Why is Estonia a tech hub? Answer partly in documentary

The Singing Revolution documents how Estonia achieved independence relatively quietly. And it's prosperous today. Hmmmm.

If you're going to have a revolution, it's best to leave the guns at home.

That's one of the underlying messages in The Singing Revolution, a documentary by Jim and Maureen Tusty about the birth of the Estonian Republic currently touring the independent film circuit. Funded in part by venture capitalist Steve Jurveston, the movie shows how Estonians held their national unity under Soviet domination through singing festivals. Later, during the late 80s and 90s, Estonian activists pushed for independence through parliamentary maneuvering. (Jim Tusty and Jurvetson are also Estonian.)

The film starts a one-week run Friday at San Francisco's Lumiere theater.

Granted, the decisive figure in the revolution turned out to be Boris Yeltsin. Soviet troops and tanks had driven into Estonia and planned to take over the country's main TV tower. Only a few hours before the army was set to take action in Estonia, Yeltsin stood down the coup in Russia. The army subsequently, suddenly reversed course.

Still, for several decades Estonians pushed for independence within the rule of law, Tusty noted. And look at the results. Investors from the west have migrated to the tiny Baltic nation, which gets high marks for clean government and transparent accounting. You can't say that about every emerging nation. Russia is trying to jumpstart a tech industry, but investors in the west remain skittish because of corruption and political issues. Intellectual property protection and corruption have always been China's weak points.

Political correspondent Declan McCullagh for years has been touting Estonia as an emerging tech power.

Bad blood continues to exist between Estonia, which had to endure a brutal occupation under the Soviets, then Nazis and then the Soviets again, and Russia. Last year, Estonian web sites were besieged with denial of service attacks that nearly escalated into a cyber war between the two nations.

The film is also an interesting history of one of the less-examined facets of the Cold War. For decades, a number of nationalists lived in the forest to resist Soviet rule. Some of the forest boys are interviewed. Tusty also got an interview with one of the two policemen in the TV tower, who planned to start the fire extinguishing system and flood the tower with Freon gas. By doing that, it would eliminate oxygen in the building and suffocate everyone, the policeman said. There's also a lot of footage from news programs from 1989-1991 when the Eastern bloc was crumbling, which was also the last time the evening news was entertaining.

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    Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.

     

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