Estonia and Estonians

views updated


Estonia covers the area from 57.40° to 59.40° N and 21.50° to 28.12° E, bordered on the north by the Gulf of Finland, on the east by Russia, on the south by Latvia, and on the west by the Baltic Sea. Its area is 17,462 square miles (45,222 square kilometers), and its capital is Tallinn (population 400,378 in 2000). The estimated population of Estonia in 2003 was 1,356,000, including 351,178 ethnic Russians. Outside the country there are approximately 160,000 Estonians, among them 46,390 in the Russian Federation.

The Estonian constitution separates church and state. According to the census of 2000, there were 152,237 Lutherans (of whom 145,718 were Estonians), 143,557 Orthodox Chrsistians (104,698 of them Russians), 6,009 Baptists, and 5,745 Roman Catholics. Non-Christian religions included Islam (1,387 Muslims), Estonian native religion (1,058), Buddhism (622), and Judaism (257).

The Estonian language belongs to the Baltic-Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric languages of the Uralic language family. The first book in Estonian was printed in 1525. According to the 2000 census, 99.1 percent of Estonians considered Estonian their mother tongue.

The Estonian constitution, adopted in 1992, vests political supremacy in a unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu, with 101 members elected by proportional representation for four-year terms. The Riigikogu makes all major political decisions, such as enacting legislation, electing the president and prime minister, during the longevity of governments, preparing the state budget, and making treaties with foreign countries. The head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces is the president, who is elected to not more than two consecutive five-year terms. The president is elected by a two-thirds majority of the Riigikogu. If no candidate receives two-thirds, the process moves to the Electoral College, made up of the members of Riigikogu and representatives of local government.

The Estonian economy is mainly industrial. The dominant branches are the food, timber, textile, and clothing industries, but transportation, wholesaling, retailing, and real estate are also significant. The importance of agriculture is diminishing, but historically it was the most important branch of Estonian economy. The main fields of agriculture are cattle and pig keeping and raising of crops and potatoes. In 2001 there were 85,300 agricultural households in Estonia.

The earliest settlements in Estonia date to the Mesolithic Age (9000 b.c.e.). Its Neolithic Age continued from 4900 b.c.e. to 1800 b.c.e., its Bronze Age until 500 b.c.e., and the Iron Age until the beginning of the thirteenth century. After a struggle for independence between 1208 and 1227, Estonia was conquered by the Danes and Germans. It territory was divided between Denmark (Tallinn and northern Estonia), the Teutonic Knights (south-western Estonia), and the bishoprics of Saare-Lääne

(western Estonia and the islands) and Tartu (south-eastern Estonia). In 1346 the Danish crown sold northern Estonia to the Teutonic Order. During the Livonian Wars (15581583), Ivan the Terrible invaded Old Livonia (now Estonia and Latvia). The largest of the Estonian islands, Saaremaa, became the property of the Danish king, northern Estonia capitulated to Sweden, and the southern part of present-day Estonia to Poland. By the Truce of Altmark (1629) Poland surrendered southern Estonia to Sweden. In 1645 Sweden obtained Saaremaa from Denmark. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Peter the Great of Russia defeated Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War, and, by the Peace of Nystad (1721), obtained Estonia, which he had occupied in 1710. Between 1816 and 1819, serfdom was abolished in Estonia. This led to an improved economic situation and the cultural development of the Estonian people, who constituted most of the class of peasants by that time. Between 1860 and 1880 there was an Estonian national awakening, the beginning of a modern Estonian nation. Estonians began to publish national newspapers, organized all-Estonian song festivals, and developed literature, education, and the arts. In the late nineteenth century, a wave of Russification, initiated by the tsarist government, reached Estonia. Estonian politicians demanded radical political changes during the revolution of 1905, but the Russian authorities responded with repressions. After the February Revolution in Russia, the Provisional Government allowed Estonia's territorial unification as one province (until then it had been divided into the Estonia and Livonia guberniyas).

On February 24, 1918, Estonia declared its independence. Its War of Independence (19181920) concluded with Soviet Russia recognizing its independence in the Tartu Peace Treaty signed on February 2, 1920. In 1939 the Nazi-Soviet Pact (also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) assigned Estonia to the Soviet sphere of influence. Soviet troops occupied the Estonian Republic in June 1940 and incorporated it into the USSR. During the first year of the Soviet regime, 2,000 Estonian citizens were executed and 19,000 deported, more than half of them in June 1941. During the period 19411944, Estonia was occupied by Germany.

At the end of World War II there were nearly 100,000 Estonian refugees in the West. An anti-Soviet guerilla movement was active from 1944 through the mid-1950s. In March 1949, during the collectivization campaign, more than 20,000 Estonians were deported to Siberia. Throughout the Soviet period, a directed migration of population from Russia was conducted, mainly into Tallinn and the industrial region of northeastern Estonia. The 1970s and the first half of the 1980s comprised the most intense period of Russification. At the end of the 1980s, a new wave of national awakening began in Estonia, accompanied by political struggle to regain independence. On August 20, 1991, Estonia proclaimed its independence from the Soviet Union, and in September 1991 it was admitted to the United Nations.

See also: great northern war; latvia and latvians; livonian war; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist; world war ii


Clemens, Walter C., Jr. (1991). Baltic Independence and Russian Empire. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Pettai, Vello A. (1996). "Estonia." In Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania: Country Studies, ed. Walter R. Iwaskiw. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Raun, Toivo U. (2001). Estonia and the Estonians. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press.

Taagepera, Rein. (1993). Estonia: Return to Independence. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Art Leete

About this article

Estonia and Estonians

Updated About content Print Article