23 August 1989 mobilized large parts of the population of the three then Soviet republics and shaped the image of the peaceful ‘singing revolution’.

Since spring 1990 divisions appeared within the independence movements between the rather reform-oriented popular movements and more radical nationalist groups striving for immediate full independence and the restoration of the pre-war nation states. These cleavages deepened after the restoration of national independence in August 1991, first of all on issues of legal restoration, language laws and de-Sovietization and largely shaped political debates in the three Baltic states in the following decades.



How to Cite

Hackmann, J. (2020). Baltic national movements, 1986-1992. Origins, trajectories, agendas. Studies on National Movements (SNM), 6, 26. Retrieved from