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‘Singing oneself into a nation’? Estonian song festivals as rituals of political mobilisation


Nations and Nationalism

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This article argues that Estonian song festivals were a powerful ritual of political mobilisation. Throughout their history, however, they had to be accommodated to narratives of ruling regimes. Taking Patrick Hutton's concept of such events as a ‘moment of memory’ with which images of the past are being reconstructed in a selective way, song festivals are on each occasion made to suit present needs. During the history of Estonian nationhood, these needs have been guided first and foremost by forms of political authority: during years of independence, the festivals were to serve different purposes than under imperial or Soviet Russian rule. Thus, the concept of ‘singing oneself into a nation’, popular in Estonian history textbooks, is only partly true. Although the performance of the festival changes only slightly through the years, its political significance changes enormously.