Despite its efforts to assert and establish itself both with the carrot and the stick, the Soviet regime that had subjugated the Republic of Estonia during the Second World War failed to find acceptance even after half a century. In the mid-1980s, the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union, aiming to heal the gigantic empire by reform. In Estonia, under somewhat more liberal circumstances, however, this quickly released a general popular discontent caused by ever deepening problems: a concern for the local environment, the role of the Estonian language and cultural heritage – indeed, a fear for the survival of the nation.

The mass demonstrations that led to the regaining of independence began in 1987 with the so-called Phosphorite War, a campaign against the building of environmentally hazardous mines. Subsequently, the themes of the demonstrations and the goals being sought became increasingly bold. The Singing Revolution of 1988 once again brought out into the open the national symbols and cultural heritage, which foreign powers had forced underground for a long time. The political struggle moved from correcting specific mistakes to changing the system itself, towards achieving a better position and more discretionary powers for Estonia within the Soviet Union. By 1989, the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia was gradually but persistently developing into a publicly declared goal. The Baltic Way was also motivated by this goal.