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Republic of Estonia

Major City:

Other Cities and Regions:
Hiiumaa, Narva, Saaremaa, Tartu


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 1999 for Estonia. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


ESTONIA has had a history of domination by other countries. Ruled at times by Germans, Swedes, Russians, and finally the Soviets, Estonia had a brief period of independence from 1920 to 1940, when it was forcibly annexed by the Soviets. Occupied by German forces between 1941 and 1944, Estonia was once again claimed by the Soviets after World War II and remained a Soviet republic until its independence was declared in August 1991.


Built in a naturally formed harbor on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn is a picturesque capital city with a long maritime tradition. The Old Town and the adjacent Toompea (Castle Hill) contain Tallinn's oldest buildings that reflect the city's history as an important point on the east-west trade route from the Middle Ages and later. The 13th century fortress on Toompea and several church spires on Toompea and in the Old Town, built from the 13th to 16th centuries, dominate Tallinn's skyline. Near the lower town, where the artisans and merchants traditionally lived, remnants of the town wall begun in the 13th century remain. Cobbled streets wend around the Old Town, passing houses once belonging to wealthy merchants and the guildhalls from where these merchants controlled trade in agricultural commodities and artisanship during the days when Tallinn was a member of the Hanseatic League. These days the Old Town is filled with tourists and Estonians frequenting the many cafes, restaurants, and shops.

Modern Tallinn has a vibrant business and arts community. Immediately east of the Old Town is the more modern center of Tallinn (Kesklinn). Theaters and museums are located in both the Kesklinn and Old Town, as are many apartment buildings.


Standard electric power in Estonia is 220v and runs at 50 cycles, but voltage may run lower than that. Electricity is generally reliable. Any appliances or other electrical items that run at 110v must be used simultaneously with a step-down transformer. Also, bring, and use, surge protectors and step-down transformers for 110v computer equipment.


A wide variety of shops and markets in Tallinn supply basic food needs, and the number of larger supermarket-type stores continues to grow. Availability and variety of imported fruits, vegetables, locally produced meats, dairy products, and various foods imported from Western Europe have increased dramatically since independence. Many American convenience type foods and specialty items are not available in Tallinn (boxed brownie and cake mixes, chocolate chips, Crisco, boxed macaroni and cheese, pop tarts, frozen waffles, etc.).


Men: Business suits and slack/blazer combinations are recommended for work. Various weights of wool can be worn throughout the year. Few social occasions in Tallinn require a tuxedo. For casual fall and winter wear, wool, corduroy and other heavier weight slacks are appropriate. Turtlenecks, sweaters, and clothes from various outdoor outfitters are best for keeping warm. However, you may not want to bring too many sweaters, as Estonian knitwear is of excellent quality, affordable, and readily available.

Women: Wool suits and separates are recommended, as are long-sleeved blouses, turtlenecks, and sweaters. Bring a large supply of heavier weight stockings or tights in addition to regular nylons. For some affairs, dressier cocktail-length dresses are appropriate. Heavier weight fabrics such as wool or corduroy are recommended. In general, more subdued colors are most common, but women in Estonia often wear bright colors to formal events. For social events, the fashion trend in Tallinn is stylish and follows that in any Western or northern European capital city.

Children: Good-quality, reasonably priced snowsuits and winter children's outerwear are available locally. Children, as well as adults, need to wear hats and gloves from October through May.

Both men and women should bring warm coats suitable for work and casual wear. A raincoat with a liner and umbrella is also useful throughout the year, but especially from March to October. Both men and women wear hats and gloves or mittens from October through March. Warm, breathable raingear is recommended for wet autumn months.

Winter clothes should include the warmest clothes you would wear in Washington, D.C., during January and February. These may be appropriate for fall and spring in Tallinn as well. You should count on layering and wearing sweaters and heavier dress clothes from October until May. In addition, bring several pairs of long underwear. Lightweight silk or synthetic long underwear is recommended.

In the summer, clothes worn in the fall or spring in Washington, D.C., are appropriate. Women will find separates useful, especially jackets and cardigans, because the weather is cooler in the morning and late evening during summer. As for casual clothes, those that you would wear during a northern New England summer are best. Shorts are appropriate for sports, picnics, and casual outings. It should be noted that air-conditioning is almost nonexistent in Estonia. Office buildings, stores, shops, and homes can become quite warm for short periods in the summer months, so bring a small supply of short-sleeve dress shirts or blouses suitable for work.

Footwear throughout the year should be sturdy. The cobblestone streets of the Old Town, not to mention the damp, cold winter weather, are particularly hard on shoes. For winter, bring waterproof boots with soles that will not slip on the icy sidewalks and streets. From November through April, most women wear boots because shoes are not warm enough for walking on the cold, wet, and icy sidewalks. For men, thickly soled shoes or a pair of boots is recommended. Overshoes are also a useful wardrobe addition. Generally, footwear here is slightly more expensive than in the U.S.

Supplies and Services

Since 1991, the types of goods and supplies available in Tallinn have increased week by week. The general rule of thumb is that almost any item can be obtained in Estonia's capital, but some items are prone to sporadic availability. In addition, a 18% value-added tax is placed on imported goods.

Western European and American toiletries, cosmetics, and feminine personal supplies are available in Tallinn as are cleaning supplies, food products, items for pets, clothes washing needs, contact lens supplies, and basic first-aid items. Not all brands are available, so if you are partial to a specific brand, bring it with you. Good-quality items are expensive but not prohibitively so.

Cooks interested in preparing various international or ethnic foods should bring a basic supply of what they need, such as specialty spices and condiments. Some items for international cooking (especially Tex-Mex) can be found, but they are not always available.

There are a wide variety of basic services available in Tallinn, and increasingly, the quality of these services is similar to that offered in other Western European capitals.

Everyday services such as shoe, watch, and eyeglass repair are available in Tallinn. In addition to beauty-and barbershops at the major hotels, Tallinn has many smaller salons for men's and women's haircuts. Many individuals work as dressmakers out of their own homes.

Reliable drycleaning facilities, at prices similar to or slightly lower than in the U.S. are also available.

Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa franchises are located in Tallinn and have excellent machine-assisted developing processes. The quality of color prints is high, but the cost is higher than that in the Washington, D.C., area. Kodak, Fuji, and Agfa color print and slide film, as well as black-and-white print film, are readily available for prices similar to those in Washington, D.C. Camera batteries and other smaller batteries are also readily available.

In general, most local services are similar in quality and less expensive than in Washington, D.C.

Domestic Help

Domestic help, including childcare, is available in Tallinn. Most domestics are not trained household staff, per se. Rather, they are more often under-or unemployed people, often just out of school, or with grown children who have basic cleaning, cooking, and childcare skills who are attracted by the above-average wages paid by the international community (EEK2550/hour [$2-$3.50] depending on the tasks required). Generally, younger household help will speak at least some English, will be familiar with modern appliances, and will be easier to train. However, younger staff may not be committed to more than short-term or occasional work. Older domestic staff are more likely to commit to longer, full-time work, but are less likely to speak English, less likely to be familiar with Western appliances, and less likely to adhere to Western cleanliness and hygiene standards. Generally, domestic help is employed during business hours, and on evenings and weekends as needed. Live-in domestic staff is rare in Estonia. The best way to hire help is to find someone through word of mouth. The community liaison

By law, the employer must pay the employee's social security and illness compensation coverage at a rate of 33% of the employee's salary.

Religious Activities

Tallinn has Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, and Russian Orthodox churches. There is a service in English once a month and on holidays at a Lutheran church. The Catholic church holds services in English the first Sunday of every month. A Jewish community center, with a provisional synagogue, holds services in Russian on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.


The International Elementary School of Estonia (I.E.S.E) was established in 1995 and has steadily increased its enrollment since then.

Under direction of an American, classes (preschool through grade 8) are taught in English. The curriculum follows Western education standards. Most teachers are native English speakers. Aside from the basic curriculum, German, Estonian, computer, art, music, and physical education are also taught. In fall 1997, the school moved to a new facility, sharing a wing of the Tallinn Medical School. This provided students with larger classrooms, use of a cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium, and a large outdoor play area. Currently, I.E.S.E. cannot accommodate children with special needs. The Tallinn International English Kindergarten, established in September 1997, is another option for preschool children.


Tallinn has a good range of sporting opportunities, including modern indoor and outdoor sports facilities. Most sports facilities and clubs cost less than in metropolitan Washington, D.C.

Indoor sports are particularly popular and, in winter, often a necessary diversion. Several sports clubs offer aerobics classes and weight lifting equipment. In addition, these clubs often have showering, sauna, massage, and solarium facilities. A couple of squash clubs have opened in Tallinn. Tallinn has several indoor swimming facilities, and a few of the large health clubs have small lap pools. Estonia's favorite team sport is basketball.

Tallinn has a bowling alley similar in quality and price to a U.S. bowling facility. Tennis players will find a tennis center in Kadriorg Park, as well as two other smaller outdoor facilities near downtown Tallinn. Some indoor courts exist, but outdoor courts offer late evening tennis during late spring and summer. Lessons with English-speaking coaches for children and adults can be arranged. Court fees are inexpensive.

Summer picnicking spots abound along the Estonian seacoast and lakes, but they make for chilly bathing, even in the midsummer. Wind-surfing, kayaking, and canoeing are possible on the Baltic as well as on Estonia's many lakes and rivers. The Tallinn Yachting Center, the site of the 1980 Olympic sailing events, is Estonia's premier sailing center. Sailboats (with or without crew) can be rented at slightly below U.S. rates. Boating equipment, particularly safety equipment, may be limited.

As soon as the first snow falls, Estonians begin to plan cross-country skiing outings. There are numerous skiing spots in wooded areas of Tallinn and at places in the countryside close enough to drive for a day trip. More adventurous skiers can plan overnight trips as well. Tallinn has two skating rinks, including a modern indoor facility. Good-quality cross-country skiing equipment and skates in all sizes are purchased easily and inexpensively.

Running is popular in Estonia, but cold temperatures, darkness, and icy sidewalks require that runners bring appropriate cold weather attire and wear safety reflectors. Sidewalks are often too icy for safe winter running. Rollerblading is increasingly popular in Estonia. Rollerblade equipment is readily available locally, at prices similar to or slightly below Washington, D.C. prices.

Estonia has one golf course, located about 12.5 kilometers from downtown. It is open to the public, well maintained, and offers a complete range of golfing services including a driving range, a pro shop, and a clubhouse. Greens fees are slightly higher than in the U.S.

Bicycling enthusiasts will find many possibilities for biking around Estonia. Rural roads just outside Tallinn and around the country are uncrowded, and the topography is usually flat. The hilly southeastern region resembles western Maryland and is also good for bike trips. Although main roads are surfaced, they are often rough. Bikes with wider tires such as "mountain bikes" are more comfortable on rough surfaces. Tallinn's many bike shops sell a variety of brands and styles at prices similar to, or less expensive, than in Washington, D.C.

Horseback riding and lessons are available in Tallinn and at several other locations near the city.

Spectators can watch many sporting events and exhibitions during the year. For example, basketball, soccer, and handball games are played at various locations in Tallinn.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

There is much to do and see while touring Tallinn, the countryside, and the Baltic Sea coastline.

With many shops, restaurants, and cafes, Tallinn is well setup for visitors, most of whom are day-or short-term travelers arriving by boat from Helsinki. In the Old Town, you can take a walking tour (on your own or with a guide) of the cobblestone streets while looking at finely preserved examples of Gothic and Hanseatic architecture. The Old Town has a heavy concentration of shops, restaurants, cafes, museums, and other diversions. In Kadriorg Park, on the eastern edge of the city center, a walk in a peaceful wooded setting leads to the baroque Kadriorg Palace, built for Catherine I, wife of Tsar Peter I. The ruins of a cloister and convent dating from 1436 located near Pirita (about 2 kilometers east of the city center) provide another picturesque and interesting place to visit. In summer, Pirita Beach is popular for swimming, sunbathing, and boating.

Possibilities for day trips within a 3-to 4-hour round-trip drive from Tallinn abound, as Estonia is filled with pine forests and shoreline waiting to be explored. The Lahemaa National Forest, 40 kilometers east of Tallinn on the Gulf of Finland, is a good place to picnic and walk in naturally beautiful surroundings. Numerous well-preserved German manor houses are found in and around Lahemaa Park.

Matsalu, a 2½-hour drive from Tallinn, is a nature preserve and waterbird sanctuary on the coast south and west of the capital. It, too, is a good place to picnic and walk. A hilly inland spot with beautiful forests and lakes is Aegviidu, a 75-minute drive from Tallinn. Aegviidu is especially popular among cross-country skiers.

Interesting overnight trips from Tallinn can easily be arranged, as overnight accommodations have existed for a long time but are just beginning to be renovated for tourists and be advertised. Tartu, a 2½-hour drive from Tallinn, is close enough for a day trip, but there is enough to do there to make it an overnight excursion. It is worth seeing Tartu's several museums, art galleries, and historical buildings, including two red-brick Gothic churches (the remains of a 13th-century church and a standing 14th century church) and Tartu University. Hotels in Tartu offer comfortable accommodations. Near Tartu is the hilly region of southeastern Estonia, and the resort town of Otepaa. Since there is generally more snow in southeastern Estonia than in other parts of the country, Otepaa is popular with cross-country skiers. Several guesthouse-type accommodations are available in the area. Parnu is a 2-hour drive south of Tallinn and is a picturesque seaside resort town with many new cafes, restaurants, and several nicely renovated hotels. Narva, a 3½-hour drive northeast of Tallinn, is located on the border with Russia. Narva Castle, built when Narva was an important Hanseatic port, dates from the 13th century and now houses a historical museum well worth visiting. The castle's setting is unique because it sits across the Narva

River from the castle in Ivangorod, Russia. Residents of Narva claim that these two fortresses are the closest, once-warring castles in the world.

Estonia's many islands offer restful vacation places. The largest of the islands, Saaremaa, is a 3½-hour drive-and-ferry ride from Tallinn. Kuressaare, the island's largest town, is quaint. The Kuressaare Episcopal Castle dates from the 14th century and is considered Estonia's best preserved castle. Like the castle at Narva, it houses a good historical museum. Saaremaahas many beaches, forests, and two wildlife preserves, including one with an established bird sanctuary. Hiumaa Island, Estonia's second largest island, is also about a 3½-hour drive-and-ferry ride from Tallinn, and well worth a visit. Many of Estonia's islands offer overnight accommodations.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of Estonia's touring possibilities. Like most European cities, in order to decide where to go, you must consult guidebooks, various locally published newspapers and periodicals (in Estonian and English), travel agents, the Tallinn City Tourist Office, and Estonian friends. Estonia has a reasonably good road system that makes it easy to travel, and touring Estonia never disappoints the resourceful traveler.


Music is a central aspect of Estonian culture, and, therefore, entertainment in Tallinn usually centers around various kinds of musical productions. The Estonia Opera and Ballet Theater's Concert Hall and other venues offer classical concerts, recitals, and choir performances almost daily during the winter season. Likewise, very good opera and ballet performances take place at the Estonia Opera and Ballet Theater's Opera House. Occasionally, musicals are performed at the Opera House or Linnahall. Compared to the price for attending such kinds of cultural programs in the U.S., cultural events in Estonia are inexpensive. During summer many special dance and music festivals are in Tallinn and around Estonia. Every 4 years the National Song Festival takes place near Tallinn. During summer, there are also outdoor rock concerts in Tallinn featuring Estonian, Western European, and U.S. rock bands.

Restaurants, bars, and cafes often have live music during dining hours or later in the evening, and some nightspots have dance floors. Usually local bands play rock, blues, or jazz. You can expect a small cover charge to enter when there is music.

Foreign films are featured at a few of Tallinn's theaters. Occasional foreign film festivals and special showings of lesser known "art films" are held at the Kinomaja in Tallinn's Old Town. The Kosmos and Sopruse theaters show American films in English with Estonian and Russian subtitles. New movies arrive all the time. Employees can also purchase satellite TV that offers a wide array of programs.

Many of Tallinn's museums have very good art and historic collections that are worth seeing. The Eesti Kunstimuuseum (Art Museum of Estonia) exhibits Estonian art from the 19th century to 1940 and other Baltic painters' works. The Tarbekunstimuuseum (Museum of Decorative and Applied Art) exhibits 20th century crafts and decorative arts from Estonia. At Kiek in de Kok there are usually photography exhibitions. Just outside Tallinn is the Vabaohumuuseum (Open-Air Museum) where 18th-to 20th-century rural buildings are on display throughout the year in a wooded park land. Historical artifacts are exhibited at the Linnamuuseum (City Museum) and Meremuuseum (Maritime Museum), among other museums in Tallinn.

Other activities in the Old Town include shopping for Estonian handicrafts and souvenirs, as well as eating and drinking at Tallinn's increasing number of cafes and restaurants located in renovated medieval buildings. Antique shopping is also popular, and Estonia has some genuine bargains (cut glass, silver, and amber jewelry, wooden objects and furniture).

International trade shows, special exhibitions, and presentations can be seen regularly at the Eesti Naitused (Estonian Exhibitions) Hall in Pirita. In 1997, exhibitions included a car show, a job fair, a trade fair for businesswomen, a travel fair, and a computer exposition and sale. Shows are often held through the weekends and are open to the public.

An important holiday in Estonia is on Jaanipaev (St. John's Day), or Midsummer's Eve. It is celebrated in every city, town, and village. Tallinn's big festival, Hanseatic Days, is in early summer and features folk music and dancing. Most other local festivals are celebrated by folk dancing and singing with performers and participants in traditional dress.

Social Activities

The American Chamber of Commerce is very active in Tallinn. It brings together the overgrowing American corporate community and occasionally sponsors happy hours, fund raisers, athletic activities, and other fun activities.

The international community is quite varied, but the Americans, British, Germans, Swedes, Danes, and, most of all, the Finns, are most heavily represented. There is no central meeting place for the international community, so most activities revolve around dinner parties at home, going to concerts, the opera or theater, going to restaurants, or participating in school socials/activities. For women, the International Women's Club offers many interesting activities as well as a chance to chat and socialize. The International Women's Club has a children's playgroup that meets once a week.


The most prevalent problem for residents in Tallinn is cart heft. Prudence should be exercised to park in well-lit safe areas and to use any security features available (e.g., the Club, engine cutoff switches, alarms, etc.).

Personal crime is primarily nonviolent and opportunity driven. Pick-pocketing and purse snatchings are not uncommon in any crowded area but are most likely to affect visitors in Old Town, Kadaka Market, and other tourist areas. The use of violence is low by U.S. standards. Credit-card fraud can be a problem, and standard precautions should be taken when using credit cards in Estonia.

Generally, organized crime activity is more subdued in Estonia than elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Juvenile crime, however, is on the rise.

Life in Tallinn is safe when compared to large U.S. cities. Estonians, although generally reserved, are pro-American. If people exercise the same caution and use the same common sense that they would in any large city, they can expect to have a safe and rewarding tour or visit


HIIUMAA , the second-largest island of Estonia, is located about 14 miles west of the mainland. The main town, Kärdla, offers beautiful coastline and gardens and often serves as a gateway point to the Tahkuna Peninsula. A lighthouse built in 1874 sits at the northern tip of the peninsula. At Ristimägi, the southern base of the peninsula, lies the Hill of Crosses. Handmade crosses cover the dune marking the spot where the last Swedes living here performed their last act of worship before being deported in 1781. Traditionally, first-time visitors to the island go to place a cross on the hill.

Käina, at the south end of Hiumaa near the shore of Käina Bay, offers a major bird reserve. The ruins of a 15th century stone church are here as well.

NARVA , located in northeast Estonia on a river of the same name, less than 10 miles from the Gulf of Finland, has a population of 82,500. The city was founded by the Danes in 1223 and was a seat of the Livonian Knights and a member of the Hanseatic League. It was captured in 1558 by Ivan the Terrible of Russia, then in 1581 was taken by the Swedes. In 1700, Narva was the scene of a battle in which the Swedes, under Charles XII, successfully defended the city against the Russians, led by Peter the Great. In 1704, Narva was recaptured by Russia. During World War I, Narva was the site of many battles. In January 1919, the city was occupied by Communist forces who had also tried to occupy, but were driven out of, Latvia and Finland. During World War II, German forces occupied the city. Today, Narva is a milling center, producing cotton, jute, wool, and flax. A hydroelectric power plant was built here in the mid-1950s. At the mouth of the Narva River on the Gulf of Finland is the city's port and a summer resort, Narva-Jõesuu.

SAAREMAA , the largest island of Estonia, consists mainly of farmland and forests. Those looking for a quiet, gentle vacation spot will enjoy the quaint features of the island, including many windmills, stone churches and fishing villages. Kuressaare, the capital of the island, is the site of a 13th century castle open for tourists. Viidumäe, about 16 miles west of Kuressaare, is the site of a beautiful botanical reserve that is home to such rare plant species such as the blunt-flowered rush, the Saaremaa yellow rattle and the white-beam.

From Kuressaarre, nature buffs can take a boat to Abruka, located four miles off the southern coast of Saaremaa. A botanical-zoological reservation is open here in the summer, offering classes, horseback riding and overnight stays in a rustic farmhouse. If you happen to be on Saaremaa in the winter, you can walk to Abruka over the frozen strait.

TARTU , Estonia's second-largest city with a population of 115,500, is the site of an important university founded in 1632 by King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden. The university has several specialized institutes, a good library, and a botanical garden. Tartu was founded as a castle in 1030 by a Kiev prince. It was captured by the Teutonic Knights in 1224 and was a member of the Hanseatic League. Through the centuries, the city was under Russian, Polish, and Swedish authority. It became Russian in 1704. Tartu was the scene of considerable fighting during the Russian Revolution. Two important peace treaties were signed here: the first between the U.S.S.R. and Estonia in February of 1920, and the other between U.S.S.R. and Finland in October of 1920. During World War II, Tartu was occupied by the Germans and was considerably damaged.


Geography and Climate

Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic States. West of Estonia is the Baltic Sea, north is the Gulf of Finland, and to the east is Russia. Estonia borders Latvia on the south. The smallest of the Baltic States, Estonia covers 18,086 square miles (45,226 square kilometers), and is roughly the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.

Estonia is located on the Great Northern European Plain. Its topography is typically flat in coastal regions and hilly in the inland southeastern part of the country. The elevation in northwestern Estonia averages 160 feet (49 meters), but rises to 320 feet (98 meters) in the southeast. The highest point in Estonia, at 1,040 feet (317 meters) high, is a hill called Suur Munämagi in the southeast.

Estonia's inland waters include 1,400 lakes and many shallow rivers. The largest lakes are Lake Peipus in eastern Estonia on the Russian border and Lake Vðrts in south-central Estonia. Estonia's two major rivers are the Emajðgi, running east-west from Lake Was to Lake Peipus, and the Narva, that connects Lake Peipus to the Gulf of Finland. Estonia has substantial areas of bogs and wetlands, particularly in western regions. Forest and woodland, which is usually a mixture of coniferous spruce, pine, white birch, ash, maple, and aspen, cover 31% of Estonia.

Off the coast of Estonia are 1,520 islands that account for nearly 8% of the country's total land area. The largest islands are Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.

The climate is northern continental, with long winters and short summers. Winter begins in October and lasts often well into April. Snow cover is common from mid-or late November to the latter half of March. Cloud cover and slate gray skies are typical between October and early February, when drier and sunnier days arrive. Mean January temperatures are 22°F-25°F (-4°C-6°C). The Gulfs of Finland and Riga only freeze over during the coldest winters.

In addition to being cold and snowy, winter months are characterized by shortened daylight, a result of Estonia's northern latitude (59 °N, about the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska). When days are at their shortest, daylight is present only between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Prevailing gray skies from November through January make daylight seem even more fleeting. The sun, when it shines, hugs the horizon, thus giving the impression that it is early morning or late afternoon even at midday.

It is often difficult to say exactly when winter ends and spring begins. After the Vernal Equinox (March 21), daylight increases dramatically. Most days in late March, April, and May are sunny. Daytime temperatures, however, may still remain in the 30°F-45°F range into late April, and it is not safe to put winter clothing in storage until late May. Occasional snow flurries and light snow are possible through May.

Summer in Estonia is a short, magical season. Temperatures and humidity are generally cooler and lower than summer in the U.S. July and August temperatures are the warmest, averaging 67°F-75°F (19°C-24°C). Mornings are cooler and the late afternoon can warm up to the low 80s. The surface water temperature in the Baltic Sea is from 60°F-78°F (16°C-26°C). The heaviest rains occur in July and August, but they are usually passing showers. During summer months, Estonia benefits from its northern latitude, with daylight extending long into evening hours, and reappearing well before earliest risers are out of bed. From early June to mid July, there is no real "nighttime."

The short autumn can start as early as late August, and is generally cool and rainy. Autumn colors are pleasant, but not as varied or spectacular as in the northeastern U.S.


Estonia has some 1,475,000 inhabitants. Throughout Estonia's modern history, people from several ethnic groups have entered the country as immigrants to work in the industrial sector. The last major influx of immigrants, primarily ethnic Russians sent to live in Estonia during the Soviet era, occurred after World War II. Ethnic groups present in Estonia include 64% Estonian, 29% Russian-speaking, 3% Ukrainians, and 2% Belarussians. The urban population of Estonia is 71% of the total population, according to the census. Tallinn is the largest city with 420,470 residents, followed by Tartu with 101,901, and Narva with 75,211. Residents of Tallinn are 47.4% Estonian and 41.2% Russian. The rural population, including the islands, is 87% Estonian.

There is no state religion in Estonia. Currently, major denominations include Lutheran, Russian Orthodox, Baptist, and Catholic. The small Jewish community consists mainly of native Russian speakers.


A small nation located between East and West, Estonia has spent much of its history under foreign domination. In spite of this fact, the Estonian people have preserved their language and culture. In August 1991 the Republic of Estonia regained its independence, and, thus, began the challenging tasks of nation-building and the reorientation of Estonian public institutions toward those characteristic of a parliamentary democracy.

From the 13th-to the 18th-century, Estonia was ruled by the Danes, an order of German Teutonic Knights, the Poles, and the Swedes. In 1710, during the Great Northern War, Russia defeated Sweden, and the first era of Russian rule over Estonia began. Russian rule lasted until the Russian Empire collapsed with the Bolshevik Revolution at the end of World War I. Estonia declared its independence from Russia on February 24, 1918, but a war with Russia for this independence followed. Two years later, the two sides concluded the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty in which Soviet Russia recognized the independence and sovereignty of Estonia.

On the eve of World War II, Estonian sovereignty was again undermined. On August 23, 1939, Estonia's two powerful neighbor states, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, concluded a mutual defense pact (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), which contained secret protocols dividing Eastern Europe into spheres of influence, with Estonia falling into the Soviet sphere. The same autumn, the Soviet Union demanded Estonia for military bases. Confronted with the threat of annihilation, Estonia acceded to this demand. This led to the forcible incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Estonia fell under Nazi control. In 1944, the Soviets regained the country and remained in control until the August 1991 failed coup in Moscow. Amid the coup, Estonia declared its independence reestablished. In early September 1991, the U.S. reestablished diplomatic relations with Estonia, which had been suspended in 1940.

Before Estonia's August 1991 declaration of independence, the period from 1985 to 1991 was marked by a gradual movement toward economic, social, and political independence. Two primary issues engendered public demonstrations and meetings in 1987 and 1988. The first issue was a proposed phosphorite mine which opponents argued would pollute the ground water and air near the facility. Demonstrations against the mining caused Moscow to abandon the plan the same year. The second issue was that of the secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the existence of which Soviet authorities still denied. In a dramatic public demonstration, well-known dissidents organized a public meeting on August 23, 1987, demanding the pact's publication in Estonia to prove that Estonia did not join the Soviet Union voluntarily.

In 1988, several prominent Estonians began to publicly criticize Communist leaders and call for sovereign Soviet republics. The Estonian "Popular Front" was founded and organized a rally where Estonians listened to nationalist songs and political speeches in an unprecedented show of support for national independence. This rally contributed to the independence movement's mystique and resulted in its being called "The Singing Revolution." The following autumn, the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared sovereignty.

During 1989, ethnic Estonians increasingly pushed for complete independence instead of sovereignty within the U.S.S.R. They established Estonian citizens committees throughout the country. The committees planned the first public recognition of Estonia's declaration of independence for February 24, 1989. On that day, the blue, black, and white flag of the First Republic era flew once again over Estonia. In the summer of 1989, the Popular Front organized a Baltic-wide demonstration on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to call attention to the consequences of its secret protocols. A 400-mile-long chain of people held hands from Tallinn, Estonia, through Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania, to demonstrate Baltic solidarity.

After nearly 50 years of occupation by the Soviet Union, the Republic of Estonia regained its independence and immediately began the difficult task of reestablishing a democratic government. A constitutional assembly was convened in the fall of 1991. By the spring of 1992, the assembly completed a draft constitution that provided for a parliamentary democracy. This constitution was adopted by referendum in June 1992.

Public Institutions

The Republic of Estonia is a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister as head of government and a president as head of state. The Riigikogu, Estonia's Parliament, is a unicameral body with 101 members elected by proportional representation. The first post-Soviet elections were held in September 1992, and the new Parliament, government, and President took office in October. The Members of Parliament are elected for 4 years and the President for 5. The President nominates the Prime Minister. Parliament then authorizes the nominated Prime Minister to form a government. The authorized nominee then presents the proposed government to the President, who formally submits their names for office. Parliament then votes the Prime Minister into office. The constitution establishes an independent judiciary composed of the National Court, district courts, and county and city courts.

Each of Estonia's 15 provinces (Maakond) has its own provincial government.

Arts, Science, and Education

Culture and language have historically been reflected in the arts. Estonian society continues its high regard for music, literature, fine arts, and traditional crafts. Science and education are also highly valued and have a long tradition in the history of modern Estonia.

As Estonia prepared for its first period of independence, the first National Song Festival occurred in Tartu in 1869. Choruses sung in the Estonian language during the first song festival set the tone for future festivals that further defined the Estonian sense of national identity. The choral music tradition continues today in modern Estonia with two primary choral groups and many smaller choruses. The two nationally known choruses are the National Male Choir and the Philharmonic Chamber Choir. The National Song Festival is now held every 4 years at the outdoor Song Festival Amphitheater near Tallinn. An international choir festival is held annually in Tallinn.

The modern musical tradition in Estonia includes classical and contemporary Estonian and foreign composers' music played by symphony and chamber orchestras. Estonia's two main orchestras are the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra and the Estonian Opera and Ballet Theater Orchestra, which is conducted by well-known conductor Eri Klas. These orchestras play at the Estonia Opera and Ballet Theater's Concert Hall and Opera House, respectively. The theater has an 800-seat Concert Hall and a 700-seat Opera House. Many smaller ensembles perform in Tallinn at restored medieval and modern venues around the city. Even small Estonian towns boast well-appointed concert halls.

Several Estonian composers, choir directors, and conductors are known internationally. These include composers Arvo Part, Lepo Sumera, Veljo Tormis, and Erki Sven-Tuur, as well as the late choir director and composer Gustav Ernesaks. Especially cherished in Estonia, Ernesaks composed music set to national poet Lydia Koidula's poem My Fatherland Is My Love, which became the unofficial anthem of the recent independence movement.

Kaljuste is another well-known choir director. Occasionally, foreign conductors and musicians collaborate with their Estonian counterparts on musical productions. thus bringing outstanding musical performances to Estonia from abroad.

Opera, dance, and dramatic theater productions are also plentiful in Tallinn and around Estonia. Operas in Tallinn are performed at the Estonian Opera and Ballet Theater's Opera House and are usually sung in Estonian. Larger dramatic productions are performed at either the Estonian Drama Theater or Russian Drama Theater. The plays are written by playwrights of various nationalities and are performed in Estonian or Russian. Recent performances have included "Hello Dolly," "Nicholas Nickleby," "My Fair Lady," "Hamlet," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and others. Smaller theaters often stage more avant-garde works. Musicals are often performed at the Linnahall, a modern 4,200-seat theater with a separate 3,000 seat arena for sports and other events. Rock and pop concerts are becoming more frequent on the song festival grounds. In August 1997, Michael Jackson performed there.

The Estonian people have a strong appreciation for literary figures who have contributed to the nation's sense of identity in literature and other writings. The literature will become more widely knows as more works are translated. One contributor to Estonia's early literary history was Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, author of the national epic Kalevipoeg, which tell, of Estonia's mythical hero. Poet Lydia Koidula wrote poems that defined the independence movement called the "National Awakening" in the mid-1880s, Koidula's father, J.V Jannsen, helped establish the Estonian-language newspaper tradition by founding the ancestor of today's Postimees daily newspaper in 1857, Modern literary figures that have added to Estonian literature include Jaan Kross. Paul-Erik Rummo, Jaan Kaplinski, and poet Doris Kareva.

Several Estonian filmmakers have gained international reputations. Two animation filmmakers, Priit Parn and Rein Raamat, have produced excellent works. Dramatic film director Leida Laius made Naerata Ometi (Smile Please) and Varastatud Kohtumine (A Stolen Meeting), both known outside of Estonia.

The Estonian national character and sense of identity have also been preserved in Estonian fine art and traditional crafts. The primary types of Estonian fine arts are painting, print-making, and sculpture. Traditional crafts include leatherwork (especially jewelry), woodwork, and knitwear. The Art Museum of Estonia has an extensive collection of paintings by Estonian and other artists from the Baltics. Modern paintings, prints, photography, glassware, and textiles are exhibited at many private galleries in Tallinn, which usually sell artists' work. Traditional and modern crafts are also sold in shops belonging to an artists' cooperative.

Centers for scientific studies in Estonia include the Estonian Academy of Sciences in Tallinn, Tartu University, and the Tallinn Technical University. Wilhelm Ostwald, a scientist who received his doctorate from Tartu University, was responsible for defining physical chemistry as a separate discipline within chemistry. Ostwald was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1909 for his research on catalysis, chemical equilibrium, and reaction velocities. Contemporary scientists are gaining worldwide attention for genetic research.

The first primary schools to teach in the Estonian language were established during the period of Swedish rule, in the 1680s. Tartu University, Estonia's first university, was founded in Tartu by King Gustav Adolf of Sweden in 1632. Tartu University has highly accomplished faculties in the hard sciences, medicine, and Russian literature. It is also the site of several ongoing U.S.-sponsored educational exchanges and training programs in public administration, political science, American studies, and English-teacher training. Estonia's Binational Center for North American Studies, which offers a minor in North American Studies through an interdisciplinary program, is located at the university. Fulbright scholars to Estonia are posted at University Tartu in Tallinn. The other major institutions of higher learning that educate Estonia's highly literate and skilled society include the Tallinn Technical University, the Tallinn Pedagogical University, the Tallinn Music Academy, the Tallinn Art University, and the Estonian Agricultural University in Tartu. Several private schools, including the prestigious Humanities Institute, and business colleges including Concordia International University, The Estonian Business School, and others, have emerged in Tallinn.

Estonia has many libraries for research and general reading purposes. The newly constructed National Library opened its 4.2 million volume collection to the public in 1993. The Library of the Estonian Academy of Sciences was established in 1947 and currently holds a 3.5 million-volume collection. This collection emphasizes materials for research in the hard and social sciences. It includes the oldest books published in Tallinn (1631) and Tartu (1634) in a special Baltic collection, as well as a substantial collection of books about Estonia published in foreign languages and many reference materials for scholars. The Academy's library has exchange relationships with libraries in 38 countries. The Tartu University and Tallinn Technical University libraries also have large research collections.

Commerce and Industry

Estonia is evolving rapidly to meet the challenges it faces as a country with a liberal, open market economy. Change is the watchword for all aspects of the Estonian economy, from market orientation and trading partners to defining the private sector and reforming financial policies.

Traditionally, Estonia had a prosperous agrarian-based economy, but it was also a crossroads for trade goods from the East and West. All of Estonia's major cities and towns were members of the Hanseatic League during the 13th century. Guildhouses in each city controlled trade in agricultural goods and artisanship. Swedish and Danish rulers also benefited from Estonia's agrarian economy and excellent geographic position for trade. In later years Estonia was industrialized by Imperial Russia. During the first period of Estonian independence from 1918 to 1940, the Estonian economy grew rapidly. By 1940, its standard of living was comparable to Finland. After annexation by the Soviet Union, its economy was fully controlled by central planners in Moscow.

After World War II, Estonia's industrial sector surpassed the agrarian sector in terms of national output.

Economic planners focused on developing Estonia's extensive oil-shale resource as a means to produce energy for domestic consumption and export to other Soviet Union republics. The planners also stressed development of industrial uses for phosphorite, Estonia's second most important natural resource. Meanwhile, in other economic sectors, there was large-scale nationalization of the banking and transportation systems, and 97% of the farms were collectivized by 1952.

The push toward industrialization continued; and, thus, the proportion of agrarian to industrial sector workers decreased throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Also, the number of Russians coming to Estonia to work in industry steadily increased during this period and into the 1980s. As one of the Soviet Union's most industrialized republics, with high employment levels and a skilled workforce, the standard of living in Estonia was higher than in the other republics.

Starting in the 1970s, there was a general sense of economic stagnation that lasted until 1987, when a loosening of the Estonian economy seemed within reach with Gorbachev's introduction of "perestroika." In 1987, Edgar Savisaar and several other prominent Estonians publicly suggested that Estonia be designated an autonomous economic zone under a plan called " Isemajandav Eesti (IME)." Although IME did not materialize, Savisaar's suggestion began a public debate on Estonia's autonomous economic and political future. In December 1989, banking legislation called for monetary reform and for the Bank of Estonia to prepare for issuing a new national currency. However, reform-minded economists held back, realizing in the late 1980s that substantive political changes were necessary before any meaningful economic reforms could happen.

With the 1991 return of independence came a new social, political, and economic era for the Republic of Estonia. Traditionally, Estonian industrial producers depended on raw materials from the former Soviet republics and Eastern Europe, and likewise finished products were sent to those republics and countries. This trend began to change in 1990 and has continued, so that Estonia has shifted its trade orientation toward Nordic countries and other Western European nations. At the same time, Estonia is pursuing widespread economic reform.

Monetary reform proposed in 1989 became a reality on June 20, 1992, when Estonia was the first of the former Soviet republics to issue its own currency. The Estonian "kroon" (EEK) was introduced with the full backing of gold and foreign exchange reserves and was pegged to the Deutsche Mark (at EEK8=DM1) with a 3% fluctuation rate. The new currency was a source of national pride from the day it was introduced and has proven to be a successful and stabilizing influence on the economy.

In addition to introducing the new currency, Estonia also implemented price reforms. In January 1992, major price reform legislation was enacted. Prices of more than 90% of Estonia's goods and services are no longer controlled. In the 1980s, subsidies represented 13% of Estonia's gross domestic product (GDP), but as early as 1991, they represented only 2.2% of GDP However, the cut in price subsidies hurt the average Estonian consumer, and consumers' purchasing power declined by 70% between 1989 and the end of 1992. Although the inflation rate rose dramatically just after price controls were lifted, it stabilized during 1992 and averaged about 2% a month in 1993. The economy appeared to bottom out in early 1993, and purchasing power has begun to increase modestly. The annual 1996 inflation rate decreased to 15%. Between January and June 1997, Estonia's total exports were $1.3 billion and imports totaled $1.8 billion. The republic's major trading partners are Finland, which accounts for 32% of its exports and 21% of its imports, Russia for 16% of its exports and 18% of its imports, and Sweden for 9% of its exports and 11% of its imports.

Estonia's major export goods are textiles/clothes, machinery/equipment, food, wood/wood products, and chemicals. The major import goods include machinery/equipment, minerals, vehicles, textiles/clothes, and food. Estonia has liberalized its import restrictions so that duties are levied only on tobacco products, alcohol, and luxury items (including automobiles). All other import items are duty free. Export licenses are only required for a handful of natural resources, such as oil shale. The lack of nontariff barriers, the favorable exchange rate of the Estonian currency, and Estonia's positive attitude toward free trade contribute to the republic's reputation as a respected trading nation.

Privatization and development of the private sector represents a significant area of reform in Estonia. The primary obstacle to privatization continues to be issues surrounding property law. Many joint ventures with Estonian and Nordic partners have established themselves in Estonia since independence. The most successful ventures are in wholesale and retail trade, industry, the service sector, construction, food service, and hotels.

A strong banking sector has developed rapidly in Estonia since independence. Unlike other newly independent countries in the region, Estonia did not provide state support to unhealthy or unstable financial institutions. The result of this sink-or-swim strategy was a significant number of bank failures and mergers of smaller banks, followed by the emergence of several large, stable banks, offering the full range of Western banking services. The largest bank in the Baltics is Estonia's Hansapank. With the emergence of easier mortgage credit in 1997, banking in Estonia is now comparable to banking in Western Europe or the U.S. Estonia has a healthy, thriving stock market. In mid-July 1997, prices of bluechip shares jumped from between 10% and 20% on average, spurred in part by the announcement that Estonia would be asked to start negotiations on the EU membership. Until October 1997, share prices of several leading stocks rose by 1,000% or more. In the wake of economic turmoil in Asia, there have been several sharp downturns in the market. However, these drops have been viewed more as needed "corrections" which have removed many inexperienced, marginal, and speculative investors from the market. Estonians pay personal and corporate income, profit, and value-added taxes. The highest personal income bracket is 33%; corporate tax stands at 36%; and the value-added tax is 18% on services and imported goods. Employers pay social taxes equal to 33% of an employee's salary. These social taxes include a 20% tax for social security and a 13% tax for the medical insurance fund. Compliance with local tax law is high compared with other newly independent countries in the region. By law, the Estonian Government must have a balanced budget.

Workers in Estonia have the constitutionally guaranteed right to join a union or employee association. They can also participate in collective bargaining. In April 1990, the Estonian Trade Union (EAKL), the largest employee organization, replaced the Labor Confederation from the Soviet period. Estonia joined the International Labor Organization in January 1992.

Estonia became a member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in December 1991, a member of the International Monetary Fund in May 1992, and a member of the World Bank in June of the same year. Estonia has received substantial monetary assistance from the IMF, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Union (EU), and from individual countries including Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and Norway.

In 1997, Estonia received the green light by the EU to start negotiations for membership. Many observers noted that the main reason was Estonia's strong well-cultivated reputation for reform. Full membership in the EU will probably be granted in the middle of the next decade.

To say that the business environment has changed for the better in the last 5 years is an understatement. Although business-to-customer services have improved, some remnants of Soviet-era business practices (mainly brusque or indifferent service) remain. However, compared to elsewhere in the former Soviet bloc, doing business in Estonia is generally a positive, pleasant experience.

The U.S. aided Estonia significantly in its drive to develop a free market economy. Between 1991 and 1996, U.S. assistance to Estonia, administered through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program, concentrated on three main areas: economic reform and privatization; democratic pluralism and local government; and environmental protection and health. In September 1996, Estonia became the first country in central and Eastern Europe to successfully "graduate" from USAID assistance. The U.S. Peace Corps, in Estonia since 1992, still sends volunteers to teach English and to assist with small business development.

A variety of U.S. technical advisers from private and public sectors have played a central role in helping Estonia establish its legal framework for reform. The fields in which U.S. technical advisers worked most extensively include privatization, constitutional and judicial reform, energy efficiency, banking, education, local government reform, national and local elections, municipal administration, taxation, national and local budget systems, cooperatives, agricultural production and agribusiness, small business development, bankruptcy issues, and environmental reform.



All major car dealers are represented in Tallinn. Dealerships are able to sell, service, and obtain spare parts for American, Japanese, and Western European cars and minivans. Any model can be ordered by the dealer and shipped to Tallinn. European cars are generally cheaper than they would be in the U.S.

Dealership services in Tallinn are similar to those in the U.S. Most dealerships have maintenance facilities, and independent garage repairs are of good quality. Labor, especially at independent garages, is relatively inexpensive. Spare parts for American cars can be expensive and occasionally must be special ordered. Service and parts are readily available at reasonable prices for Russian and European cars. Quality auto bodywork for all cars is available in Tallinn.

Unleaded gas is readily available at modern, clean service stations. Many of these have convenience shops that sell Western auto-related items at prices similar to, or somewhat higher than, those in the U.S.

Estonia has the highest rate of car ownership growth in Europe. Correspondingly, many new drivers are on the road. This, combined with the fact that there are still many older Soviet cars on the road, has meant a substantial increase in traffic (similar now to a major U.S. metropolitan area) and a large number of fender-benders. Aggressive driving is the norm.

The speed limit on open roads is 90km/h (55 mph), but 50km/h (30mph) in residential areas. Car headlights must be on at all times, year round. The driver and front seat passenger must wear seat belts. Police enforce and most drivers take driving-under-the-influence-of-alcohol laws seriously. Car seats for babies and small children are mandatory and available locally. A first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and safety reflectors in case of breakdown are mandatory. Winter tires, available locally at prices similar to or slightly lower than in the U.S., are mandatory between December and March. Studded snow tires are allowable and recommended. Estonia is a left-hand-drive country.

The Estonian Government requires that all drivers carry third-party-liability car insurance. Stiff fines are imposed on those who do not comply with this law. Third-party-liability insurance that is considered valid under Estonian law may be purchased in Estonia. However, drivers should note that valid third-party-liability coverage in Estonia may not be valid in neighboring countries, and therefore supplemental insurance must be purchased for travel to the neighboring countries. Some American insurers, such as Clements, will provide coverage that satisfies local requirements. Drivers intending car travel (via ferry) to Sweden or Finland should ensure that their liability insurance provides them with a green international insurance card.

State and private car insurance policies in Estonia offer minimal coverage compared to that in the U.S. They generally cover only damage to the driver's car and nominal personal injury coverage. The local prevailing practice is that damages to another driver's car are covered out-of-pocket, but it can be difficult to get any settlement from a delinquent driver.

Estonia's main roads are adequate for daytime, fair-weather driving, but night driving and winter driving can be difficult. Roads outside Tallinn are not lighted and often poorly marked. Road construction is not well marked. During winter months, when roads are sanded and plowed sporadically or, more often, not at all.

On the other hand, summer driving in Estonia, and throughout the Baltic States, can be pleasant. The almost endless daylight, the reasonable quality of most roads (when not wet, dark, or icy), the relatively light traffic outside the cities, and the increasing availability of tourist and roadside services will do much to counter the cabin fever that results from the lack of winter mobility. Excellent road maps are readily available in Tallinn for all of Estonia and the other Baltic countries.


Public transportation in the Tallinn area is generally convenient and reliable. All forms of public transportation are more crowded than in the U.S. One can travel easily, if not always comfortably, around the city and to the outskirts of Tallinn using the extensive public transportation system.

Tallinn has many taxis, all of which must use a meter. Taxis generally fall into two categories: those from larger taxi companies with clean, modern fleets (Tulika and several others), and those from smaller firms or independents using Soviet, Russian, and older Western cars. You can either get a taxi at a taxi stand or request one by phone, for an extra fee. If they do not do so immediately, remind drivers to turn on their meters. Taxi rates are generally cheaper than in Washington, D.C. Some modern taxi companies take credit cards. Passengers usually tip the driver a small amount (5%-10%), but tipping is not considered mandatory. Overall, using taxis in Tallinn is easier and more pleasant than in most U.S. cities.


There is regular intercity travel from Tallinn to other points in Estonia, the other two Baltic capitals, points in Russia and other republics of the former Soviet Union, and major Western European cities.

Bus travel within and beyond Estonia is extensive. You can take a bus to all of Estonia's major cities and towns from Tallinn and can at least make a connection to many smaller towns not directly serviced by buses from Tallinn. You can also travel by bus and ferry to Estonia's larger islands. Buses travel regularly to Riga and Vilnius, as well as Klaipeda, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, and cities in Germany. Bus service is faster and usually more convenient than train travel. Many buses on the longer routes meet Western standards (i.e., with bathroom and small TV), but older buses are often used on routes within Estonia. Bus travel is cheap, compared with that in the U.S.

Trains from Tallinn service all major regional cities, including Narva and Tartu in Estonia and the following cities in other countries: St. Petersburg, Moscow, Riga, Vilnius, Minsk, and Warsaw. For longer trips, an overnight sleeper car provides both for safety and comfort. Overnight train is a good way to travel to Moscow or St. Petersburg, but is substantially slower than the bus to Riga and Vilnius.

Tallinn offers frequent flights to cities in Western Europe and the former Soviet Union. Finnair flies daily to Helsinki and SAS flies to both Copenhagen and Stockholm. In addition, there is regular, nonstop, service to Riga, Vilnius, Hamburg, Amsterdam, London, Vienna, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Minsk.

There is regular ferry service between Helsinki and Tallinn (several times daily) and Stockholm and Tallinn (daily), as well as hydrofoil service between Helsinki and Tallinn from April through October. Ferries can carry motor vehicles, but hydrofoils are for passengers only. All ferries have restaurants, bars, shops, and other diversions. Passage by ferry to Helsinki takes about 3½ hours; the hydrofoil takes 1½ hours. Although the hydrofoil is faster, it is more expensive, and sometimes stormy weather and/or rough seas cancel trips. The trip from Tallinn to Helsinki by ferry is cheaper than flying and then taking a taxi or bus into the Finnish capital. The ferry to Stockholm sails from Tallinn every second day and takes 14½ hours. Although this is the most direct ferry route between Tallinn and Stockholm, it is also possible and less expensive to sail to Stockholm via Helsinki.

As noted above, car travel around Estonia and the Baltics, or to cities in the Nordic countries, Russia, and Eastern Europe, is feasible. Avis, Hertz, National (Eurorent), and other Western and local rental car firms have outlets in Tallinn and the other Baltic capitals, with rates somewhat higher than in the U.S. Most borders you would cross in the region cause no problem, except the border between Lithuania and Poland and the border between Estonia and Russia, where delays are frequent.


Telephone and Telegraph

Currently, Estonia has three types of telephone systems, including an analog system, a digital system, and several cellular systems. Tallinn has upgraded 90% of the city's telephone system to digital. The rest of the country is undergoing gradual digital upgrades. Phone service in the capital is good but can be sporadic outside Tallinn.

Tallinn residents can dial international calls directly from their residential telephones or book them through the operator. It is slightly cheaper to call the U.S. from Estonia than vice versa. Calls to Eastern and Western European countries from Estonia are cheaper than calling those countries from the U.S.

Local digital calls have per-call charges, but long-distance and international-call charges are the same as those for the older system. Many individuals and businesses use cellular systems for phone calls and fax machine transmissions. Cellular systems are more expensive than the other systems for local and long-distance calls. International calls made with cellular phones currently cost 30% more than those made with digital systems.

Computer usage in Estonia is widespread. The entire range of computer software and hardware is available locally at reasonable prices. Internet hookups are reasonably priced and easy to arrange. Microlink, Gateway, and several other familiar computer firms are present in Tallinn. All major computer companies and computer stores have knowledgeable staff people, most of whom speak at least some English. As occasional fluctuations in electrical voltage occur, bring surge protectors for all computer equipment.


The international mail system for letters and packages to and from Estonia is reliable. No difficulties concerning customs, pilferage, or damage to sent or received items has been reported. Currently, mailing letters and packages from Estonia costs more than from the U.S.

Many international courier services can send small packets and larger boxes to and from Tallinn including Federal Express, DHL, and UPS. Courier firms charge prices comparable to those in the U.S. for the same service. It usually takes smaller packets 3-5 days to/from the U.S. You can use most major credit cards for the fee.

Radio and TV

Several radio stations broadcast on AM and FM in Estonia. The state-operated Eesti Raadio (Estonian Radio) airs the BBC World Service in English from noon to 5 pin daily. In Tallinn, Raadio KuKu was the first independent station; it has primarily a music format that includes an eclectic mix of American rock, jazz, blues, and country music, as well as European contemporary popular and classical music. Raadio Tallinn, another independent station, broadcasts music and news in Russian. Love Radio plays easy-listening pop with hits from the 1970s and 1980s and has news in English every hour. Since 1991, the number of independent stations on AM and FM has increased, and this trend is expected to continue. Shortwave reception in Tallinn is good and includes broadcasts in various languages.

From Tallinn you can watch Eesti Televisioon (Estonian Television), three independent Estonian stations, one Russian channel, and four Finnish channels. Satellite dishes, increasingly popular in Estonia, enable you to receive more programming from abroad. Full satellite-dish receiving equipment sets and installation services are available in Tallinn at reasonable prices. English-language programs and movies are subtitled rather than dubbed on most channels.

A TV should be able to receive both SECAM and PAL systems in Estonia, because Finnish and Western European channels require SECAM and Estonian and Russian channels use PAL. Multisystem TV's, recommended for local viewing, are available in Tallinn. Selection is limited and they can be expensive. To receive Finnish channels you will need a special antenna. Bring a multisystem VCR to watch videos. A limited selection of VCR's are available in Tallinn at generally higher than U.S. prices.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

American and European newspapers and magazines are increasingly available in Tallinn at the major hotels and some other shops. You can buy The Herald Tribune, USA Today, Time, and Newsweek regularly, but the newspapers are usually a day old.

Other popular American and English-language magazines (primarily fashion and women's magazines) are sold in Tallinn, but newsstand prices are higher here. Major newspapers and magazines in German and French are also available.

Several English-language publications written and published in the Baltics are sold regularly in Estonia. The City Paper is a bimonthly magazine and travel guide with interesting articles about current issues and politics in Estonia. The Baltic Times, a weekly newspaper published in Riga, covers the current events of the three Baltic States. Tallinn This Week, a booklet published six times a year, is a guide to Tallinn's restaurants, shopping, cafes, nightlife, and cultural events. Several Estonian-language papers and magazines also include special English pages or columns.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Health care facilities in Estonia are improving, but still fall somewhat below the Western standard. Most health care providers, however, are well-trained professionals and many are conversant in English.

Community Health

Food-handling procedures, although improving, are not yet entirely reliable here. Some food bought at older markets and the (rapidly disappearing) Soviet-style food stores may be poorly refrigerated. Although the public water supply in Tallinn is chlorinated, water treatment facilities and distribution pipes are often in disrepair. Therefore, the water supply could be contaminated. High-quality local and imported bottled water is available in all food shops and convenience stores.


Customs, Duties, and Passage

A passport is required. Tourists and business travelers may stay in Estonia for up to 90 days without a visa. U.S. citizens who wish to work in Estonia or remain longer than 90 days must obtain a visa or residence permit. For further information concerning entry requirements and residency permits, please contact the Estonian Embassy, 2131 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C 20008, telephone (202) 588-0101, or the Consulate General of Estonia in New York City at telephone (212) 883-0636. Also, please see the Estonian Embassy's Internet home page at

Customs restrictions on Estonian cultural artifacts exported from Estonia by anyone require a 100% duty on the purchase price of the item. Special permits are also required and may be obtained from the Cultural Values Export Board.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Estonia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within Estonia. The U.S Embassy in Tallinn is located at Kentmanni 20, telephone (372) 668-8100; fax (372) 668-8267; emergency cell phone (011)(372)509-2129, if dialed from the U.S., and 0-509-2129 if dialed from within Estonia. The Embassy's home page on the Internet is at


The pet should have a health certificate which is less than 10 days old and a documented rabies vaccination given more than 30 days, but less than 1 year, before arrival in Estonia. Dogs should also have recent distemper and parvovirus shots. There is no quarantine restriction for household pets brought to Estonia.

Competent veterinarians, many of whom speak English, practice in Tallinn. Most veterinarians will commonly obtain pet vaccines and medicines in Finland or elsewhere in Europe. Veterinarians often make house calls to vaccinate and care for sick pets. Veterinarians' fees in Estonia are low by U.S. standards. Although pet medical care is inexpensive, pet food is more expensive compared to Washington, D.C., prices.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The only currency that can be used legally in Estonia is the Estonian kroon (EEK). The kroon was introduced as Estonia's national currency in June 1992, nearly a year after Estonian independence. It is backed by gold and foreign currency reserves and is fully convertible. The current exchange rate is about 15.9 EEK=U. S. $1. The value of the kroon is pegged to the value of the Deutsche Mark at EEK8/DM1 with a fluctuation rate of 3%. Estonia's currency is issued in notes of the following denominations: 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500. The coins include 5-, 10-, 20-and 50-cent coins.

Credit cards are now widely accepted in Estonia. Traveler's checks are also accepted by many major hotels and restaurants.

Travelers checks may be cashed for kroons in any bank in Tallinn. Currency may be exchanged for kroons at most banks, hotels, and many foreign exchange counters around Tallinn and other parts of Estonia. The kroon is fully convertible and therefore can be exchanged for foreign currency. However, except for those arriving via Finland, it may be difficult or impossible to obtain kroons before arrival.

Credit cards can be used at the major hotels and department stores and most restaurants throughout Estonia. The most common cards used in Tallinn are American Express, Visa, and Mastercard (Eurocard). It is possible to get a cash advance in kroons with a major credit card. Advances are available for a commission fee to the bank.

A value-added tax (VAT) of 18% is placed on goods imported into Estonia and services performed in Estonia.

The weight and measurement system in Estonia is the metric system.


Jan. 1New Year's Day

Feb. 24Estonian Independence Day

Mar/Apr.Good Friday*

Mar/Apr.Easter Sunday*

May 1May Day


June 23 Victory Day

June 24 Midsummer

Aug. 20Day of Restoration of Independence

Dec.25 Christmas Day

Dec. 26Boxing Day



The following titles are provided as a general indication of material published on this country:

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

Hiden, John and Patrick Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century. New York: Longman, Inc., 1991.

Jackson, Hampden J. Estonia. Second Edition. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1948.

Laar, Mart. War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival 1944-1956. Washington, D.C.: The Compass Press, 1992.

Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Loeber, Dietrich Andre, B. Stanley Vardys, and Laurence PA. Kitching, eds. Regional Identity Under Soviet Rule: The Case of the Baltic States. Hackettstown, N.J.: Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, 1990.

Misiunas, Romuald J. and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence 1940-1980. Berkeley and Los Angeles:University of California Press, 1983.

Raun, Toivo U. Estonia and the Estonians. Second Edition. Stanford, California: Hoover Institution Press, 1991.

Taagepera, Rein. Estonia: Return to Independence. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.

von Rauch, Georg. The Baltic States: Years of Independence 1917-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1974.

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Republic of Estonia

Eesti Vabariik

CAPITAL: Tallinn

FLAG: Three equal horizontal bands of blue (top), black, and white.

ANTHEM: Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm (My Native Land, My Pride and Joy).

MONETARY UNIT: The Estonian kroon (eek) was introduced in August 1992, replacing the Russian ruble. eek1 = $0.08032 (or $1 = eek12.45) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is in force.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Independence Day, 24 February; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, anniversary of the Battle of Vonnu in 1919, 23 June; Midsummer Day, 24 June; Christmas, 2526 December. A movable religious holiday is Good Friday, the Friday before Easter.

TIME: 2 pm = noon GMT.


Estonia is located in northeastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, between Sweden and Russia. Comparatively, the area occupied by Estonia is slightly smaller than the states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined, with a total area of 45,226 sq km (17,462 sq mi). Estonia shares boundaries with the Baltic Sea on the n and w, Russia on the e, and Latvia on the s. Estonia's land boundaries total 633 km (392 mi). Its coastline is 3,794 km (2,352 mi). Estonia's capital city, Tallinn, is located in the northern part of the coast.


The topography of Estonia consists mainly of marshy lowlands with a hilly region in the southeast. Over a third of the country is forest. The highest point is Suur Munamagi, located in the Haanja Uplands of the south, with an altitude of 318 m (1,043 ft). The lowest point is at sea level (Baltic Sea).

The country has more than 1,000 natural and artificial lakes. The largest lake is Lake Peipus, located along the border with Russia. The shared lake has a total area of 3,555 sq km (1,386 sq mi). The Pärnu is the longest river with a length of 144 km (89 mi). The Narva and Ema are also chief rivers.


The proximity of the Baltic Sea influences the coastal climate. At the most western point, Vilsandi Saar, the mean temperature is 6°c (42.8°f). At the country's most eastern points, the mean temperature is between 4.2 and 4.5°c (36 to 40°f). Rainfall averages 50 cm (20 in) on the coast. Inland, rainfall averages 70 cm (28 in). Rainfall is heaviest during the summer and lightest in the spring.


Calcareous soil and a relatively mild climate permit rich flora and fauna in western Estonia. Native plants number over 1,600 species. The abundance of woodland and plant species provides a suitable habitat for elk, deer, wild boar, wolf, lynx, bear, and otter. As of 2002, there were at least 65 species of mammals and 205 species of birds.


Air, water, and land pollution rank among Estonia's most significant environmental challenges. The combination of 300,000 tons of dust from the burning of oil shale by power plants in the northeast part of the country and airborne pollutants from industrial centers in Poland and Germany poses a significant hazard to Estonia's air quality.

Estonia's water resources have been affected by agricultural and industrial pollutants, including petroleum products, which have also contaminated the nation's soil. Some rivers and lakes within the country have been found to contain toxic sediments in excess of 10 times the accepted level for safety.

The nation's land pollution problems are aggravated by the 15 million tons of pollutants that are added yearly to the existing 250 million tons of pollutants. In 1994, 24,000 acres of the country's total land area were affected. Radiation levels from the nuclear accident at Chernobyl exceed currently accepted safety levels.

In 2003, about 11.8% of the total land area was protected, including 11 Ramsar Wetlands of International importance. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included four types of mammals, three species of birds, one species of fish, and four species of invertebrates. The European mink and the Atlantic sturgeon are among those listed as endangered.


The population of Estonia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 1,345,000, which placed it at number 147 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 16% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 16% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 85 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be -0.3%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The decline in population was due to an extremely low birth rate (1.7 births per woman). The projected population for the year 2025 was 1,171,000. The population density was 30 per sq km (77 per sq mi), with the northern portion of the country being the most densely populated.

The UN estimated that 69% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that population in urban areas was declining at an annual rate of -0.90%. The capital city, Tallinn, had a population of 391,000 in that year. Other cities and their populations were Tartu, 101,297; Narva, 85,000; Kohtla-Järve, 72,000; and Pärnu, 55,000.


Newly independent in 1918, Estonia was occupied and annexed in 1940 by the Soviet Union. It was occupied by German troops the following year. When the Soviet army returned in 1944, more than 60,000 Estonians fled to Sweden and Germany. Other Estonians were sent to Soviet labor camps. Many Russians migrated to Estonia under Soviet rule. Some left after Estonia became independent again.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia suffered from waves of transit migration. As of 1999, ethnic Estonians represent only 65% of the total population of Estonia. Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarussians represent nearly 33%, and other groups comprise the remaining 2%. Only 70% of inhabitants are citizens of Estonia, mainly the ethnic Estonians and about 100,000 Russians. Some 90,000 Russians with permanent residence in Estonia are citizens of Russia. These large ethnic minorities live segregated from ethnic Estonians and tend not to understand the Estonian language. The total number of migrants living in Estonia in 2000 was 365,000, approximately one-quarter of the population. In 2004 a population of 150,536 stateless people existed in Estonia. In 2003 remittances to Estonia were $9.1 million. In 2005 the net migration rate was estimated as -3.18 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


According to a 2000 census, Estonians make up about 67.9% of the population, Russians 25.6%, Ukrainians 2.1%, Belarussians 1.3%, Finns 0.9%, and others 2.2%. Non-Estonians were found chiefly in the northeastern industrial towns, while rural areas were over 80% Estonian.


Estonian is a member of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family. It is closely related to Finnish and distantly related to Hungarian. Standard Estonian is based on the North Estonian dialect. Most of the sounds can be pronounced as either short, long, or extra long. Changing the duration of a sound in a word can alter the grammatical function of the word or change its meaning completely. The language is highly agglutinative, and there are no less than 14 cases of noun declension. Most borrowed words are from German. The alphabet is Roman. The first text written in Estonian dates from 1525. Estonian is the official language and is spoken by about 67.3% of the population; however, Russian (29.7%), Ukrainian, English, Finnish, and other languages are also used.


Christianity was introduced into Estonia in the 11th century. During the Reformation it converted largely to Lutheranism, although political events in the 18th and 19th century occasioned a strong Russian Orthodox presence. Independence from the Soviet Union, achieved in 1991, relieved the pressure under which religious groups had labored since 1940.

In 2005 there were an estimated 165 congregations of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church with about 180,000 members. There were also about 59 congregations of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (20,000 members) and 30 congregations of the Estonian Orthodox Church (150,000 members). While Lutherans and Orthodox constitute the majority, there are smaller communities of Baptists, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Methodist, Jehovah's Witnesses, Pentecostals, and other Christian denominations. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has a significant number of missionaries in the country. There are also Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist communities; however, each of these minority faiths has less than 6,000 followers. About 70,000 people in the country claimed to be atheists.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. All religious organizations must register with the Religious Affairs Department of the Ministry of Interior Affairs. Basic Christian ecumenical religious instruction is available in public schools as an elective. Certain Christian holidays are observed as national holidays.


Estonia in 2004 had a total of 958 km (596 mi) of broad gauge railroad track, all common carrier railway lines, not including industrial lines, of which 132 km (82 mi) was electrified. Tallinn, Haapsalu, Pärnu, Tartu, and Narva are provided rail access to Russia, Latvia, and the Baltic Sea. In order to overcome problems in rolling stock shortages and load fluctuations, a second line of tracks is being laid along the Tallinn-Narva route.

Highways in 2003 totaled 56,849 km (35,360 mi), of which 13,303 km (8,274 mi) are paved, including 99 km (62 mi) of expressways. Motor vehicles dominate domestic freight transportation, carrying nearly 75% of all dispatched goods.

The Baltic Sea (with the Gulf of Finland and Gulf of Riga) provides Estonia with its primary access to international markets. The principal maritime ports are Tallinn and Pärnu. The merchant fleet had 43 vessels of at least 1,000 GRT for a total capacity of 212,998 GRT in 2005. Sea transportation has increased especially since the completion of Tallinn's new harbor and the acquisition of high capacity vessels. Ships carry grain from North America and also serve West African cargo routes. In 1990, a ferry service opened between Tallinn and Stockholm. During one of these commutes in September 1994, the ferry Estonia sank off the coast of Finland, resulting in about 900 deaths. The tragedy brought international attention to the safety design of roll-on/roll-off ferries in use worldwide. As of 2003, Estonia had some 500 km (311 mi) of navigable internal waterways.

There were an estimated 29 airports in 2004, of which 12 had paved runways, and one heliport (as of 2005). The principal airport at Tallinn has direct air links to Helsinki and Stockholm. Estonian Air is the principal international airline. In 2003, about 395,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


What is now Estonia was ruled in turn by the Danes, the Germans, and the Swedes from the Middle Ages until the 18th century. Russia annexed the region in 1721. During the 19th century, an Estonian nationalist movement arose which by the early 20th century sought independence.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the advance of German troops into Russia, Estonia declared independence on 24 February 1918. But after the German surrender to the Western powers in November 1918, Russian troops attempted to move back into Estonia. The Estonians, however, pushed out the Soviet forces by April 1919, and the following year Soviet Russia recognized the Republic of Estonia.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 assigned Estonia to the Soviet sphere of influence. The Red Army invaded in June 1940 and "admitted" the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic into the USSR in August 1940. However, Hitler's forces invaded the USSR in June 1941 and took control of Estonia shortly thereafter. The German Army retreated in 1944, and Soviet forces once again occupied Estonia.

Taking advantage of the relatively greater freedom allowed under Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s, an Estonian nationalist movement, the Popular Front, was launched in 1987. Estonia declared its independence from Moscow on 20 August 1991. A new constitution was adopted on 28 June 1992.

With much fanfare, the last Russian tanks and 2,000 troops were removed from Estonia on 17 August 1994, ending 50 years of military presence in Estonia. Russia also announced it would begin dismantling two nuclear reactors within Estonia. Estonia demanded the return of more than 750 sq mi of land that Russia considered part of its territory, but that belonged to Estonia before World War II. When Estonia renewed its claim to those lands, the Russian government began constructing 680 border posts, many of which are guarded by armed soldiers and linked by fences.

One of the worst maritime disasters since World War II occurred on 28 September 1994, when the ferry Estonia, en route from Tallinn to Sweden, sank off the coast of Finland, killing about 900 people. Investigators reported that locks on the huge front cargo door of the ferry failed during a storm, letting in a flood of water that caused the ship to sink in only a few minutes.

The 1995 parliamentary vote reflected dissatisfaction among rural inhabitants and pensioners and signaled a change from the vigorous free-market reforms that dominated Estonia's transition from Soviet rule. The results of the election, however, didn't significantly alter Estonia's commitment to a balanced budget, a stable currency, or a good foreign investment climate. Following the March 1995 elections, Tiit Vähi was approved as prime minister, but he and his cabinet resigned in October 1995 amidst a scandal within the administration that involved telephone tapping and the clandestine sales of weapons. President Lennart Meri later appointed a new government, which reinstated Vähi as prime minister. In September 1996 Meri won a second presidential term, although the election was turned over to an electoral college after no candidate won the required two-thirds majority in parliamentary balloting in August. Following a no-confidence vote in February 1997, Prime Minister Vähi resigned and was replaced by Mart Si-imann, who formed a minority government.

Reformers once again won control of Estonia's parliament in the March 1999 general elections, in which a coalition of center-right parties gained a slim majority, wining 53 out of 101 seats. (However, the left-leaning Center Party won 28 seats, the highest number for a single party.) Mart Laar was named prime minister. The new government was expected to emphasize political reforms as much as economic ones, focusing on the elimination of corruption and inefficiency in the civil service, courts, and police.

Since it gained its independence in 1991, Estonia's foreign policy focused on integration with Western Europe, with the specific long-range goals of EU and NATO membership. One of these goals received a boost in 1998 when Estonia was invited by the European Union to begin negotiations toward membership. In December 2002, the EU formally invited Estonia, one of 10 new candidate countries, to join the body as of May 2004. A referendum on Estonia's entry into the EU was held on 14 September 2003, and on 1 May 2004 Estonia became a member of the EU. In November 2002, Estonia was one of seven Central and East European countries to be invited to join NATO, with accession taking place on 29 March 2004. Internally, Estonia still faces the challenge of integrating its minority population of ethnic Russians fully into the nation's public life.

In September 2001 Arnold Rüütel was elected president, succeeding Meri, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term. Rüütel's victory was seen as a reaction to popular dissatisfaction with the government and growing economic problems in small towns and rural areas, among other reasons. However, because none of the presidential candidates received the required two-thirds vote in parliament after three rounds of voting, an electoral college, composed of all members of parliament and 266 local government representatives, elected the president. In January 2002, Laar resigned as prime minister and Siim Kallas took his place. The next presidential election was to take place fall 2006.

Parliamentary elections held on 2 March 2003 resulted in the formation of a coalition government made up of the center-right Res Publica, the right-leaning Reform Party, and the rural party People's Union. Thirty-six-year-old Juhan Parts became prime minister on 10 April. On 24 March 2005, Parts resigned, and President Arnold Rüütel asked Reform Party chairman Andrus Ansip to form a new government. Ansip became prime minister on 12 April, representing the Reform Party, the Center Party, and the People's Union. The next parliamentary elections were scheduled for March 2007.

As of 2005, Estonia had the most advanced information infrastructure of any country in the former Communist Eastern bloc. Around 700,000 of Estonia's approximately 1.4 million people bank online, up from zero in 1997. Citizens use the Internet to access state services and to conduct any number of business transactions, and many people who never owned a landline telephone now rely on wireless phones.

After nearly 10 years of negotiations, in May 2005 Russia and Estonia signed a treaty delimiting their border. In June, the Estonian parliament ratified the border treaty, but introduced an amendment referring to the Soviet occupation, despite warnings from Russia not to do so. Russia reacted by withdrawing from the treaty.


Estonia adopted a new post-Soviet constitution on 28 June 1992. It declares Estonia a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral parliament. The parliament (Riigikogu) has 101 seats. Members of parliament serve four-year terms. The president (who is elected for a five-year term), prime minister and the cabinet make up the executive branch of government. The president is the head of state while the prime minister is the head of government. Both the parliament and the president are elected by direct universal suffrage of citizens 18 years or older.


The Independent Communist Party of Estonia split from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in January 1991. The Pro Patria Party, the Estonian Social Democratic Party, the Christian-Democratic Union of Estonia, the Estonian National Independence Party, and Estonian Green Movement were among the many parties that emerged in recent years. The Popular Front of Estonia, founded in 1988 to unite pro-independence forces, has lost much of its influence and role since the attainment of independence. The non-Estonian, mainly Russian, interests are represented by the Inter-Movement of the Working People of Estonia and the Union of Work Collectives, both founded in 1988. In addition, a Russian Democratic Movement has emerged that specifically represents the Russian-speaking population of Estonia.

In the parliamentary elections of March 1995, the Coalition Party and Rural Union (made up of four parties: Coalition Party, Country People's Party, Farmer's Assembly, and Pensioners' and Families' League) won 41 seats; Reform Party-Liberals, 19; Center Party, 16; Pro Patria, 8; Our Home is Estonia, 6; Moderates (consisting of the Social Democratic Party and Rural Center Party), 2; and Right-Wingers, 5.

The Pro Patria and the Estonian National Independence Party, which had allied themselves in the 1995 election, joined forces at the end of that year to form the Fatherland Union. In the March 1999 elections, the Fatherland Union and two other parties formed a broader coalition that won a narrow majority in parliament, garnering a total of 53 parliamentary seats (Fatherland Union, 18; Estonian Reform Party, 18; Moderates, 17). However, the party winning the single largest number of seats was the Estonian Center Party, with 28. The remaining seats were distributed as follows: the Estonian Coalition Party, 7; the Estonian Rural People's Union, 7; and the United People's Party, 6.

In the 2 March 2003 elections, the Center Party and Res Publica, a new political party, each won 28 seats in the Riigikogu; the Reform Party took 19 seats; the People's Union won 13; the Fatherland Union took 7 seats; and the Moderates won 6. The Res Publica, Reform, and People's Union parties formed a coalition government, securing 60 of 101 seats in parliament. The next parliamentary elections were to be held March 2007.


Estonia's major administrative divisions are 15 counties (maakond). The counties are further subdivided into municipalitiesrural communes (vald ) and urban municipalities (linn ). Since October 2005, there were 227 municipalities in Estonia, 34 of them urban and 193 of them rural.

While only citizens are allowed to vote in Estonia's national elections, residents of Estonia, including noncitizens, are allowed to vote in local elections. Noncitizens, however, cannot be candidates in local (or national) elections. Office-holders serve three-year terms. The last local elections were held on 16 October 2005. In the 2005 local elections, some 800,000 Estonians, or 80% of the eligible electorate, had access to a new e-voting system via the Internet, the largest run by any European country. In the end, only 1% of voters cast their vote online.


The 1992 constitution established a court system consisting of three levels of courts: (1) rural, city, and administrative courts, (2) circuit courts of appeal, and (3) the National Court. The National Court engages in constitutional review of legislation. At the rural and city courts, the decisions are made by a majority vote with a judge and two lay members. There are 2 city courts, 14 county courts, and 4 administrative courts in Estonia (20 courts of first instance). There are three circuit courts of appeal, at Tallinn and Tartu, and the Viru circuit court located in the city of Jõhvi. The National Court has 19 judges.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the judiciary is independent in practice. The Chief Justice of the National Court, nominated by the president and confirmed by the Riigikogu, nominates National Court judges, whose nominations need to be confirmed by the Riigikogu. The Chief Justice of the National Court also nominates the lower court judges who are then appointed by the president. Judges are appointed for life. The 1992 interim criminal code abolishes a number of political and economic crimes under the former Soviet Criminal Code. A new criminal procedural code was adopted in 1994.

The constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, access to prosecution evidence, confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses, and public trials.


Active armed forces numbered 4,934 in 2005, with some 24,000 reservists. The Army maintained four defense regions with 3,429 soldiers. The Navy numbered 331 active members and the Air Force had 195 active personnel. The Estonian Border Guard numbered 2,600 and also served as the coast guard. The estimated defense expenditure in 2005 was $207 million. As of 2005, Estonian forces were deployed in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Serbia and Montenegro, and as United Nations observers in the Middle East.


Estonia was admitted to the United Nations (UN) on 17 February 1991 and belongs to several specialized UN agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, World Bank, ICAO, ILO, IMF, IMO, UNESCO, and the WHO. The country is also a member of the OSCE, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Council of Europe, the European Investment Bank, and NATO. Estonia joined the WTO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. It has observer status in the OAS and is an affiliate member of the Western European Union.

Estonia belongs to the Australia Group and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (London Group). In environmental cooperation, Estonia is part of the Antarctic Treaty, the Basel Convention, Conventions on Biological Diversity and Air Pollution, Ramsar, CITES, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Convention on Climate Change.


Estonia has one of the strongest economies among the former Soviet republics. Its mineral resources include 60% of former Soviet oil shale deposits, as well as phosphates. Light manufacturing dominates industry, with major sectors that include textiles, furniture, and electronics. Agriculture is based mainly on rearing livestock, but dairy farming is also significant. Estonia is self-sufficient in electrical power.

The economy started to revive after the 1992 monetary reform, reintroducing the preoccupation quasi-convertible Estonian kroon. Estonia's economy quickly became one of the strongest post-Communist economies in eastern Europe as successive governments remained committed to the implementation of market reforms. Growth continued until 1998, when Estonia underwent its first post-Soviet economic downturn. GDP growth slowed to 4% in 1998 and declined to -1.1% in 1999. The economy began to improve the following year.

Estonia's economic progress is linked to its liberal foreign trade regime (there are few tariffs or nontariff barriers), effective bankruptcy legislation, and swift privatization. State subsidies were in the process of being abolished in the early 2000s, and all of these measures helped to stabilize and restructure the economy. As a result, Estonia received high levels of foreign direct investment. Although the global economy was in a downturn in the early 2000s, Estonia was able to maintain GDP growth rates of around 5%, higher than many other European countries. Major growth sectors include information technology, transportation, and construction services. Estonia was formally invited to join the EU in December 2002, and was finally accepted in May 2004. The country became a member of the WTO in 1999.

The GDP growth rate in 2004 was 6.2%, up from 5.1% in 2003; in 2005, the economy was expected to expand by 6.0%. The inflation rate has been fluctuating, but, at 3.0% in 2004, it was well under control and did not pose any problems to the economy. Unemployment was, at 9.6%, fairly high, although on a downward trend (in 2000 the unemployment rate was 13.6%); in 2005, unemployment was expected to drop further to 9.2%. Electronics and telecommunications are two of the main growth sectors, but Estonia is strongly dependent on the economic performance of three of its main trade partners: Finland, Sweden, and Germany.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Estonia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $21.8 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $16,400. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 7.1%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 4%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 4.1% of GDP, industry 29.1%, and services 66.8%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $40 million or about $30 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.4% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $85 million or about $62 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.0% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Estonia totaled $5.14 billion or about $3,800 per capita based on a GDP of $9.1 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 2.5%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 41% of household consumption was spent on food, 24% on fuel, 8% on health care, and 4% on education. It was estimated that in 1995 about 8.9% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, Estonia's workforce was estimated at 670,000. As of 2003, agriculture accounted for 6.2% of the workforce, with 32.5% engaged in industry, and 61.3% in the services sector. Unemployment was estimated at 9.2% in 2005.

The Estonian constitution guarantees the right to form and freely join a union or employee association. The Central Organization of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) was founded in 1990 as a voluntary and culturally Estonian organization to replace the Estonian branch of the Soviet labor confederation. In 2002, the EAKL claimed 58,000 members. A rival union, the Organization of Employee Unions, split off from the EAKL in 1993, and claimed about 40,000 members in 2001. In 2005, about 10% of the Estonian workforce was unionized. Workers had the right to strike, and of collective bargaining, both of which were freely practiced. About 15% of Estonia's workforce were covered under collective bargaining agreements as of 2005.

The statutory minimum employment age is 18, although children aged 15 to 17 years may work with parental permission. Children between the ages of 13 and 15 can also work, but in addition to parental or guardian approval, they must also have the approval of a labor inspector. Minors under the age of 18 are also prohibited from performing dangerous and hazardous work. The number of hours minors can work and when they can work are also limited. The standard workweek is legally set at 40 hours with a mandatory 24-hour rest period. The monthly minimum wage was about $218 in 2005, with around 94% of the nation's workforce earning more than the minimum rate.


In 2003, agricultural lands covered 561,000 hectares (1,386,000 acres), or 13.2% of Estonia's land area. During the Soviet period, forced collectivization reduced the share of labor in agriculture from 50% to less than 20%. By 2003, however, there were 36,859 private farms, with an average size of 21.6 hectares (53.4 acres). Agriculture accounted for 15.1% of GDP in 1991 and 4% in 2003.

Principal crops in 2004 included potatoes, 170,900 tons; barley, 289,500 tons; wheat, 184,700 tons; rye, 19,700 tons; and oats, 75,200 tons. In 2004 agricultural products accounted for 5.1% of exports and 8.4% of imports; the agricultural trade deficit was $430.8 million that year.


Over 10% of the total land area is meadow or pastureland. In 2005, there were 340,100 pigs, 249,000 head of cattle, 38,800 sheep, and 2,162,000 chickens. Meat production is well developed and provides a surplus for export. In 2005, 15,300 tons of beef, 40,000 tons of pork, and 15,000 tons of poultry were produced. Th at year, Estonia's dairy cows produced 650,000 tons of milk. Cattle breeding was the main activity during the Soviet era, and production quotas were set extremely high, which required massive imports of feed. Pork production has risen in recent years to offset the decline in the total cattle herd. The wool clip in 2005 was 80 tons.


Estonia's Baltic and Atlantic catch is marketed in the former Soviet Union, in spite of its own need for quality fish products. The fishing industry is seen as an important way to acquire access to the world market, but scarcity of raw materials currently limits its development. The total catch in 2003 was 80,580 tons. The total value of fisheries exports increased from $79.7 million in 2000 to $142.1 million in 2003. The two major species of the 2003 catch were Atlantic herring and European sprat, each of which accounted for 37%.


The government estimated that some 45% of the land area was covered by forests and woodlands in 1999. The production of wood and wood products is the second-largest industry after textiles; two cellulose plants (at Tallinn and Kehra) use local raw material, but have caused significant environmental problems. There is also a fiberboard processing plant (for furniture making) at Püssi. Roundwood production amounted to 10.2 million cu m (360 million cu ft) in 2004; when exports of 3.4 million cu m (120 million cu ft) of roundwood were valued at $131.3 million. Total forestry exports in 2003 amounted to $533.3 million; imports, $205.7 million.


Oil shale was the primary mineral of importance. The country also produced cement, clays, nitrogen, peat, sand and gravel, and industrial silica sand. Production figures for 2003 were: clays for brick, 134,900,000 cu m, down from 149,000,000 cu m in 2002; clays for cement, 27.3 million cu m, up from 19.0 million cu m in 2002; and sand and gravel, 4.470 million cu m. Phosphate quarrying at the Maardu deposit ceased because of environmental concerns.


Estonia gets most of its energy from oil shale, found in abundance in the northeastern region of the country. Oil shale is burned to produce electricity and accounts for approximately 6,000 barrels per day of oil production in 2004. With domestic consumption in that year totaling 60,000 barrels per day, Estonia had to import the difference primarily from Russia. There are no natural gas reserves in Estonia, which relies on imports from Russia. Natural gas consumption in 2004 stood at 50 billion cu ft, with imports accounting for all of it.

Estonia is however, a net exporter of electricity, sending its surplus power to parts of northwest Russia and to Latvia. In 2004, a total of 8.9 billion kWh was generated, most of it from Estonia's oil shale-fired plants at Narva. Domestic consumption of electricity for that year totaled 6.4 billion kWh, with generating capacity put at 3.3 GW. Surplus electricity from the two plants is exported to Latvia and the Russian Federation.


Estonian industrial production focuses on shipbuilding, electric motors, furniture, clothing, textiles, paper, shoes, and apparel. Extractive industries include oil shale, phosphate, and cement production. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, industry accounted for 29% of GDP in 2001. In 1991, 26.6% of industrial output was accounted for by the food industry, 25.9% by light industry, 12.7% by machine-building and metalworks, 10.3% by the timber industry, and 8.5% by chemicals. The textile mills of Kreenholmi Manufacturer in Narva and Bălţi Manufacturer in Tallinn are the country's largest industrial enterprises. Construction was slated to be a principal growth sector in 2002.

Between 1990 and 1995, industrial output shrank by an average of 14.9% per year, but most of the decline occurred in the years immediately after independence; by 1994, industrial production was on the rise. In 1995, value added by industry accounted for 28% of GDP and has remained stable since.

The industrial production growth rate was 5% in 2000, lower than the GDP growth rate (7.8%), and an indication of an under-performing industrial sector. In 2004, industry had a 28.9% share in the GDP; agriculture made up a small part of the economy (4.1%), while services was the best performing sector, with a 67% share in the GDP. Current industries include engineering, electronics, wood and wood products, textiles, information technology, and telecommunications.


The Academy of Sciences, founded in 1938, has divisions of astronomy and physics, informatics and technical sciences, and biology, geology, and chemistry, and research institutes devoted to biology, ecology, experimental biology, zoology and botany, environmental biology, marine sciences, astrophysics and atmospheric physics, chemical physics and biophysics, chemistry, geology, physics, computer research and design, cybernetics, and energy. Other research institutes in the country are devoted to preventive medicine and oil shale research. Tallinn Technical University (founded in 1918) offers science and engineering degrees. The University of Tartu, founded in 1632, has faculties of biology and geography, mathematics, medicine, and physics and chemistry, as well as an institute of general and molecular pathology. Estonian Agricultural University was founded in 1951. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 27% of university enrollment.

In 2002, expenditures for research and development (R&D) totaled $134.267 million, or 0.81% of GDP. Of that total, 53.8% came from government sources, while business provided 29.2%, followed by foreign sources at 14.4%, higher education at 2.4% and private nonprofit institutions at 0.2%. In that same year Estonia had 2,253 researchers and 386 technicians per million people that were actively engaged in R&D. In 2002 high technology exports by Estonia totaled $375 million, accounting for 12% of manufactured exports.


Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia's domestic trade was underdeveloped by international standards. Most trading companies were owned either by the state or by cooperatives. In recent years, many shops have been privatized or municipalized, new private shops established, and the assortment of goods widened. By 1992, there were 4,026 shops in Estonia.

Open-air markets control a large segment of domestic food sales. Market prices are usually lower than those in grocery stores, making it difficult for them to compete. Retail sales of food products amounted to $441 million in 1995.


During the Soviet era, Estonia's foreign trade was characterized by large net imports, 8085% of which came from other Soviet republics, which were also the destination of 95% of Estonian exports. Beginning in 1992, the value of exports began to surpass that of imports, and the share of trade with other former Soviet

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 5,622.5 7,966.6 -2,344.1
Finland 1,231.1 1,264.5 -33.4
Sweden 700.8 610.2 90.6
Russia 643.2 811.1 -167.9
Germany 469.8 881.9 -412.1
Latvia 417.6 191.1 226.5
Lithuania 226.6 228.0 -1.4
Ukraine 200.5 340.2 -139.7
United Kingdom 199.8 177.5 22.3
Denmark 179.3 157.1 22.2
Norway 170.4 83.9 86.5
() data not available or not significant.

republics diminished. In 2000, Estonia's exports totaled $3.8 billion, 69% of which went to EU nations.

The most important export industry in Estonia is electronics (24.5%). Cork, wood, and their manufactures account for the second-largest consolidated group of commodity exports (11.9%). Other important exports include apparel (5.3%), textiles (4.4%), and furniture (3.8%).

In 2004, exports reached $5.7 billion (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $7.3 billion (FOB). The bulk of exports went to Finland (23.1%), Sweden (15.3%), Germany (8.4%), Latvia (7.9%), Russia (5.7%), and Lithuania (4.4%). Imports included machinery and equipment (33.5%), chemical products (11.6%), textiles (10.3%), foodstuffs (9.4%), and transportation equipment (8.9%), and mainly came from Finland (22.1%), Germany (12.9%), Sweden (9.7%), Russia (9.2%), Lithuania (5.3%), and Latvia (4.7%).


Since independence, Estonia has dismantled a Soviet-era system of trade barriers and tariffs to become one of the world's most free-trading nations. In the early 1990s, exports to the West quadrupled, helping to generate a strong surplus in the current account. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, the balance of trade on goods became generally negative. Services and capital inflows produced income in the form of foreign direct investment, which remained strong.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2002 the purchasing power parity of Estonia's exports was $3.4 billion while imports totaled $4.4 billion resulting in a trade deficit of $1 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001 Estonia had exports of goods totaling $3.34 billion and imports totaling $4.13 billion. The services credit totaled $1.64 billion and debit $1.07 billion.

Exports of goods reached $6.0 billion in 2004, and were expected to grow to $7.6 billion in 2005. Imports were expected to reach $9.3 billion in 2005, up from $7.9 billion in 2004. The resource balance was consequently negative, reaching -$1.9 billion in 2004, and -$1.7 billion in 2005. The current account balance was also

Current Account -1,199.2
    Balance on goods -1,579.5
      Imports -6,183.0
      Exports 850.7
    Balance on income -576.7
    Current transfers 106.3
Capital Account 39.7
Financial Account 1,337.4
    Direct investment abroad -148.2
    Direct investment in Estonia 890.8
    Portfolio investment assets -394.3
    Portfolio investment liabilities 558.2
    Financial derivatives -1.8
    Other investment assets -127.3
    Other investment liabilities 560.0
Net Errors and Omissions -8.6
Reserves and Related Items -169.4
() data not available or not significant.

negative, at -$1.4 billion in 2004, and an expected -$1.5 billion in 2005. Foreign exchange reserves (excluding gold) grew to $1.8 billion in 2004, covering less than three months of imports.


All links with the Soviet budget and financial system were severed in 1991, and today Estonia has the strongest and most advanced banking system in the Baltic States. In January 1990 the Bank of Estonia was created, which merged two years later with the Estonian branch of Gosbank (the Soviet State Bank) to form the country's new central bank. In December 1988 the authorities established the first Estonian commercial bank, the Tartu Commercial Bank, and by September 1991 there were 20 commercial banks responsible for 27% of total credit extended by banks. The commercial banks include the Bank of Tallinn (1990), Estonian Commercial Bank of Industry (1991), Cand Bank of Estonia (1990), and South Estonian Development Bank. Savings banks include the Estonian Savings Bank, a bank with 432 branches.

Like those of other Eastern European countries, Estonia's banking sector has suffered from an excessive number of banks: there were 43 by the end of 1992. Consolidations took place in 1993, with the banks being merged in Eesti Uhispank (Estonian Unified Bank). As of 2001 there were 7 licensed commercial banks in Estonia. The merger agreement between the Union Bank of Estonia and the North Estonian Bank was signed in January 1997. With combined assets of eek4.97 billion ($414 million), the merger pushed Union Bank of Estonia (the name of the new entity) from third to second place in terms of assets. Hansabank remained Estonia's largest bank, especially after its merger with Hoiupank (Saving Bank). In 1999, SwedBank bid successfully for a majority interest in Hansabank.

Since independence, Estonia's banks have played a major role in fostering a climate of economic stability. In 1997, they took the initiative in tightening credit in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. This action, which resulted in a rise in interest rates, checked fears of a too-rapid economic expansion, which would bring about inflation. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $1.4 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $2.3 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 4.92%.

There are two stock exchanges in Estonia: the Estonian Stock Exchange and the Tallinn Stock Exchange, inaugurated in May 1996. As of 2004, there were 13 companies listed on the Tallinn Stock Exchange, which had a capitalization that year of $6.203 billion. The TALSE rose 57.1% in 2004 from the previous year to 448.8.


Since Estonia regained its independence, it has sought to develop a system of health insurance involving the decentralization of medical care. Third-party automobile liability insurance is compulsory.


The new government exercises fiscal responsibility characterized by a strictly balanced budget. No transfers or preferential credits are given to public enterprises, and governmental borrowing from the central bank is forbidden. In January 1996 Estonia instituted a centralized treasury system for managing the government's budget.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Estonia's central government took in revenues of approximately $5.1 billion and had expenditures of $5 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $109 million. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 3.8% of GDP. Total external debt was $10.09 billion.

Revenue and Grants 29,896 100.0%
    Tax revenue 16,128 53.9%
    Social contributions 10,471 35.0%
    Grants 624 2.1%
    Other revenue 2,673 8.9%
Expenditures 29,237 100.0%
    General public services 5,681 19.4%
    Defense 1,450 5.0%
    Public order and safety 2,095 7.2%
    Economic affairs 2,766 9.5%
    Environmental protection
    Housing and community amenities
    Health 4,763 16.3%
    Recreational, culture, and religion 1,157 4.0%
    Education 2,137 7.3%
    Social protection 9,188 31.4%
() data not available or not significant.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2001, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were eek29,896 million and expenditures were eek29,237 million. The value of revenues was us$1,710 million and expenditures us$1,673 million, based on an exchange rate for 2001 of us$1 = eek17.478 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 19.4%; defense, 5.0%; public order and safety, 7.2%; economic affairs, 9.5%; health, 16.3%; recreation, culture, and religion, 4.0%; education, 7.3%; and social protection, 31.4%.


Estonia does not tax the income of resident or permanently established nonresident companies. Instead, they are subject only to a tax on distributions (dividends, fringe benefits, gifts, profit distributions, and those payments not related to the payer's business) to resident legal entities, resident and nonresident persons, and nonresident companies. In 2006, those subject are taxed at 22%. A further reduction to 20% is slated to take effect in 2007. Interest payments are subject to a 24% withholding tax that is paid to resident persons, and on that portion of interest paid to nonresident persons or companies that is over the market interest rate. Royalty payments made to nonresident firms and persons, are subject to a 15% withholding tax. Resident persons and companies are subject to a higher, 24% withholding rate. Generally, capital gains received by resident persons and companies are taxed as income. For companies, the gains are taxed as part of the distribution, when it is made. Individuals do not pay a capital gains tax on the sale of their primary residence.

Personal income taxes, in 2006, are assessed at the same flat rate of 22% as corporate profits. Some school fees, living allowances, and interest on loans for the purchase of residential housing are deductible from taxable income. A withholding tax of 22% is imposed on dividends paid to nonresidents that hold less than 20% of the share capital in the paying company. However, Estonia has double tax treaties with at least 22 countries in which withholding taxes are eliminated or substantially reduced. A new Law on Social Tax came into effect in January 1999. The rate of social tax is 33% payable by employers and self-employed individuals. There are relatively few allowable deductions from taxable income in the Estonian tax code. The annual land tax varies from 0.12.5% of assessed value.

Main indirect tax is a value-added tax (VAT) set at a with a standard rate of 18% by a new Law on VAT passed in July 2001 and effective in January 2002. Reduced rates of 0% and 5% apply to some goods and services, including a 0% rate on exported goods and a specific list of exported services. Excise duties are levied on tobacco, alcoholic beverages, motor fuel, motor oil, and fuel oil (but not liquefied or compresses gas), motor vehicles, and packages (imposed to encourage recycling of package material). There is a gambling tax, and a customs processing fee on each customs declaration submitted. Rights of recording are taxed at 0.4%. Local governments have the authority to impose taxes and municipal taxes range from 12%.


Estonia has a liberal trade regime, with few tariff or nontariff barriers. Among the few items that have tariffs placed on them are agricultural goods produced in countries that are not among Estonia's preferred trading partners. There is also a value-added tax (VAT) levied ad valorem on everything except a few select commodities, including medicines and medical equipment, funeral equipment, and goods for nonprofit purposes.


Estonia has successfully attracted a large number of joint ventures with Western companies, benefiting from a well-developed service sector and links with Scandinavian countries. The foreign investment act passed by the Supreme Council in September 1991 offers tax relief to foreign investors. Property brought into Estonia by foreign investors as an initial capital investment is exempt from customs duties, but is subject to value-added tax. A foreign investor is legally entitled to repatriate profits after paying income tax.

In 1998, foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows peaked at $580.6, up from $266.7 million in 1997. FDI inflow averaged $346 million in 1999 and 2000, but increased to $538 million in 2001. Estonia's share of world FDI flows from 1998 to 2000 were 2.3 times its share of world GDP, making it 16th among the 140 countries ranked on FDI performance by UNCTAD.

Industry accounts for 46% of the total foreign investment, primarily in the pulp and paper, transportation, and services sectors. Wholesale and retail trade accounts for 27% of foreign investment; transport, 14%. Estonian agribusiness is an area of growing interest to foreign investors.

During the past decade, Estonia has been one of the best performing Central and Eastern European countries in terms of foreign investments attracted. Numerous foreign companies have considered Estonia to be an attractive market, and today companies partly or wholly owned by foreign nationals make up one-third of the country's GDP, and over 50% of its exports. In 2004, total capital inflows rose to $850 million, with Sweden and Finland being the largest investors.


After passing an ownership act in June 1990, the government began a privatization program at the beginning of 1991. Most of the nearly 500 state-owned companies have since passed into new hands. The Estonian Privatization Agency (EPA) was established to oversee major privatization programs. In late 1995, EPA announced privatization plans for Estonian Railways, Estonian Energy, Estonian Oil Shale, Estonian Telekom, and Tallinn Ports. Estonian Gas, Estonian Tobacco, and Estonian Air were privatized in 1996. As of 2002, only the port and the main power plants remained state-controlled.

Estonia has excellent intellectual property laws, has enacted modern bankruptcy legislation, and has seen the emergence of well-managed privately held banks. The constitution mandates a balanced budget, and the climate for foreign investment is positive. In 2003, the economy was vulnerable, and the size of the current account deficit was a particular concern. The government was urged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to pursue a fiscal surplus policy, to prepare for membership in the European Union (EU). The country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999 and the EU in 2004.

The economy expanded at healthy rates in the first half of 2005, and is expected to continue the trend for a couple of more years. This growth was fueled by increased private consumption and fixed investment. The export sector has been another sector that has registered high growth rates, and it is predicted to out-perform the import sector in coming years.


Social security programs were originally introduced in 1924. After independence from the Soviet Union, new social insurance systems were introduced. The current law was implemented in 2003. Pension systems are funded by contributions from employers and the government. Retirement is set at age 63 for men and 59 for women, and is set to increase to age 63 for both men and women. Other social welfare programs include worker's compensation, unemployment assistance, survivorship payments, maternity and sickness benefits, and family allowances. There is a family allowance for all children under 17 years of age.

Women constitute slightly more than half the work force, and in theory are entitled to equal pay. Although women on average achieve higher educational levels than men, their average pay was lower. Sexual harassment is not officially reported. Domestic violence is a widespread problem and is grossly underreported; spousal abuse is not a criminal offense. Public attention is focused increasingly on the welfare of children in the wake of family crises caused by economic dislocation. Educational issues were aggressively addressed in 2004.

Ethnic Russians sometimes face discrimination in housing and employment. Estonian language requirements make it difficult for many of them to find public sector employment. Citizenship has not automatically been extended to ethnic Russians living in Estonia, and a significant proportion of the population remain noncitizens. Discrimination based on race, sex, nationality, or religion is illegal under the constitution. Prison conditions remain poor, and police brutality is commonly reported.


A major reform of the primary care system was implemented in 1998, making family practitioners independent contractors with combined private and public-financed payment. In 2000, there was an estimated fertility rate of 1.2. The maternal mortality rate was 50 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births as of 1998. In 2005, the infant mortality rate was an estimated 7.87 per 1,000 and the overall death rate as of 2002 was 13.4 per 1,000 people. Life expectancy in 2005 averaged 71.77 years. In 1999, Estonia immunized children up to one year old against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 95%; and measles, 92%.

The number of hospitals in Estonia decreased significantly during the 1990s, with the number of available beds cut by one-third between 1991 and 1995. As of 1998, there were 78 hospitals, with a total of 10,509 beds. As of 2004, there were an estimated 316 physicians and 629 nurses per 100,000 people. The country's only medical school is the Tartu University Medical Faculty.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 7,800 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


According to 2000 census figures, the total number of dwellings in the country was at about 628,615. Of these 617,399 were described as conventional dwellings; 424,769 were apartments and 171,086 were single-family, detached dwellings. About 85% of all conventional dwellings were owned by private citizens residing in Estonia. About 3.8% of all conventional dwellings are owned by housing associations. Only about 3.7% of all conventional dwellings were built in 1991 or later; 59% of the housing stock was built during the period 19611990. The housing costs of low-income families are subsidized.


Prior to the 1990s, the Soviet system of education was followed. This was modified after Estonia's separation from the USSR. Primary education (basic school) covers nine years. This is followed by a general secondary school (gymnasium) or a vocational school, both of which cover a three-year program. Students in vocational schools may choose to continue in an advanced program of another three years. The academic year runs from September through June. The primary languages of instruction are Estonian, Russian, and English.

In 2001, most children between the ages of three and six were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 95% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 88% of age-eligible students. Most students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 14:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 10:1.

There are two well-known universities: the University of Tartu, founded in 1632, and the Talliva Technical University, founded in 1936, which mainly offers engineering courses. In 2003, about 66% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; with 50% for men and 83% for women. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 99.8%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 5.7% of GDP.


The National Library of Estonia in Tallinn, founded in 1918, contains over 3.2 million volumes. Other important libraries located in Tallinn include the Estonian Technical Library (11.8 million volumes) and the Estonian Academic Library (2.2 million). The Tartu State University Library is the largest academic library with 3.7 million volumes. In 2004, there were 564 public libraries in the country, along with 512 school libraries and 75 research and special libraries.

The Estonian History Museum in Tallinn was established in 1864. It contains 230,000 exhibits that follow the history of the region's people from ancient times to the present. The Estonian National Museum in Tartu, established in 1909, features exhibits about the living conditions of Estonians. Also in Tallinn is the Art Museum of Estonia, the Estonian Open Air Museum, the Estonian Theater and Music Museum, and the Tallinn City Museum. Tartu University houses a Museum of Classical Antiquities.


Though the telecommunications system has had recent improvements in the form of foreign investment through business ventures, there are still thousands of residents on waiting lists for service lines, with the average wait for service at about 1.4 years in 2000. In 2003, there were an estimated 341 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 4,500 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 777 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

Estonian Radio began regular broadcasting in 1926. In 1937, the highest radio tower in Europe (196.7m) was built in Türi. In the 1970s, Estonian Radio was the first in the former Soviet Union to carry advertising. Estonian television began broadcasting in 1955, and started color broadcasts in 1972. It broadcasts on four channels in Estonian and Russian. As of 2001, there were 98 FM radio stations and 3 television stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 1,136 radios and 507 television sets for every 1,000 people. About 117 of every 1,000 people are cable subscribers. Also in 2003, there were 440.4 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 444 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 113 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Journalism was subject to varying degrees of censorship from the Russian occupation in 1940 until the late 1980s. The most popular daily newspapers (with 2002 circulation figures) are Noorte Haal (The Voice of Youth, 150,000), Postimees (Postman, 59,200), Paevaleht (The Daily Paper, 40,000), and Rahva Haal (The Voice of the People, 175,000). The most widely read weeklies (with 1995 circulation figures) are the Maaleht (Country News, 50,000) and the Eesti Ekspress (Estonian Express, 55,000).

Estonia has an active publishing industry, although it faced economic difficulties in the early 1990s. The ISBN code has been used in Estonia since 1988. There were 2,291,000 book titles published in 1994.

The government is said to respect constitutional provisions for free expression. Foreign publications are widely available and private print and broadcast media operate freely.


The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Republic of Estonia promotes trade and commerce with its neighbors. Also, there is a chamber of commerce in Tartu. Professional societies and trade unions have developed for a number of careers.

Research and educational organizations include the Estonian Academy of Sciences and the Estonian Medical Association. There are also several associations dedicated to research and education for specific fields of medicine and particular diseases and conditions.

The Estonian Institute, established in 1989, promotes the appreciation of Estonian culture abroad. Ars Baltica is a multination group based in Vilnius that promotes appreciation for regional arts and culture.

Most student organizations belong to the umbrella organizations of the Federation of Estonian Student Unions or the Federation of Estonian Universities. Other youth organizations include the Estonian Green Movement, YMCA/YWCA, Junior Chamber, the Estonian Scout Associations, and the Girl Guides. In 1989 Estonian sports were reorganized and the Soviets reduced their control of Estonia's sports system. In the same year the National Olympic Committee was restored. Other sports associations have since formed, including groups for wind surfing, yachting, Frisbee, and football (soccer). The Estonian Association of University Women promotes educational and professional opportunities for women.

The Estonian Institute for Human Rights monitors actions concerning civil rights and offers legal aid and information to the public. Volunteer service organizations, such as the Lions Clubs and Kiwanis International, are also present. There is a national chapter of the Red Cross Society.


Visitors are drawn to the country's scenic landscapes, Hanseatic architecture, music and dance festivals, regattas, and beach resorts. The ancient town of Tallinn, noted for its architectural preservation, is a major tourist attraction and is linked by regular ferries to Helsinki and Stockholm.

There were 3,377,837 foreign arrivals in Estonia in 2003, almost 61% of whom came from Northern Europe. Tourist receipts totaled $886 million. The 12,445 hotel rooms with 27,487 beds had an occupancy rate of 47%. The average length of stay was two nights.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily expenses in Tallinn at $210.


Lennart Meri (b.1929), writer, filmmaker, and historian, became president of Estonia in 1992 and won a second term in 1996. He left office in 2001, and was succeeded by Arnold Rüütel (b.1928). Writer Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (18031882) wrote the epic Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), which was published by the Estonian Learned Society in 185761 and marked the beginning of Estonian national literature.

The revolution of 1905 forced many Estonian writers to flee the country. In 1906 a stable government was established in Estonia and a literary movement took hold, Birth of Young Estonia. The movement was led by poet Gustav Suits (18831956). He fled to Finland in 1910 but returned after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Later, Suits became a professor of literature at Tartu University. His fellow writers and poets between the revolution of 1917 and 1940 included Friedbert Tuglas (18861971) and Marie Under (18831980). Writers who fled abroad during World War II include Karl Rumor (18861971) and Arthur Adson (18891977). Estonian writers banned or exiled during the Soviet period include the playwright Hugo Raudsepp (18831952). American Architect Louis Kahn (1901?1974) was born in Estonia.


Estonia has no territories or colonies.


Frucht, Richard (ed.). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2005.

Kasekamp, Andres. The Radical Right in Interwar Estonia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.

McElrath, Karen (ed.). HIV and AIDS: A Global View. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Miljan, Toivo. Historical Dictionary of Estonia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2004.

Raun, Toivo U. Estonia and the Estonians. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 2001.

Terterov, Marat (ed.). Doing Business with Estonia. Sterling, Va.: Kogan Page, 2004.

Vogt, Henri. Between Utopia and Disillusionment: A Narrative of the Political Transformation in Eastern Europe. New York: Berghahn Books, 2004.

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Republic of Estonia

Eesti Vabariik



Located in northeastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea on the west, the Gulf of Finland on the north, Latvia on the south, and Russia on the east, Estonia has an area of 45,226 square kilometers (17,500 square miles), smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The capital, Tallinn, is situated on the Gulf of Finland; other major cities include Tartu, Parnu, and Narva. Estonia is the smallest of the Baltic countries (the others being Latvia and Lithuania) that emerged as independent republics when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.


The population of Estonia was estimated at 1.43 million in July 2000, with a density of 32 persons per square kilometer (82 per square mile), one of the lowest population densities in Europe. In 2000 the birth rate was 8.45 per 1,000 population, while the death rate was 13.55 per 1,000, giving Estonia a negative population growth rate of negative .59 percent. The government may introduce tax breaks for families with 3 or more children in 2001 in an attempt to increase the population growth rate. Estonia is relatively prosperous and has not experienced any massive emigration , yet its net migration rate was estimated at-0.79 migrants per 1,000 population in 2000. The population is also aging, with just 18 percent below the age of 14, and approximately 14 percent older than 65 years of age. The urban population makes up about 73 percent of the total.

Ethnic Estonians, ethnically and linguistically close to the Finns, make up 64 percent of the population, and ethnic Russians (living mostly in and around Narva) form 29 percent of the population. Other minorities include Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Finns.

Ethnic Russians made up only 4 percent of the population before the Soviet Union annexed Estonia in 1940, but Russians immigrated in large numbers during the Soviet period of industrialization. After Estonia restored its independence in 1991, only Russians (and their descendants) who had lived in the country before 1940 were granted Estonian citizenship. All others were subject to a citizenship exam testing Estonian language proficiency. Many did not speak Estonian, and by 1998 about 22 percent of the Estonian population was considered foreign (9 percent had Russian or other foreign passports and 13 percent were stateless). In 1998, under pressure from Russia and the European Union, the government eased the citizenship provisions and amended the language law.


Until World War II, Estonia was poor and mostly agricultural. Its industrial economy was shaped during the Soviet period (1940-91) with the nationalization of industry and the collectivization of agricultural land into large state-run farms. Soviet central planning stressed the development of heavy industries. Prior to restoring its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia was the most prosperous Soviet republic. Its policy since independence has focused on building up relations with the Nordic countries, particularly Finland and Sweden, Western Europe, and its Baltic neighbors, while weakening ties with the rest of the former Soviet countries.

Estonia's economic record is among the strongest in Eastern Europe. Although its gross domestic product per capita was only US$3,951 in 1998, its total gross domestic product grew by over 4 percent in 2000, and expectations for 2001 were for a strong 5-6 percent growth. The Estonian monetary and banking system, which suffered after independence, stabilized with the introduction of a currency board . The central bank holds foreign currency reserves to cover all circulation and reserves in krooni. It cannot refinance commercial banks unless there is extreme need, and the government's freedom to take on debt is restricted, as recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Estonian kroon was pegged to the German mark at a fixed exchange rate of 8:1. Despite the limitations of the currency board, stable finances and economic reforms have created a predominantly free market European-style economy.

Many state-owned assets were privatized after independence, and the sale of public companies was still underway in the energy, telecommunications, and transportation sectors in 2000. High levels of foreign direct investment have supported the privatization program. Foreign investors in Estonia have been most active in communications, financial services, manufacturing, transportation, and real estate. They have acquired control of local assets relatively cheaply, while increasing the value of domestic companies through capital expenditures. Approximately 60 percent of foreign investments in Estonia are from Finland and Sweden, followed by the United States, Denmark, Norway, Liechtenstein, and the United Kingdom.

In 1998 Estonia began negotiations with the European Union for accession by the end of 2002. It is among the front-runners for membership, with a functioning market economy and the ability to cope with competitive pressure in the single European market. Estonia's foreign debt is estimated at a manageable US$270 million. Estonia also receives economic aid from the European Union (US$137.3 million in 1995).


Estonia is a democratic republic with the legislative power vested in a Riigikogu (a 101-member unicameral , or single-chambered parliament) elected by universal suffrage for 4-year terms. The Riigikogu appoints the cabinet, which is led by the prime minister, who is the head of government. The president, who is elected by the Riigikogu and who appoints the prime minister, has limited executive power. Political parties include the center-right Fatherland Union (Isamaaliit), the Reform Party (RE), the Moderates, the Center Party, the left-centrist Coalition Party, the agrarian Rural Union (KMU), the Country People's Party, and the mostly ethnic Russian United People's Party (UPPE). In 1999 the opposition Coalition Party received the highest percentage of votes (23.4 percent), but the Fatherland Union, led by Prime Minister Mart Laar (16.1 percent), was able to form a coalition with the RE (15.9 percent) and the Moderates (15.2 percent) to win the elections. Particular policies may spur political feuds but the major Estonian parties are committed to economic stability, openness, and EU integration.

Economic reforms have curbed the government's role in the economy due to the currency board regime and the legal requirement of a balanced budget. The tariff regime was liberalized dramatically by removing import tariffs (excluding agricultural products from certain countries) and by restricting excise taxes to several goods. Yet the state exerts considerable influence with the public sector accounting for roughly half of gross domestic product and the public consuming over one-fifth of the total gross domestic product.

The average income tax burden for citizens was 26 percent in 1999 but the government was trying to reduce it by 2001. Reductions were expected in the form of tax breaks for families with a third child and an increase in the minimum taxable personal income base. Amendments sanctioning the taxation of dividends and other income earned by foreign companies in Estonia were passed in 2000.


The transportation infrastructure includes 1,018 kilometers (634 miles) of railroads but only 132 kilometers (82 miles) of electrified rail lines. There are 10,935 kilometers (6,835 miles) of paved roads, including 75 kilometers (47 miles) of expressways. Estonia had 320 kilometers (200 miles) of navigable waterways and 420 kilometers (263 miles) of natural gas pipelines in 1992. All international flights use the Tallinn Airport, and there are several ports on the Baltic Sea, the port of Tallinn being the third largest in the Baltic Sea. A two-thirds stake in the state-run Eesti Raudtee railroad company was expected to be sold in a tender (possibly to RailAmerica) and the second-largest city, Tartu, was also expected to sell its public transportation company AS Liikor to a private investor in 2000.

Estonia's 2 oil-shale power plants produce twice what is consumed domestically. Under Soviet rule the country exported energy to Russia and Latvia but these markets dried up after independence. The government is forming a joint venture with the American NRG Energy company to renovate and operate the plants, bringing them into line with international environmental standards, and its priorities include creating an energy connection to western European electricity grids via an undersea cable.

The telecommunications market in Estonia is among the most liberalized in Eastern Europe. In 1998 a 49 percent stake in the state-held Eesti Telekom was sold to a consortium of state-controlled Telia (Sweden) and Sonera (Finland), and the government was considering selling the remainder of its stake in the company. Modern phone lines extend throughout Estonia. There are 3 mobile phone service providers: Eesti Mobiiltelefon (a subsidiary of Eesti Telekom), Radiolinja Eesti (a subsidiary of Finland's Radiolinja), and Ritabell (a joint venture between the British Millicom International and local Levi-com). Estonia has the highest number of mobile phone users per capita in Central and Eastern Europe. Eesti Telefon, the fixed line division of Eesti Telekom, had a monopoly in domestic and international fixed line calls until 2001. In 2000, it had 521,901 subscribers (36.3 lines per 100 inhabitants), and the 3 cell phone operators had 514,000 users (35.7 per 100 inhabitants). The number of cell phones is expected to grow to 700,000 in 2003, when 1 out of every 2 Estonians is expected to own a cell phone. Estonia has one of the highest numbers of Internet subscribers in Eastern Europe, and the government intends to provide all schools with Internet access. In 2000 over 28 percent of the Estonians were online and 34 percent of them banked over the Internet.


The economy of Estonia is service-based, with services contributing 65.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1999, while industry is responsible for 30.7 percent, and agriculture and forestry comprise 3.6 percent of GDP. Estonia has natural deposits of shale oil, peat, phosphorite, amber, cambrian blue clay, limestone, dolomite, and timber and arable land. Services, especially transportation and tourism, are the principal growth sectors, although the manufacturing and the forest products sectors are also likely to see growth.


Arable land covers 25 percent of the territory, permanent pastures 11 percent, and woodlands 44 percent. The foods produced include animal products, cereals, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, and fish. Agriculture was the traditional livelihood of most Estonians before

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Estonia 174 693 480 15.1 170 N/A 34.4 174.65 200
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
Latvia 247 710 492 58.0 68 N/A N/A 50.86 105
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Soviet collectivization in the 1940s and there were over 100,000 family-held farms. After independence in 1991 land privatization carved thousands of new private farms out of the Soviet cooperatives. By the mid-1990s, these farms produced nearly 70 percent of the crops and 40 percent of the livestock, but most were unable to afford fertilizers, fuel, seeds, or capital investments. Competition from foreign producers put many farms out of business, and adjusting the sector to EU standards has been controversial. As a result, agricultural output decreased and almost one-fourth of the arable land was abandoned.


Traditional Estonian industries include oil shale mining, shipbuilding, phosphates, electric motors, excavators, cement, furniture, clothing, textiles, paper, shoes, and apparel. Many of these industries stagnated after independence, deprived of their Soviet markets and sources of cheap raw materials. Yet the sector has been growing at a rate of 3 percent (1996 estimates), mostly due to the rapid privatization and the entry of foreign (mostly Scandinavian) investors in electronics, cement, chemicals, and forest products. Estonia has developed adequate assembly capacities to supply electronic components to leading Scandinavian telecommunications companies and suppliers. In addition, with its low taxes, low labor costs, and trained workforce, the country is an ideal location for electronics manufacturing. In early 2001 telecommunications giant Ericsson (Sweden), the world's leading maker of telecommunications equipment, sold its loss-making mobile handset operation, dramatically cutting its orders with Elcoteq (Finland). Elcoteq terminated the manufacture of Ericsson handsets in its Estonian subsidiary, Elcoteq Tallinn/ET, which was responsible for one-quarter of Estonian exports in 2000. But Elcoteq quickly refocused on mobile systems components for Ericsson, reflecting its long-term demand. ET continues producing handsets for Nokia (Finland), and will launch systems components production in Estonia later in 2001.



The Bank of Estonia was established in 1990, and became the central bank following its merger with the Estonian branch of Gosbank (the Soviet central bank) in 1992. The early days of independence witnessed a rapid proliferation of banks42 were started by the end of 1992when they encountered serious solvency difficulties, caused by stagnation and bad loans (granted to insolvent private debtors or loss-making state firms). The sector has since been consolidated through mergers and the closure of loss-makers, and in 1998 there were 11 banks. The 4 largest in 1998 were Eesti Uhispank (Union Bank of Estonia), Hansapank, Eesti Hoiupank (Estonian Savings Bank), and Tallinna Pank, and there was only 1 foreign bank branch (Merita Bank of Finland) and 5 foreign bank offices. In 2000 Hansapank and Uhispank were owned, respectively, by Swedbank and SEB (both Swedish). The financial sector is considered modern and efficient. About 10 percent of Estonians banked online in 2000, and since only a few users had credit cards, banks developed other online payment systems.


Boosted by crowds of Finns visiting Tallinn for shopping and pleasure, tourism has grown by 15 percent yearly since 1993. The number of visitors in 1998 was 1.5 million and the revenues US$660 million. In 1998 the number of visitors increased by one-third from the previous year due to the abolition of visa requirements for Nordic countries and the lower costs of travel to Estonia. The government-funded Estonian Tourism Board, besides attracting visitors to Tallinn and Tartu, advertises Estonia's national parks and reserves and its Baltic seaside resorts.


Estonia's consumer goods boom is based on economic growth and high consumer confidence. Estonians have a passion for household electronics and, as the absence of customs tariffs keeps imported household appliances cheaper, toasters, coffee makers, and mixers are found in the majority of Estonian homes. Finnish retailers, attracted by liberal regulations, dominate retail in Tallinn. Finnish tourists form a quarter of the retailers' clientele, lured by Estonia's lower value-added tax . Estonia's clothing is 20 percent less expensive than in Finland; and Estonian food, especially cheese and alcohol, is cheaper. In 2000 Estonia had an upper-income class of about 10,000 and a growing middle-class numbering about 60,000, both fueling domestic retail demand.


Estonia benefits from its location between prosperous Finland and Sweden and the economic potential of Russia. Estonians, both Nordic in culture and experienced in working with Russia, can provide a bridge between these growing markets. Estonia's open economy, although constrained by the currency board, is export-oriented, but still unable to reduce its foreign trade deficit of about 12 to 13 percent of gross domestic product. Exports in 1999 amounted to US$2.5 billion, while imports stood at US$3.4 billion. In 1999 chief exports included electronic components, machinery, and appliances (19 percent), wood products (15 percent), textiles (13 percent), food products (12 percent), metals (10 percent), and chemical products (8 percent). Estonia's leading export markets were Sweden (19.3 percent), Finland (18.8 percent), Russia (8.8 percent), Latvia (8.8 percent), Germany (7.3 percent), and the United States (2.5 percent). Chief imports included machinery and appliances (26 percent), food (15 percent), chemical products (10 percent), metal products (9 percent), and textiles (8 percent). Leading suppliers of imports were Finland (23 percent), Russia (13.2 percent), Sweden (10 percent), Germany (9.1 percent), and the United States (4.7 percent).


The currency board and the requirement for a balanced budget has prompted Estonia to establish an offshore stabilization fund where it deposits income above its expenditures. Such revenue comes from privatization, including the initial public offering of Eesti Telekom at

Exchange rates: Estonia
krooni (EEK) per US$1
Jan 2001 16.663
2000 16.969
1999 14.678
1998 14.075
1997 13.882
1996 12.034
Note: Krooni are tied to the German deutsche mark at a fixed rate of 8 to 1.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

the Tallinn Stock Exchange in 1998. The 2 largest banks, Hansapank and Uhispank, acquired by Swedish financial institutions, opened their own brokerage houses that fueled the boom of the Tallinn Stock Exchange after 1998. Swedish SEB and Swedbank have also made Estonia a center of financial consolidation in the Baltics as they target the largest Latvian and Lithuanian banks for acquisition. Inflation , which had been a serious problem in the years immediately following independence, has been tamed since the mid-1990s and was estimated at 3.3 percent a year in 1999.


Under the Soviet regime, Estonia was arguably a land of economic equality and the most affluent republic of the Soviet Union. The vast majority of the population was state-employed, no private initiative was allowed, and government funds were allocated equitably (for free health care, higher education, pensions, and other benefits). The only exceptions to this modest standard of living were the nomenklatura (the Communist Party elite) and the informal economy players. Market reforms in the 1990s generated new poverty and wealth, however. Unemployment, hitherto unknown, increased, although not as dramatically as elsewhere in the region. Social benefits suffered from inflation in the early 1990s. The withdrawal of the Russian military from the territory

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Estonia N/A 4,022 4,451 4,487 3,951
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Latvia 2,382 2,797 3,210 3,703 2,328
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Estonia
Lowest 10% 2.2
Lowest 20% 6.2
Second 20% 12.0
Third 20% 17.0
Fourth 20% 23.1
Highest 20% 41.8
Highest 10% 26.2
Survey year: 1995
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

and the breakup of collective farms deprived many Estonians of their livelihood.

At the same time, many entrepreneurs made fortunes and a new middle class started taking shape as privatization and free initiative changed economic rules. Estonia generally avoided the surge of corruption and crime that plagued other Eastern European countries. In 1995 its Gini index (measuring economic equality with 0 standing for perfect equality and 100 for perfect inequality) was 35.4more equitable than the United States, but much less equitable than most Eastern European countries and Nordic countries. Although extreme poverty in Estonia was nowhere near the size in other Eastern European countries, 6.3 percent of its population lived below the poverty line in 1994. As a country with an aging population, Estonia is struggling to maintain its pension system, and the government is formulating a much-needed pension reform.


Estonia is party to all major universal and European legal instruments on economic and social rights, the rights of the child, the right to equal compensation and collective bargaining, and the elimination of discrimination in the workplace. The Estonian labor force numbered 785,500 in 1999. Unemployment is around 10 percent, yet working conditions are considerably better than in many other Eastern European countries. The labor force is skilled and educated and the average salary in 1997 was US$257 a month (US$322 in the manufacturing sector), a fraction of the rate elsewhere in Scandinavia but higher than most Eastern European countries. The percentage of people working in the services industry was 69 percent, industry 20 percent, and agriculture and forestry 11 percent. Labor unions have limited influence and have a non-confrontational approach to government and employers. With a decreasing and aging population, Estonia faces serious demographic challenges. Many labor practices are inefficient and improving productivity is key for Estonia's economy.


1561. Estonia is subjugated by Sweden; reforms improve the economic situation of the peasants.

1721. Estonia is ceded to Russia's Peter the Great.

1816. Russian reforms abolish serfdom, and peasants obtain the right to buy land. Nationalism grows.

1905. In the wake of the first Russian revolution, nationalism is boosted by modern press and literature.

1917. The Russian tsar is toppled by the second Russian Revolution.

1918. On February 24 an independent Estonian democratic republic is proclaimed.

1920. The Tartu peace treaty between Soviet Russia and Estonia recognizes Estonia's sovereignty.

1921. The Estonian Republic is recognized by Western powers, becoming a League of Nations member.

1934. A coup establishes an authoritarian regime.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Estonia 41 7 24 8 4 9 7
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
Latvia 30 5 16 6 23 11 10
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

1939. Estonia is left in the Soviet sphere by a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR.

1940. The Soviets invade Estonia and on August 6 the country is incorporated into the USSR.

1941. Nazi Germany invades the USSR and occupies Estonia until it is driven out in 1944.

1945. Soviet rule is restored and the economy is reformed along Soviet lines.

1985. With the reforms of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, Estonia moves towards independence.

1991. Communist rule collapses and the USSR recognizes the independence of Estonia in September.

1991. Estonia becomes a member of the United Nations and adopts reforms for democratization and privatization.

1994. Russia withdraws troops from Estonia.

1995. Estonia becomes an associated member of the European Union.

1998. Estonia starts negotiations for full membership in the European Union.

1999. Estonia joins the World Trade Organization.


Estonia is a leading candidate for EU membership and hopes that its accession could be finalized as early as 2002, although internal problems in the union may postpone it. Political consensus on EU accession will generate stability throughout the transition from a communist to a free-market economy. Gross domestic product growth may accelerate slightly in 2001 due to domestic demand. Exports will grow in line with international demand but the negative foreign trade balance is not likely to be offset in the first half of the decade. The Estonian economy will become more service-based and financial services will receive more weight. Domestic manufacturing will be dependent on the high-tech sector in Sweden and Finland and is likely to grow. Privatization may be almost completed with the railroad sale in 2001. New foreign direct investments will enter Estonia and the flow will increase when the country joins the European Union. Reform of the finance services sector may lead to a further rise in credit growth. Pension reform will be key in 2001 with the government making its new pension scheme obligatory for all new employees. The living standards of the Estonians will rise gradually after the country's EU accession. Access to the development funds and the expertise of the European Union, once full membership is achieved, will be greatly beneficial for the development of the country's infrastructure, rural regions, education, social services, and virtually all aspects of economic life.


Estonia has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Estonia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2001.

Iwaskiw, Walter R., ed. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: Country Studies. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1997.

Open Estonia Foundation. Welcome to the Estonia Country Guide. <>. Accessed August, 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Estonia. <>. Accessed March 2001.

Welcome to the Embassy of Estonia. <>.Accessed September 2001.

Valentin Hadjiyski




Estonian kroon (EEK). One kroon equals 100 sents. There are bills of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 krooni, and coins of 1 and 5 krooni and 5, 10, 20, and 50 senti. The EEK is pegged to the German mark at a rate of 8:1.


Manufactured goods, machinery and transport equipment, timber, chemicals, food.


Machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods, chemicals, fuels and lubricants, food.


US$7.9 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$2.5 billion (f.o.b., 1999). Imports: US$3.4 billion (f.o.b., 1999).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Estonia
Region: Europe
Population: 1,431,471
Language(s): Estonian, Russian, Ukrainian, English, Finnish
Literacy Rate: 100%
Academic Year: September-June
Number of Primary Schools: 727
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 7.2%
Libraries: 743
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 125,718
  Secondary: 112,288
  Higher: 43,468
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 94%
  Secondary: 104%
  Higher: 42%
Teachers: Primary: 7,276
  Secondary: 11,098
  Higher: 4,435
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 17:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 93%
  Secondary: 109%
  Higher: 46%

History & Background

Estonia is located in Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, between Latvia and Russia. The total land area is 43,211 square kilometers, of which 44 percent is forest and woodland. It is slightly smaller than New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The estimated population in July 2000 was nearly 1.5 million, with the two largest ethnic groups being Estonian (65.1 percent) and Russian (28.1 percent).

The Russians first mentioned Estonia in the eleventh century, but the first signs of human life in Estonia are 10,000 years old. Chronicled history began with the conquest of Estonian territory by German and Danish feudal landlords in the thirteenth century; it may also be regarded as the starting point of schooling in Estonia because the first schools were established in the larger towns. As a result of the Protestant Reformation, the first books in Estonia (the Lutheran Catechism-1535) were published. After the Livonian War, which began in 1558 and lasted 25 years, Estonia was divided between Poland and Sweden. After all of Estonia came under Swedish rule in the seventeenth century, a time of peace and prosperity ensued. In 1632, Tartu Grammar School was reorganized and given the name Academia Gustaviana, which is regarded as the establishment of the first university in Estonia, Tartu University. However, only students of Baltic German, Swedish, or Finnish origin could attend; Estonians were excluded. Public schools were established and, as a result, a majority of Estonians became literate. As a result of the Great Northern War, Tartu University was forced to close in 1710. Estonia became a part of the Russian empire.

The nineteenth century was a period of economic development and urbanization. Estonians were freed from serfdom, and, in the 1860s, they acquired the right to buy farmland. Not only was there an increase in wealth, but there was also a period of national awakening that was interrupted by a resurgence of Russification in the 1880s. In 1802, the University of Tartu reopened with the first native Estonians among its scholars. By the end of the century, 96 percent of Estonians were literate.

Independence came with the declaration of the Republic of Estonia on February 24, 1918. The independence period (1920-1940) resulted in the formation of the Estonian language national culture. The economic improvements during that period resulted in a living standard similar to Estonia's Scandinavian neighbors. As a result of the desire for a well-educated population, new upper-secondary schools and seminaries opened. In 1919, instruction in the Estonian language was introduced at the University of Tartu. In addition, Tallinn Technical University and the Estonian Academy of Music were established in Tallinn.

Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. During the first year of occupation, Estonian political and social leaders were either killed or deported to Siberia. A second deportation took place on June 14, 1941, when a large number of ordinary citizens, including women and children, were sent to Siberia. On June 26, 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and also conquered Estonia; however, the Soviet Union reoccupied Estonia in 1944. Rather than live again under Soviet domination, approximately 80,000 Estonians fled to the West. Furthermore, Estonia lost one-third of its population as a result of World War II. The Soviets began a process of forced collectivization of the farms in the late 1940s, which included another deportation in March 1949. The rural life that had been the basis of the economy was destroyed. During the process of industrialization, a migratory labor force was imported from other regions of the Soviet Union with the purpose of inhabiting Estonia with a Russian-speaking population. By the end of the Soviet period, large regions of Estonia were populated almost entirely with Russian-speaking people. It was difficult to have an independent education policy because of the pressure to adopt the Soviet educational structure and curricula. However, the Estonian educational system was permitted to maintain instruction in the Estonian language.

At the beginning of the 1980s, student demonstrations began in Tallinn. Forty members of the Estonian Intelligentsia composed the "letter of the forty," which condemned Soviet policy and demanded cultural autonomy. The period of perestroika and glasnost permitted even more criticism of Soviet policy. The Heritage Protection Movement, the goal of which was to teach the correct history of politics and culture in Estonia, initiated a new wave of national awakening often termed "the singing revolution." On August 21, 1991, independence was restored, and, in 1992, Estonia implemented a new democratic constitution. In 1989, the Education Committee was reorganized to create a new Ministry of Education to administer general, vocational, and higher education. Reorganization in 1993 led to the establishment of the Ministry of Culture and Education, which had control over education policy, higher education, and science. A separate Ministry of Education was reestablished in 1996. Since 1991, extensive reforms have been instituted with the aim of integrating Estonia into the structures of the European Union (EU).

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Estonia is a democratic republic, and the supreme power of the state is vested in the people. The powers of the state are exercised solely pursuant to the constitution and specific laws that are in conformity therewith. The activities of the Riigikogu (Parliament), President of the Republic, Government of the Republic, and the courts are organized on the principle of separation and balance of powers.

The Constitution of the Republic of Estonia determines the right of every citizen to an education. Education is compulsory for school-age children to the extent specified by law and is free in state and local government general education schools. Other education institutions, such as private schools, may also be established pursuant to law. Parents have the final choice of education for their children. The 1992 Estonian Law on Education established the following general goals of education: to promote the development of personality, family, and the Estonian nation, as well as of national minorities; to promote Estonian economic, political, and cultural life and of nature preservation in the global economic and cultural context; to educate loyal citizens; and to set up prerequisites of continuing education for citizens. In addition, the Law on Education established a compulsory nine-year basic education (grades 1-9).

Educational SystemOverview

The Estonian educational structure is divided into four levels. Preschool education is provided at kindergartens and other childcare institutions. Primary education (grades 1-6), as well as basic education (grades 7-9), is compulsory in Estonia. Secondary education (grades 10-12) may be completed at a gymnasium in general secondary education school or at a secondary vocational school. Students have three options at the higher education level: vocational higher education, diploma level (applied) higher education, or academic higher education.

In Estonia basic education (grades 1-9) is compulsory. A child that is seven years old on October 1 of the current year must attend school and remain in school until the completion of grade 9 or age 17. Children of foreign citizens or stateless people who are residents of Estonia must fulfill the requirement of compulsory school attendance.

The duration of a school year is from the start of study in one calendar year until the start of study in the next calendar year. A school year consists of a period of study, an examination session, and school holidays. The school year starts on September 1. A study period must include no less than 175 days of study. School holidays are determined in an ordinance issued by the Minister of Education.

The official language of instruction is Estonian; however, instruction in a basic school may be in another language. In a municipal school, the local government decides the language of instruction, and in a state school, the Ministry of Education decides. Since Russians are the largest minority group in Estonia, the Russian language is the second most common language of instruction behind Estonian. In the 2000/2001 academic year, Estonia had 566 Estonian schools, 100 Russian schools, 19 Estonian/Russian schools, 2 English schools, and 2 Finnish schools. By the year 2007, the level of competence in the Estonian language must allow students to continue studying all subjects in the tenth grade in Estonian, regardless of the basic school attended.

One week of study includes five days of study. The weekly study load and the number of lessons for students is determined by the curriculum of the school. The length of each lesson is 45 minutes, with a break of not less than 10 minutes. Usually, there is one meal break of 15 minutes. The school director determines the number of lessons and their sequence.

In planning the location of schools throughout the country, government officials keep in mind that basic education is compulsory; however, secondary schools for general education and vocational education must also be available. Primary schools are located as close to the homes of the children as possible. An upper-secondary school must have a large enough student population that will enable the school to provide elective courses in the curriculum and employ a teaching staff with excellent qualifications. The establishment of a school requires that the following number of children of an appropriate age must reside permanently within the district area of the school:

  • 30 students to establish a three-grade primary school
  • 60 students to establish a six-grade primary school
  • 90 students to establish a basic school
  • 60 students to establish an upper-secondary school (grades 10-12)

A local government also may establish a municipal school in a district area with a number of children at an appropriate age smaller than the number specified. In this case, the deficit in the salaries must be covered from the local governmental budget.

The network of vocational schools must take into consideration regional needs. At least one vocational school must be located in every county.

The list of children subject to the compulsory attendance law is composed by local authorities according to the children's places of residence. A school is required to ensure study opportunities for each child who resides in the district area of the school. Parents may freely choose a school for a child if there are vacancies in the school they wish their child to attend.

The obligation to attend school may also be fulfilled by studying at home. The procedures for home schooling have been established in an ordinance issued by the Minister of Education.

Local governments must allow children with special needs to attend a local school under the conditions established by the Minister of Education. If suitable conditions are not found, disabled children and children who need special support may attend the nearest school that meets their requirements. The conditions for admission to a private school are established by the school.

Religious education is offered, but it is nonconfessional and attendance is voluntary. The teaching of religious studies is compulsory for a school if at least 15 students in a specific age group desire such a course. The school director approves the curriculum.

Preprimary & Primary Education

Preschool education is available at kindergartens and other childcare institutions. The role of preschool education is to support and complement families by promoting the growth, development, and individuality of children. Several practices have emerged including family care, the setting up of integration groups, family counseling services, and the establishment of private kindergartens and centers for children. The childcare institutions offer primary education until the age of seven.

The 1992 Law on Education replaced compulsory secondary education with compulsory nine-year basic education (grades 1-9). The government of the Republic approves the state curriculum for basic and general secondary education; the simplified state curriculum for basic education and the state curriculum for students with moderate and severe learning disabilities have been established in an ordinance issued by the Minister of Education.

The state-approved curriculum for grades 1 through 3 consists of the following subjects: mother tongue, Estonian (non-Estonian schools), nature study, civics, mathematics, music, art and handicraft, physical education, and foreign language. For grades 4 through 6 the subjects are mother tongue, Estonian (non-Estonian school), foreign language A (Estonian school), foreign language B, mathematics, nature study, history, civics, music, art, physical education, and manual training/handicraft/domestic studies. For grades 7 through 9 the subjects are mother tongue, Estonian (non-Estonian school), foreign language A (Estonian school), foreign language B, mathematics, natural sciences, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, history, civics, music, art, manual training/handicraft/domestic studies, physical education, and elective subjects.

Secondary Education

Students have two options after completing basic education; they may attend either the gymnasium or a vocational education institution. The 1993 Law on Basic Schools and Gymnasiums established the gymnasium as the main structural unit of secondary education replacing the former secondary school. Educational standards are established in the national curriculum. This curriculum determines the objectives; duration of studies; relationship of the national curriculum to the school curriculum; list of compulsory subjects together with the number of lessons and their content, options, and conditions for selection of subjects; and graduation requirements.

Study in the gymnasium lasts for three years (grades 10-12). The maximum weekly course load is 35 hours. The national curriculum accounts for 75 percent of the total load, and the remaining 25 percent includes subjects selected jointly by the students and the school. The compulsory courses are mother tongue, Estonian (non-Estonian schools), foreign language A (Estonian schools), foreign language B, mathematics, geography, biology, chemistry, physics, history, civics, philosophy, art, music, and physical education. Certain subjects can be taught in more depth, and schools can develop their own instructional approach or course content. In 2001, schools exist with special focus on language, mathematics, natural sciences, and other subjects. State examinations at the secondary level were introduced in 1997.

Vocational Education: The 1998 Law on Vocational Education Institutions established two levels of vocational education in Estonia: secondary vocational education and vocational higher education. Secondary vocational education (length of study at least three years) has the prerequisites of basic education and one year of general secondary education. Vocational higher education (length of study three to four years) has the prerequisite of secondary education (gymnasium or secondary vocational education). In the 1999-2000 academic year, there were 87 different vocational education institutions in Estonia enrolling 34,312 students, with 3,165 students on the vocational higher education level. Vocational education institutions offer programs in 35 fields of study. The following fields of study are a priority of developmentservices: catering, tourism, hotel management, and trading; logistics (transportation and communications); information technology; electronics; and telecommunications.

Higher Education

Administration of higher education is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education; the institutions may be state, public, or private. Two types of higher education institutions exist in Estonia. The first type is the university, which provides academic higher education and applied, professionally oriented study programs. The second type is applied higher education institutions, which offer applied, professionally oriented diploma-study and vocational higher education programs. The tendency has been to merge applied higher education institutions into the universities as colleges.

Universities: A university is an institution of learning and research in which a student may acquire the academic qualifications of higher education. It is also possible to complete applied diploma-study at the universities. However, the broader objective of a university is to foster research and academic practices and to develop opportunities for obtaining higher education according to the standard of higher education.

Public universities are autonomous under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education. Universities have the right to independently determine academic and organizational structure, develop academic content of courses, organize research, employ staff, and select candidates.

Private higher education institutions provide at least one baccalaureate-level study program. These institutions provide their own financing, but the state may participate in some programs if the public demand is apparent.

In the 2000-2001 academic year, six public universities and six private universities (with at least one study program accredited or conditionally accredited) operated in Estonia. The remainder of the 40 institutions and universities operating in Estonia during this period had nonaccredited programs.

Applied Higher Education Institutions: Applied higher education institutions offer non-academic higher education (diploma-study) with an emphasis on professional skills and abilities. These institutions may also offer vocational higher education programs. State supported applied higher education institutions are funded by the state budget. Private higher education institutions provide study programs mainly in the field of social sciences, business administration, or theology.

Admission to Higher Education: The general requirement for admission to higher education is the gymnasium certificate. However, secondary education may also be obtained at a secondary vocational school in which secondary education is combined with vocational education.

Since 1997, secondary school students have been required to pass state exams. These exams are conducted mainly in written form. However, examinations in foreign languages include an oral section. These state exams serve as entrance examinations to higher education institutions. Although some higher education institutions may conduct interviews, the state exams serve as the most important selection criteria.

Administration: The collegial decision-making body of a higher education institution is the council, whose function is determined in the statutes of the higher education institution. All higher education institutions operate primarily under the direction of the rector who acts under the council. The rector is responsible for the daily operation and development of the higher education institution, as well as for the legal and effective use of financial resources.

Academic Staff: The academic staff of a university is comprised of professors, associate professors, lecturers, assistants, and teachers. Senior researchers and researchers conduct the research work at the universities. All tenured education staff are selected from public applications of staff who have completed at least five years at a public university.

Students & Courses of Study: Higher education institutions offer diploma-study, baccalaureate study, master's degrees, doctoral degrees, and vocational higher education study. In the 1999-2000 academic year, approximately 49,574 students, of which 956 were foreign students, were enrolled in Estonia's higher education institutions. The language of instruction is usually Estonian, but an increasing number of courses are taught in English. In addition, some courses are taught in Russian.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Administration at the National Level: The Parliament passes laws and resolutions including those that impact education. Three tasks regarding education are assigned to Parliament only. One is the establishing of principles regarding the formation, operation, and development of the education system. Another is setting the fees for studies in public institutions of education and in public universities. The final task is determining the foundation, merging, splitting, and termination of a public university.

Since independence in 1991, the Parliament has passed several acts regarding education. The Child Protection Act establishes the right of a child to an education, freedom of study, and the principles of instruction. The Education Act defines the different types of education, including basic education, the principles of organization and management of the educational system, the forms of study, and compulsory school attendance, and also determines the types of institutions. The Basic and Upper-Secondary Schools Act determines the legal status and organization of a basic school under state or municipal ownership, as well as the organization of instruction and education at a school. The Private School Act regulates the same issues in a private school.

The Government of the Republic implements these acts, and all the state programs of education, through the Ministry of Education.

Administration at the Regional Level: The Preschool Institutions Act and the Basic and Upper-Secondary Schools Act mandate that the governor of each county act as the manager of the educational system on a regional level. The task of the county is to compose regional development plans on the same basis as the county development plans of education are composed.

Administration at the Local Level: The Education Act determines the authority of local governments in the general administration of education at the local level. The local authorities:

  • Administer and implement education programs at the local level
  • Establish, reorganize, and terminate municipal educational institutions within the limits established by legal acts and keep the register of the educational institutions in the area of administration
  • Provide the economic and financial oversight of the educational institutions
  • Appoint and dismiss the heads of the educational institutions
  • Keep the register of children of the age of compulsory school attendance and support children in fulfilling the obligation of compulsory school attendance by providing financial aid, transportation, medical services, or meals at school
  • Provide vocational counseling for students
  • Keep the register of people with special needs and provide instruction for them.

The executive body of the local government establishes a structural unit or appoints a person who is responsible for the implementation of the education development plans of the local authorities.


One of the serious problems in the Estonian educational system is that the smaller towns are not able to provide the same quality of education as the larger cities. In addition, the teaching profession is not attractive to students. Almost half the teachers in Estonia are at retirement age or will reach that age by 2005. This older staff is very resistant to changes in educational philosophy and teaching strategies. The low teacher salaries are not attracting high-achieving students into the profession. Yet, the majority of students in Estonia meet the compulsory education requirement. In the 2000-2001 academic year, only 2 percent of 8- to 14-year-olds were not in school.

Estonia's low birth rate presents serious problems for the country. In the 1980s, an average of 22,000 babies were born each year. However, in the late 1990s the average birth rate dropped to between 14,000 and 15,000 births each year. The result has been fewer jobs for students who want to be primary teachers because 15 to 20 primary schools in rural areas are closing each year.

The required State Curriculum of 2000 is more student-centered than it was 10 years ago. A new revision, started in 2000, will be completed in 2007. The priorities of this new curriculum are student-centered instruction, Information Communication Technology (ICT), team work, skill development, and technology integration. In order to implement this new curriculum, more emphasis must be placed on initial and in-service teacher training.

The vocational educational track must be improved because, in the 1990s, it was often viewed as the place for students who failed in the academic track. A clear and successful job placement program must follow completion of the vocational track.

One of the most successful educational programs has been the integration of technology into the classroom. In the 1990s the government initiated the "Tiger Leap Project" with the goal of integrating computer technology into the educational system. In the 2000-2001 academic year, close to 100 percent of the schools had Internet connections, and computer science was the most popular elective. Schools had homepages with study materials accessible through the Internet. Since most of the instructional technology equipment was purchased since 1996, the equipment in the classrooms during the 2000-2001 academic year was modern and fast. It is common for students to use computer technology to make presentations even at the primary level. This emphasis on the integration of technology into the classroom at all levels should ensure that the Estonian educational system will graduate students who understand international issues and will be able to compete in the global economy.


Eurydice Database on Education Systems in Europe. The Education System in Estonia, 2 March 2001. Available from

Vaht, Gunnar, ed. Higher Education System in Estonia. Tallinn: Academic Recognition Information Center, 1997.

Vaht, Gunner, Maiki Udam, and Kadri Këutt, eds. Higher Education in Estonia. 2nd ed. Tallinn: Academic Recognition Information Center, 2000.

Terry L. Simpson and Hasso Kukemelk

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Identification. The Estonians are a nominally Lutheran and Orthodox people inhabiting their own nation on the Baltic Sea and having their own language and culture despite having been dominated by foreign powers over most of their history.

Location. The nation of Estonia, with an area of 45,125 square kilometers, is located between 57°30 and 59°49 N and 21°46 and 28°13 E. It is bounded on the north and west by the Baltic Sea, on the east by Russia, and on the south by Latvia. The climate is maritime and cool, the topography is flat, and there are many rivers and lakes. The precipitation (61-71 centimeters annually), together with a very low evaporation rate and flat topography, often results in saturated soil. The soil is also very rocky, especially in the north. Forty percent of Estonia is forested, and 80 percent of the trees are coniferous.

Demography. The population of the nation of Estonia was estimated at 1,581,000 in 1991. Ethnic Estonians constitute 61.2 percent of this total, Russians 30.3 percent, Ukrainians 3.1 percent, Belarussians 1.8 percent, and Finns 1.1 percent; there are small numbers of Jews, Tatars, and Germans as well. The birthrate was 14 per 1,000 persons, and infant mortality was 25 per 1,000 live births in 1989. More than 72,000 Estonians left Estonia in August and September of 1944, fleeing the Soviet forces who were following the retreating Germans. Most of these people went to Germany and Sweden, although the majority of those in Germany have since emigrated to the United States and Canada.

Linguistic Affiliation. Estonian belongs to the Baltic-Finnic Division of the Finno-Ugric Branch of the Uralic Language Family; it is mutually intelligible with Finnish and is thus related to Livonian, Mordvin, Zyrien, Karelian, Votic, Ingrian, and Veps and distantly to Hungarian. Estonian is famous for its three degrees of consonant and vowel length. The vocabulary currently contains many German loanwords. Structurally, inflection is primarily by use of suffixes. Estonian has two main dialects, the southern or Tartu, and the northern or Tallinn; the latter is spoken by the majority of Estonians and is the standard Estonian literary dialect. Some subdialects show the influence of other languages; for example, the western subdialect of the northern dialect exhibits Swedish influence. All of the Estonians plus .3 percent of the other people living in Estonia (i.e., 61.5 percent in all) speak Estonian as their native language. Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, it has been necessary to demonstrate proficiency in Estonian to acquire Estonian citizenship.

History and Cultural Relations

Archaeological evidence suggests that present-day Estonia was peopled by 6000 b.c. and probably earlier. The Neolithic transition had little effect on the region, save for small changes in stoneworking and the introduction of pottery; agriculture was not adopted here as elsewhere. Moreover, neither the Bronze Age nor the early Iron Age had much effect on the people of the region because it is poor in metal resources and because trade with southern peoples was insubstantial. Instead, the people made tools of stone, bone, and wood, and most continued a hunting, fishing, and gathering life-style. During the later Roman Iron Age the ancestors of modern Estonians began extensive overland trade with peoples to the south and sea trade with the Goths. It was during this period as well that hunting, fishing, and gathering were replaced by agriculture, animal husbandry, and trade, and people left the valleys to settle on more arable lands. During the Middle Iron Age Estonia and most other regions of Europe experienced economic distress as a repercussion of the fall of the Roman Empire.

During the Later Iron Age (a.d. 800-1200) Estonia prospered, owing in large part to its strategic location between western and northeastern Europe. In addition to animal husbandry and agriculture, the peoples of the area became skilled in handicrafts and ironworking. Society at this time was stratified. The small farmers were freemen but had less influence than the nobility, who were called "betters." There were also slaves, people who had been taken from other countries. Political affairs were run by the "elders," one or more of whom controlled each state. During foreign wars, several or all of the states would form a confederacy. These confederacies were responsible for a successful repulsion of the Russians and, during the period of AD. 1000-1200, for successful raids on Sweden and Denmark.

The Estonians, who were politically and militarily uncentralized, lost their independence in 1227, when they were conquered by Christian forces. Along with the Latvians, the Estonians had opposed conversion to Christianity since that would have meant relinquishing political control to the church. In 1202 Bishop Albert of Riga formed the crusading Order of the Military Brothers of Christ, to conquer Estonia. In their long war with the Estonians, this order, also known as the Knights of the Sword, were allied with the Danes after 1219.

Northern Estonia came under the rule of the Danes. Southern Estonia was controlled by the Knights of the Sword and, later, by the Order of Teutonic Knights. The Danes sold northern Estonia to the Order of Teutonic Knights in 1346, largely because of Estonian rebelliousness. The Teutonic Knights put down the insurrections, taxed their Estonian subjects heavily, and created large landed estates, which they rented to tenants. The tenants gained increasing legal control over the lives of the peasants and gradually transformed them into serfs and, later, slaves.

Ivan IV began a war against the Teutonic Knights in 1558, and the Muscovites rapidly took Estonia. The Teutonic Knights, the city of Tallinn and the northern Estonian nobles took an oath of loyalty to the king of Sweden in 1561. Sweden fought the Muscovites and removed them from Estonia by 1582. The reign of Gustavus Adolphus, beginning in 1625, saw numerous reforms including the abolition of landowners' jurisdiction over criminal legal cases, the creation of courts in which peasants could take action against their landlords, and the founding of schools.

Peter the Great of Russia went to war and took Estonia in 1710. He obliterated the reforms of the Swedes and returned to the German nobles their control over the lives of the peasants. In 1740 the Russian judiciary ruled that serfdom was legal. Estonians later rioted. Czar Alexander I supported protections for the serfs, however, and in 1816 Estonian serfs were freed. The former serfs courted the czar's protection from the Lutheran landlords by becoming members of the Orthodox church. Land reform ensued in 1856: peasants were given the right to buy and own freehold estates. Czar Alexander II made a law in 1866 removing the authority of landowners over peasant communities and in 1868 decreed the payment of rent by service abolished. The liberal influences of the Russian czars also led to the availability of schooling for all, with the result that by 1870 the Estonian literacy rate was 95 percent.

An Estonian nationalist movement began in the 1860s, and by the 1870s it had split into two factions. The more moderate faction, composed mostly of university-educated people, favored a slow pace for reform, whereas the majority of people adhered to a more extreme program that sought immediate equality with the German upper class. Czar Alexander III responded by attempting to Russify Estonia, making Russian rather than German the official language of the courts, the schools, and the police. In the 1890s, Tartu University students initiated the next significant wave of nationalism, which led to slow but peaceful reforms. In 1905, however, the Russian Revolution took place, and some Estonians took this as an opportunity to attack German landowners. Russia responded by establishing martial law from 1905 to 1908. The February Revolution of 1917 brought into power a liberal Russian government, which in April 1917 granted Estonian unification and autonomy. In June the Estonians elected a national council, but this was quickly and forcefully dissolved by the Bolsheviks. On 24 February 1918 the Estonian Council of Elders declared Estonian sovereign independence, but the next day a German occupation force dissolved the new provisional government. The German Revolution put an end to German designs on Estonia, and on 9 November 1918 Germany recognized Estonian rule over Estonia.

What followed is known as the Estonian War of Independence, which began 28 November 1918 with a Bolshevik attack. The Estonians were aided in their defense by British weapons and naval forces and by Finnish troops. After many difficult battles the Estonians prevailed, and the Soviets concluded a peace treaty on 2 February 1920. Following the war, Estonia gradually rebuilt its industry and economy.

Unfortunately for Estonia, the country and its people were annexed by the USSR in 1940 under the secret provisions of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. On 6 August 1940 Estonia became a Soviet republic. The Soviets nationalized businesses and industries without compensation and deported 60,000 people. Most of the men were sent to perform hard labor (e.g., cutting timber) in Siberia, where many died; a few were conscripted by the Red Army. Germany captured Estonia in 1941 and drafted into its military those young men who had not managed to escape to Finland. In 1944 the Soviets reconquered Estonia. The Soviets then proceeded to collectivize Estonian agriculture. When the process looked to be going too slowly to suit the Soviets, they punished Estonia by deporting Estonians to Siberian labor camps; from 1944 through 1949, an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Estonians were forcibly removed from their homeland. In 1955 those who survived were allowed to return to Estonia. The Soviets carried out a policy of cultural and social Russification after World War II, despite encountering guerrilla resistance well into the 1950s.

As the Soviet Union began to crumble, Estonia pressed for its independence. Resentment of Soviet control took the form not only of anger over political domination but also of outrage over the pollution and despoliation caused by Soviet-style industrialization. After Lithuania declared independence in 1990, the Estonian congress renamed the country and adopted its pre-Soviet coat of arms. After the attempted coup against Gorbachev, Estonia formally declared independence on 20 August 1991, which the USSR recognized on 6 September of that year. Eleven days later, Estonia joined the United Nations. The postindependence period has thus far been characterized by political and economic instability.


The settlement pattern is typically European, with people living in villages, towns, and four major cities (Tallinn, Tartu, Narva, and Köhlta Jarve). Since the late 1920s houses in rural areas have been constructed of bricks, rather than the traditional wood, so as to conserve timber resources.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Primarily agrarian until Soviet domination in 1940, the Estonians were a nation of farmers who produced grains, flax, potatoes, and animal products. There are also the historically important timber, shipping, and fishing industries. Industrialization took many years to establish itself following independence in 1920 because Estonia had little money, had been kept undeveloped by the landed nobility, and had little fuel for factories. It was fortunate for Estonia that it has large oil-shale deposits, which have been used to supply industrial needs. Soviet control turned Estonia into a primarily industrial nation; 60 percent of the gross national product and more than 65 percent of employment is provided by manufacturing. Much of the industrial output of Soviet Estonia went to the USSR; most of the Estonian oil shale, for example, went to provide gas for Leningrad.

Industrial Arts. Prior to Soviet domination, Estonia had a modern and well-developed industrial base, even though the country was at the time primarily agricultural. Estonia produced the following in quantities sufficient to export: butter, bacon, eggs, potatoes, flax, timber and lumber, pulp, paper, shale oil, textiles, glass, and artificial (casein) horn. Much of the required electrical power came from the burning peat, of which Estonia has large stores. The Soviets, established many new industries in Estonia, which produce concrete, scientific instruments, industrial chemicals, electrical equipment, refined oil, agricultural tools, and mining machinery.

Trade. Under the Soviets, nearly all of Estonia's trade was with the Soviet Empire. Following independence, Estonia embarked upon an ambitious program to enter western European markets, particularly those of Finland and Germany. Several Swedish companies have purchased such goods as automobile parts and cigarettes from Estonian companies. In January 1993 Estonia made an advantageous trade agreement with the European Community. Estonia, like all recently freed former Soviet republics, has been hindered by its earlier interconnectedness with the internal economy of the Soviet Empire. In one respect, however, the long-established trade routes with Russia and the largely open borders between the two countries have helped Estonia; they have led to a great deal of smuggling of Russian goods, which in Russia are sold at far below world prices. The nationalism that Estonia has experienced since independence has been growing, and as a result foreign investment in Estonia has rarely been welcome, despite a high unemployment rate.

Division of Labor. Women in urban areas traditionally remained at home to care for children and perform domestic tasks, whereas men worked outside the home. In rural areas women did this same work but also tended gardens and cattle and sometimes worked in the fields when needed. The traditional roles of women and children were altered by the Soviets. Women were "liberated" from the capitalist system so that they could be put to work in the oil-shale mines and at other physically onerous tasks. The Soviets also imposed a labor duty on boys of 14 to 17 years of age; this duty required them to attend industrial schools for six months and then to work wherever they were needed within the Soviet Union.

Land Tenure. The husband traditionally owned all of the family's property. During the period of freedom between the world wars, the new government embarked on a program of land reform. Approximately 750 of the great estates that had survived so long under the Russian government were expropriated by the Estonian government and divided into 55,000 parcels. Also, the 23,000 Estonians who had rented land were given freehold title to those lands. Real property was nationalized under the Soviets. Farms were collectivized in 1949, and the 140,000 Estonian farms were reorganized into 2,300 kolkhozy and 127 sovkhozy. By 1991 many of these had been combined so that there were a total of only 300 collective and state farms. The new Estonian government has already begun to dismantle these farms and to privatize farm ownership. By mid-1993 it aims to break all but 50 of the collective and soviet farms into 15,000-16,000 private farms. Moreover, all kinds of real property nationalized by the Soviets is being privatized by the Estonian Department of State Property. Those who lost their property to Soviet nationalization in 1940 may either take possession of the property they lost or accept compensation for it. Land not returned to previous owners is being put up for sale and may be purchased by Estonians. Estonians are being given vouchers for the years they have worked, at a rate of 300 kroon per year of employment; they may use these vouchers either to purchase their residences or to invest.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

Traditionally, nuclear families have lived separately in cities. In rural areas, on the contrary, it was not uncommon for as many as three generations to live together. It was often the case, however, that older couples built themselves a new house near their old home, which was left to a married son or daughter who was to begin having children. Since World War I and perhaps earlier, there has been a trend throughout Estonia toward separation of nuclear families. During the period of independence between the world wars, the fertility rate fell, and the government tried to stimulate births by means of financial bonuses.

Prior to independence in 1918, Estonian schooling was not well developed because of the harsh economic conditions imposed on the people by the ruling class of landlords. After independence, and after a sufficient number of school buildings were erected, education became compulsory for those between 8 and 16 years of age. English, German, French, and Russian were taught as foreign languages. In addition, there were colleges and lyceums as well as an entire network of vocational schools. The Soviet occupation in 1940 abolished this system entirely and substituted the Soviet system. Although many students attended Estonian-language schools, they were required to study Russian as well; others attended Russian-language schools. No Estonian history was taught until 1957, and after that only small amounts. Political indoctrination was of prime importance in the curriculum.

The contemporary Estonian formal educational system is free of charge. Attendance is compulsory for eleven years. Primary education spans eight years, the secondary level four years, and the university level five years.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. During the period of independence between the world wars, Estonia had three social classes. There was a small upper class, composed primarily of businessmen and government and military officials. The middle class was much larger than the other two, counting among its members teachers, clerks, doctors, lawyers, and independent farmers. There was also a working class. Movement between classes was relatively easy to accomplish at that time.

Political Organization. The Republic of Estonia's legislature is a unicameral assembly, the Riigikogu, whose 102 members are directly elected by the people to four-year terms. For any political party to put its elected members into the Riigikogu, however, it must receive 5 percent of the vote. In 1992 there were seven major parties. The government is the Council of Ministers, headed by a prime minister. The head of state is the president, who is elected by a majority of the popular vote; should no one candidate receive a majority, the president is elected by the Riigikogu. All Estonians over the age of 18 may vote in national elections. Those who are not Estonian citizens may vote only in municipal elections.

Social Control. After independence in 1920, the Estonian legal system was still under the control of ethnic Russians; consequently, great emphasis was placed on the training of ethnically Estonian law teachers. Two of the advances made by the Estonian legal authorities were to make all administrative decisions subject to the law and to make legal decisions conform to precedent, neither of which had been the case theretofore.

Conflict. Many of Estonia's internal conflicts arise from Estonians' hatred of Russians. Many Russians remain in Estonia, and they are essentially unable to become Estonian citizens. Both Russians in Estonia and within the Russian nation have protested this situation as a violation of human rights, and the withdrawal of Russian troops has slowed. The Estonians, in response, have brought up the issue of past Russian human-rights violations. Much political conflict has come about over the associations that people in government once had with the Soviet government and over questions as to whether those in power are sufficiently anti-Russian in their actions.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. A Danish monk by the name of Fulco introduced Christianity to the Estonians in the twelfth century, although it was not until later that the Estonians converted. Moreover, it was not until the eighteenth century that beliefs concerning the supernatural became more or less fully Christian. In 1934, before Soviet domination, nearly 80 percent of Estonians were Lutherans, and almost 20 percent were listed as Orthodox. There were also very small numbers of Baptists, Methodists, Jews, and Catholics.

Religious Practitioners. During the period of independence between the world wars, the Estonian Lutheran Church was governed by the Church Assembly, composed of the members of the various synods, the members of which in turn were the pastors and lay officials of the parishes. Each parish was controlled by provosts, prominent pastors elected from among the synod membership. The Church Assembly elected its bishop, the head of the church, and legislated church rules. Some of the more prominent clerical and lay people together formed the Consistory, which made decisions on the basis of religious rules.

After independence in 1920, the Orthodox Church of Estonia broke from the Russian church and became the independent Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. The head of the church was the metropolitan, who approved the executive decisions of the synod and who was consecrated by the patriarch of Constantinople. The Church Assembly, made up of church members, elected the metropolitan, the bishops, the membership of the synod, and the priests.

Recently another denomination, the Free Estonian Church, has become an important link between Estonians in exile.

Ceremonies. The most important rituals, in terms of the amount of effort expended in celebrating them, are baptisms, confirmations, and weddings. In rural areas wedding celebrations could last a week.

Arts. Traditional Estonian folklore has as its subjects animals, witchcraft, and humorous material. Estonian folksongs are of two kinds. The older, traditional, style is known as runo and is characterized by short and simple musical phrases that are repeated again and again as the epic lyrics are sung. The newer style, influenced by German choral music, is more lyrical and has longer musical phrases and a wider range of rhythms. The modern Estonian musical had its start in the choirs and brass bands that were first established in the early nineteenth century. Estonians have a penchant for large musical festivals, and in some of these celebrations there are as many as 21,000 performers and 100,000 spectators. The larger festivals may have a choir with as many as 15,000 voices or a band of 2,000 musicians. During the period of independence, Estonia established several symphony orchestras and theaters and two music schools. The arts in general were supported by grants from the federal government during this era.

Much of Estonian literature has been influenced by foreign trends, and foreign literature continues to be popular. Early literature (1200-1700) was often the work of resident foreigners who had little proficiency in the Estonian language. Only in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did fiction by Estonians begin to appear, including that of the poet Kristian Jaak Peterson. During the national renaissance of the late nineteenth century, physical conditions had improved to the point that authors were free to write, although Russian political domination also included heavy literary censorship. During this time poetry, particularly epic poetry, became the most popular form of literature; the most popular poet of the era was Lydia Koidula. The realist period of 1890-1905 saw the introduction of modern foreign literature into Estonia, the publication by Estonians such as Eduard Vilde of historical-political novels, and the performance of political plays by August Kitzberg and others. Neoromantic and symbolic poetry became popular in the period 1905-1920, and names such as Gustav Suits, Marie Under, and Friedebert Tuglas became famous. After World War I, the neorealist novel became preeminent. Some of the more important authors of the period are Anton Tammsaare, Albert Kivikas, and August Jakobson. Soviet domination from 1940 on all but destroyed Estonian literature; only approved Soviet Communist themes were tolerated. Many Estonian authors escaped to the West, where they continued to write, but of those who remained many were imprisoned or had their works banned.

The Estonian pictorial arts followed a similar pattern of mixing foreign influences with indigenous invention. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, painters and sculptors were trained in St. Petersburg, and later in Paris and Germany. Some of the most important names are Eduard Jakobson (who established Estonian graphic arts) and the "Young Estonians" Magi, Triik, Koort, Jansen, and others. The 1930s saw the rise of three important wood engravers: Wiiralt, Mugasto, and Laigo. Soviet political control later resulted in uncreative work, although some good works have been created in exile.

See also Karelians


Konstantin Päts Fund (1974). Estonia: Story of a Nation. New York: Konstantin Päts Fund.

Panning, Tönu, and Elmar Järvesoo, eds. (1978). A Case Study of a Soviet Republic: The Estonian SSR. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.

Raud, Villibald (1953). Estonia: A Reference Book. New York: Nordic Press.

Raun, Toivo U. (1991). Estonia and the Estonians. 2nd ed. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press.

Selirand, J., and E. Toñisson (1984). Through Past Millennia: Archaeological Discoveries in Estonia. Tallinn: Perioodka.

Uustalu, Evald, ed. (1961). Aspects of Estonian Culture. London: Boreas Publishing Co.


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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Estonia
Region (Map name): Europe
Population: 1,423,316
Language(s): Estonian (official), Russian, Ukrainian, English, Finnish, other
Literacy rate: 100.0%
Area: 45,226 sq km
GDP: 4,969 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 13
Total Circulation: 262,000
Circulation per 1,000: 237
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 49
Total Circulation: 333,000
Circulation per 1,000: 302
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 46.40
Number of Television Stations: 31
Number of Television Sets: 605,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 425.1
Number of Cable Subscribers: 126,420
Cable Subscribers per 1,000: 90.3
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 65,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 45.7
Number of Radio Stations: 86
Number of Radio Receivers: 1,010,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 709.6
Number of Individuals with Computers: 220,000
Computers per 1,000: 154.6
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 391,600
Internet Access per 1,000: 275.1

Background & General Characteristics

Historical Traditions

The pre-history of Estonia can be dated to 8000 BC when the oldest traces of human inhabitants were found, but the ethnic origins of the first settlers are unknown. By the third millennium BC, the settlers were Finno-Ugrians who migrated from the east, and Baltic tribes who came from the south. In the 13th century the Estonians were conquered by stronger medieval powers that were primarily German but also included the Danes, Swedes, and Russians. It was at this time that they were introduced to Christianity and the influence of western Catholicism. The composition of the indigenous peoples were basically maarahvas (country folk) while the nobility, clergy, merchants, and traders were predominantly Baltic Germans who were referred to by the local people as saks, a short form for Germans. The only way in which the local Estonian could hope to achieve a higher social status was to adopt the German language and customs and in effect, relinquish his Estonian identity.

The German Reformation movement reached Estonia in 1523 and created competition between the Lutheran and Catholic faiths. This precipitated the emergence of propagandist literature and led to the first Estonian book being published in 1525, which was destroyed because it was considered heretical. A more acceptable book, a catechism, was published in 1535, and in 1686 an Estonian edition of the New Testament was published. Education was always a key element in the national development of Estonia and peasants taught their children to read at home. As early as 1686, the first alphabet book in Estonian appeared. A complete translation of the Bible was published in 1739. Between 1802 and 1856, local people achieved emancipation and were given limited property rights. This freedom led to the development of an Estonian newspaper that was established in 1806. Between 1857 and 1861 Kalevipoeg, the national Estonian epic, was published. At that same time a new newspaper, the Perno Postimees (Parnu Mailman), was the first publication to refer to essti rahvas (Estonian people) instead of maarahvas (country folk) and became very popular among the Estonians. This stimulated the creation of additional publications and other newspapers followed such as Sakala, which was edited by Carl Robert Jakobson.

During the 19th century, the Estonian nationalist identity became stronger and by the 20th century Estonians sought independence. They achieved independence in 1918 after the First World War, known to Estonians as the War of Liberation. In 1939 Estonia was once again faced with the intrusion of a foreign power when Soviet military bases were introduced and by August 6, 1940, Estonia was annexed into the Soviet Union and forced to accept Soviet domination and influence for the next 50 years. During its occupation of Estonia, the Soviets destroyed approximately 10 to 12 million books and virtually decimated Estonian literature.

Mikhail Gorbachev, President of the USSR during the 1980s, allowed greater freedom within the various republics, a policy known as "glasnost." The Estonians took advantage of this and in 1987 launched the Popular Front, an Estonian nationalist movement. On August 20, 1991, Estonia declared itself independent from the Soviet Union and a new constitution was adopted on June 28, 1992. The final removal of Russian troops and tanks occurred in August 1994 thus terminating 50 years of Russian military presence in Estonia.

During the Soviet occupation of Estonia, journalism confronted varying degrees of censorship and the major change to occur in the Estonian media, post independence in the 1990s, was the removal of censorship. However, the evolution of this new press began as far back as 1986 when glasnost was first introduced. The Soviets began to loosen their rigid controls on the media. Periodicals began to change their style, format, and even the content of the news. Publications began emphasize the nation of Estonia and eliminate the word "Soviet." By 1989 the independent press had grown to more than 1,000 publications. These ranged from the weekly Eesti Eks press, a joint Estonian-Finnish collaboration, to smaller specialized journals that were short-lived.

Despite the growth and freedom afforded the press, there still existed serious problems. Similar to the other Baltic nations, the lack of a strong infrastructure resulted in several new dilemmas. The problems confronting the Estonian media included substance, structure, and regulation. The lack of quality control manifested itself in poor journalism. The analyses were simplistic, fact and opinion were not delineated, and chronology took precedence over significance of the stories. More important news was often lost in the calendar of events. More seriously, the failures of the editorial process resulted in deliberate misrepresentations that were used to gain political points. The former Edasi, once regarded as Estonia's best newspaper, was acquiring a reputation of deliberately twisting information and printing libelous and even plagiarized articles.

Privatization of the Estonian press proceeded slowly and in 1993 the number of publications stabilized. A major change to occur within Estonian publishing was the increasing number of foreign-language periodicals, the majority of which were in English or Swedish. In 1999 there were 105 officially registered newspapers, including 17 daily papers published in Estonia. Seventy-three of the total number and 13 of the dailies were published in the Estonian language. By the end of 1994 Estonia was considered to have the most balanced reporting of government news among the Baltic States because journalists were freer to write about political and personal issues of senior functionaries.

The media in Estonia continued to improve as indicated by a survey conducted by Freedom House that measured trends and press freedoms. Estonia improved from a rating of "partly free" in 1992 to "free" each year between 1993 and 2001.

In 1995 the major development of the Estonian press was the merger of the three largest newspapers. In 2002 the top three newspapers include: SL Ohtuleht (Evening Gazette), founded in 2000 with the merger of Ohtuleht and Sonumileht newspapers, a daily paper published in Estonian with a circulation of 67,200; Postimees (Postman), founded in 1857 and published daily in Estonian with a circulation of 60,200; and Eesti Ekspress (Estonian Express), founded in 1989, a weekly paper published in Estonian. The next biggest papers in terms of circulation are: Maaleht (Country News) founded in 1987, which deals with various aspects of country life, has a circulation of 46,000, and is published in Estonian; Den zaDujan (Day After Day), a weekly paper founded in 1991 and published in Russian; and Meie Meel (Our Mind), founded in 1991, a weekly youth paper published in Estonian.

The Nature of the Audience: Literacy, Affluence, Population Distribution, Language Distribution

In 2000, the population of Estonia was estimated at over 1.4 million and consisted of 65.3 percent Estonian, 28.1 percent Russian, 2.5 percent Ukrainian, and the remaining 4.1 percent other nationalities. The native Estonian is found mainly in the rural areas, whereas the non-Estonians are found in the northeastern industrial towns. Citizenship may be obtained if one is born in Estonia or at least one parent is Estonian. Naturalization requires three years of residency in the country and competency in the language. Based on the definition of literacy to mean the ability to read after the age of 15, Estonia has a 100% literacy rate.

Economic Framework

The Estonian economy grew rapidly between the two World Wars. During that time it was principally an agricultural society with some developed industry. After World War II the economy became mainly urbanized and industrialized and enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the Soviet bloc. By the late 1980s, the serious economic and political crises that were plaguing the Soviet Union allowed Estonia to seek sovereignty from the communist rule and work towards a free and independent nation. After independence in June 1991, the Estonian government passed an ownership act that began a privatization program that transferred almost 500 state-owned companies into the private sector. In 1992 the economy began to revive after monetary reforms were instituted and the Estonian kroon was reintroduced. In late 1995 all the Estonian railways, energy, oil shale, telekon, and ports were privatized and in gas, tobacco, and air followed in 1996. These economic reforms made Estonia one of the strongest post-communist economies of the former Soviet republics. These market reforms were also the leading factors in the much needed change in the mass media sector.

In 1998, as a ripple effect of the Russian financial crisis, Estonia experienced its first economic downturn since independence. By 2000, however, the country quickly rebounded by scaling back its budget and transferring trade from the Russian markets to the European market.

Press Laws

The Estonian Constitution provides for personal freedoms, privacy, and the right to information. According to Chapter II Fundamental Rights, Liberties, and Duties, Article 44 [Right to Information]:

Everyone shall have the right to receive information circulated for general use.

Chapter II Article 45 [Freedom of Speech]

  • Everyone shall have the right to freely circulate ideas, opinions, persuasions, and other information by word, print, picture and other means. This right may be restricted by law for the purpose of protecting public order or morals, or the rights and liberties, health, honor and reputation of others. The law may likewise restrict this right for state and local government officials, for the purpose of protecting state or business secrets or confidential communication, which due to their service the officials have access to, as well as protecting the family life and privacy of other persons, and in the interests of justice.
  • There shall be no censorship.

On May 19, 1994, the Law on Radio and Television Broadcasting gave the radio and television stations the right to make free decisions about their content and broadcasts and restrictions were punishable by law.


Newspapers and periodicals have always played an important role in the life of Estonians and have survived attempts to eliminate their language, culture, and freedom of thought. The Estonian press emerged somewhat scarred after the fifty years of Soviet occupation and censorship but has worked to rectify the problems. The Constitution guarantees no censorship, but a court decision in 1997 convicted and fined a journalist on charges of offensive remarks against a politician. This decision was questioned and criticized and many felt that it was a move against freedom of speech and came very close to censorship.

In 2002 Estonia faced new complaints from the Russian-speaking population, a large group that constitutes 28.1 percent of the population. These Russian Estonians state that there is limited programming in Russian, forcing them to receive their news from Russian broadcasts. In addition, they have complained that they also face harassment from the tax authorities and other regulators because of their background.

Another ban occurred when the parliament voted in favor of banning tobacco advertising on television and radio in 1997.

State-Press Relations

The government monopoly on printing and distribution was abolished after independence was achieved in 1991 and since that time Estonia has enjoyed an independent press that is free from government interference. The major piece of legislation with which journalists are the most concerned, is the criminalization of libel. The legislature assigned the burden of proof to the media.

News Agencies

There are two news agencies in Estonia, the BNS (Baltic News Service) and ETA Interactive. The BNS is the largest and has its headquarters in Tallinn, Estonia with regional offices in Lithuania and Latvia. There are also three press organizations: the Estonian Journalists' Union; the Estonian Newspaper Association; and the Estonian Press Council.

Broadcast Media

In 2000 Estonia had thirty radio broadcasters operating and five cable channels. The major commercial stations are: Eesti Raadio (Estonian Radio); Kristlik Pereraadio (Christian Family Radio); Raadio Elmar; Raadio Kuku;Raadio Sky Pluss;Raadio Uuno;Raadio V6; and Star FM.

There are four commercial television stations in Estonia. The state-run ETV, despite receiving government funding, faced serious financial problems at the end of the 20th century that resulted in funding decreases, employee lay-offs, and programming reductions.

Electronic News Media

In 2000 there were 28 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Estonia and all major television and radio stations and newspapers had their own web sites. According to RIPE Network Coordination Center (a regional Internet registry for Europe), Estonia is one of the most Internet-connected countries in Eastern Europe. Estonia-Wide Web (Eesti WWW-Wäark) provides a broad range of topics that are available online.

There are approximately 309,000 Internet users, 62 percent of which are male. About 89 percent of the total Internet users are between the ages of 15 and 39, with an average age of 29. The major reasons given for not using the Internet include cost and fear of computer use. However, the Soros Foundation's Open Estonia Foundation has supported many projects, including providing Internet-related services at medical, educational, and cultural institutions, to improve access to the Internet throughout the entire country.

Education & TRAINING

In 1995 the Estonian Association of Newspapers and the Estonian Association of Broadcasters established the Estonia Media College Foundation which was a move towards the establishment of the Estonian Media College. The Baltic Media Center (BMC) sponsored a course, "Cross-Border Minorities Reporting," that was attended by Estonian journalists along with participants for the other Baltic States, Russia and Poland. The course trained participants in the skills necessary to launch their own Internet-based radio station. These trends demonstrate the positive direction in which Estonia is moving in order to improve the quality of its media.


The Estonian media survived censorship and subjugation by foreign powers and at the beginning of the 21st century the largest problem for the industry is economic. Since the establishment of an independent Estonia, the country has developed a growing media sector characterized by a surprisingly large number of print and broadcast outlets for the country's small population. There are a wide variety of newspapers that are privately owned and published in Estonian and Russian, private and national television channels, a state-owned public service channel, and an abundance of radio stations. The national state-owned television channel has enjoyed the highest ratings despite the competition from the independent stations. However, because of the large amount of print publications, there is fierce competition for the limited advertising and subscription revenues. Therefore, the media continues to be burdened with financial difficulties and distribution delays because debt and printing costs still plague the press.

In addition to these financial woes, sensationalism in reporting reflects the lack of law regulating media content. There is also the problem and bias against the Russian-speaking population. Despite these concerns, Estonia does enjoy an independent press. With the exception of a few legislative shortcomings, particularly regarding the criminalizing of libel, the press is generally free of government influence or control. Though the government owns the newspaper printing plant, it does not interfere with its commercial management. Overall the greatest hazard facing the press is financial loss due to limited advertising revenue.

Significant Dates

  • 1997: Enno Tammer was named Estonian Journalist of the Year. He later became the first journalist to be honored and then convicted and fined for professional misconduct in the same year.
  • 1998: A new Broadcasting Bill was introduced to the legislature that stipulates that at least 51 percent of television programs must be produced in the EU by the year 2003.
  • 1999: In January, the Estonian broadcast media signed an agreement that would ban journalists from hosting programs for six weeks leading up to an election if they were also running for a parliamentary seat.
  • 2000: The Internet TV portal was started on December 4. In addition, Starman AS, a Tallinn-based cable television company bought a 60 percent stake in Comtrade and entered the Internet market.
  • 2001: Vitali Haitov, who owned the two largest Russian language newspapers in Estonia, was killed near his home in Tallinn, in March.


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"Estonia." I.P.R. Report: Monthly bulletin of the International Press 43 (December 1994): 25.

"Estonia." Nations in Transit. 2001 Available from

"Estonia -Constitution." ICL. Available from

The Europa World Year Book 2001, 42nd edition, vol. 1. Europa Publications 2001, 1484-1502.

Girnius, Saulus. "The Economies of the Baltic States in 1993." RFE/RL Research Report, 3, no. 20 (20 May 1994): 1-14.

Hickey, Neil. "A Young Press Corps." Columbia Journalism Review 38 (May 1999): 18.

Hietaniemi, Tapani. "Dates from the history of Estonia." Arts & Humanities IBS. Available from

Jarvis, Howard. "Estonia." World Press Review. 1997-2001. Available from

Kand, Villu. "Estonia: A Year of Challenges." RFE/RL Research Report 3, no. 7 (7 January 1994): 92-95.

Kionka, Riina. "Estonia: A Break with the Past." RFE/RL Research Report (3 January 1992)): 65-67.

Kionka, Riina. "Estonia." RFE/RL Research Report Vol. 1, No. 39 (2 October 1992): 62-69.

Lieven, Anatol. The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

RFE/RL Research Institute Staff. "The Media in the Countries of the Former Soviet Union." RFE/RL Research Report 2, no. 27 (2 July 1993): 1-15.

Rose, Richard, and Maley, William. "Conflict or Compromise in the Baltic States?" RFE/RL Research Report 3, no. 28 (15 July 1994): 26-35.

Jean Boris Wynn

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POPULATION: 1.5 million

LANGUAGE: Estonian

RELIGION: Christianity (Lutheran); Russian Orthodox Church


The Estonian people have a long history of residing along the coast of the Baltic Sea in northern Europe. In 1940, the country was officially annexed to the Soviet Union. Estonia remained a part of the Soviet Union, despite a deep desire for independence, until 1991, when it officially declared its independence.


Estonia is located in the northeastern region of Europe, on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. It has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years by the Estonians. Estonia's nearest neighbors are Russia in the east, Latvia in the south, and Finland and Sweden across the Baltic Sea to the north and west.

The climate of Estonia is moderate. The mean daily temperature in the capital city of Tallinn is 5.3°c (22°f) in January and
16.5°c (62°f) in July. Usually there is snow cover from December to March.

The total population of Estonia is about 1.5 million. It is made up mostly of Estonians. There is a large community of Russians and smaller communities of Ukrainians, Belarusans, and Finns. About 70 percent of the population is urban, and 30 percent is rural. The capital of Estonia is Tallinn (population 434,763).


The Estonian language is related to Finnish. Although Estonian is a distinct language, it also uses words borrowed from Swedish, German, and Russian. It is considered one of the most difficult languages in the world. Many Estonians also speak English, German, or Russian.

Estonian first names for males often end in the letter o (as is also the case with Finnish names). Typical first names include Arno, Eino, Ivo, Jaak, Jaan, Peeter, Rein, and Ülo. Female first names include Aime, Ester, Krista, Leida, and Mari.

Examples of everyday Estonian words include tere (TEH-re, how do you do?), palun (PAH-lun, please), aitäh (EYE-tah, thank you), and head aega (heh-aht EYE-kah, goodbye).


The national epic Kalevipoeg describes the battles and adventures of Kalevipoeg (literally, son of Kalev), the mythical hero and ruler of ancient Estonia. It ends with his violent death and the country's conquest by foreign invaders.

According to Estonian folklore, Kalevipoeg created the Estonian landscape with his own two hands by cutting down the forests to form the plains, uprooting gardens to make the hills, and drawing water to fill the lakes.

There are two popular Estonian legends about the capital, Tallinn. One legend has it that when Tallinn is completely built, it will be flooded. The flood will happen because Jarvevana, the legendary old man who lives at the bottom of Lake Ulemiste (the city's water source), will pull out the plug of the lake. Another legend tells the story of a warrior-maiden who secretly brought in the building stones under cover of night.


Christianity came to the Estonians in the eleventh century ad. Lutheranism is the most widely practiced faith among Estonians today, though there are also Russian Orthodox and Baptist communities.


The national holidays are New Year's Day (January 1), Independence Day (February 24), Good Friday (late March or early April), St. John's Night or Midsummer Day (June 23 and 24), and Christmas (December 25 and 26).

The most beautiful and long-awaited holiday among Estonians is probably Christmas. In winter, there is almost no daylight in Estonia. It is light for only a couple of hours a day. People start decorating their homes and often begin lighting candles at the end of November.

By the beginning of December there are Christmas decorations everywhere, and soon Christmas trees (firs) are brought into homes. It is a tradition in every Estonian family to bake gingerbread. Children look forward to the arrival of Santa Claus, who brings presents. This is traditionally a quiet holiday celebrated with family and close friends. During the Soviet occupation, celebrating Christmas was prohibited. But at home, most Estonians did it secretly anyway.

Another important national holiday is St. John's Day on June 24, the peak of summer. It is the longest and usually warmest time of the year. In fact, it never gets completely dark at night. On June 23, people everywhere light bonfires at night. They drink beer and bake sausages over the fire, sing, and have fun. In the cities, people make small fires in their gardens or in open fireplaces.


Rites of passage are related to family occurrences like births, deaths, and marriages. A child's first day of school and, especially, the day of graduation from high school are also celebrated. Graduation from university is an important event. It is sometimes celebrated for several days among the graduates, as well as with family members and relatives. High school and university reunions are also traditional.


Estonians are generally regarded as shy and withdrawn. They do not communicate with other people easily. However, among friends and family, they are quite friendly and hospitable.

In formal communications, men are referred to as Härra (Mister) and women as Proua (Misses) or Preili (Miss). Usually people shake hands when meeting and departing, and it is polite to look people in the eyes. The polite form of addressing someone in Estonian is teie. This is used when meeting someone for the first time or when one does not know a person well.


In 1994 the annual income of an average Estonian urban family was approximately $1,168. For rural families it was $918. Approximately 60 percent of the Estonian population have hot and cold running water and a telephone. Almost all have refrigerators and television sets and over 80 percent have washing machines. Estonians prefer private one-family houses in the suburbs, but there are also areas of multistoried dwellings.

There are approximately 400,000 automobiles in Estonia, and the number is growing constantly. However, the importance of a car in the family is not as great as in the United States. Public transportation is quite well developed and covers all areas in major cities and throughout the country. For example, city transportation in Tallinn includes buses, trolleys, and streetcars.


Most Estonians get married for the first time when they are in their twenties. Usually people are not engaged before they get married. More than half of marriages end in divorce.

Among Estonians, it is common for both the husband and wife to work full-time. A typical workday ends between 5:00 and 6:00 pm. Watching television and reading books are part of the evening routine.

Schoolchildren normally get home earlier than their parents and have to spend hours alone. It is typical that several generations live together in one house or live close to one another. This allows grandparents to take care of their grandchildren and help in the household. It is also common that children take care of their parents when they are no longer able to live by themselves. Same-sex marriages are neither allowed by Estonian laws nor tolerated by the public.


Estonia is a modern, Western country and the people generally dress as people do elsewhere in the West.


Estonian cuisine has been influenced by its neighborsScandinavians (people from Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), Germans, and Russians. A typical breakfast would consist of a Scandinavian-style open-faced sandwich and a cup of rich, good coffee. The sandwich is a slice of black or white bread with butter and cheese or sausage, slices of fresh tomato, radish, or cucumber. Coffee is the most popular drink in Estonia. It is served in offices in the morning and during lunch, as well as at home to guests.

In Estonia, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Workers leave their offices for an hour sometime between 12:00 noon and 3:00 pm. They eat their lunch in cafés, restaurants, or bars. A typical meal consists of meat and potatoes with gravy and a fresh salad. Although pizza and hamburgers are becoming increasingly popular, fast food is not popular with Estonians. Children are served lunch at school.

In general, Estonians are quite health-conscious. Most people try to supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Snacks like potato chips and popcorn are not popular.


Estonians start school when they are six or seven years old. Primary education lasts for four years. Secondary education is divided into two parts: basic education (grades five to nine) and upper secondary education (grades ten to twelve). Primary and basic education are compulsory.

There are two main options after basic schoolupper secondary school or vocational school. The secondary school certificate gives a student the right to continue his or her education either in universities or in other institutions of higher learning. About 40 percent of the graduates from secondary school continue their studies at institutions of higher education, and about 25 percent attend vocational schools. There are six universities in Estonia. Tartu University is the oldest (founded in 1632). Undergraduate academic studies in universities last four to six years. Most Estonians learn two languages in school in addition to Estonian. The most common foreign language is English, and the second is usually Russian, German, or French.


Traditional folk song festivals are popular events dating back to 1869. These festivals are held every five years, with male, female, children's, and boys' choirs all giving performances.

The first book in the Estonian language was produced in 1525. An Estonian edition of the New Testament of the Bible was published in 1686. A complete translation of the Bible appeared in 1739. The national epic, Kalevipoeg, was written during 185761 by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (180382).

In 1944, most of Estonia's prominent writers and poets fled the country because of the Soviet Union's invasion and occupation. Estonian literature was tightly censored during the Soviet era (which lasted until 1991), and any material that was critical of the Soviet system was not published. Furthermore, some writers whose ideas were seen as threatening by the government were imprisoned.


The highest salaries in Estonia are in finance, followed by higher-than-average wages in transport, power engineering, and public administration. The lowest wages are in agriculture and in the public sector (education and health). The average monthly wage in 1996 was approximately $225. The unemployment rate was about 2 percent.

Most people work between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm or between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Most workers receive a fixed monthly salary. They are not paid for the work they do past forty hours a week. People are entitled to a paid vacation after they have worked for an employer for one year. The length of the vacation varies from twenty-one to thirty-five days. The retirement age is sixty-five for men and sixty for women.


Estonians are especially fond of basketball. Skiing, volleyball, soccer, and motor sports are also popular. Joggers or runners are becoming a common sight in the suburbs, especially in summertime. For years, aerobics has been a popular way of keeping in shape for women. Also, public health clubs with their body-building facilities are widely used by both men and women.

Public indoor swimming pools are open to everyone for a moderate fee, and there are swimming pools in some schools. During recent years, bowling, golf, and squash have become popular. As Estonia is a sea country, there are many yachting clubs. Spectator sports are not greatly admired by Estonians.


One of the most popular forms of entertainment in Estonia is the theater. There are ten professional and a few private theaters across Estonia. Many people also go to motion pictures. Television is still the most accessible form of entertainment, especially for elderly people. Almost all Estonian homes have TV sets.

Many Estonians, especially women, enjoy gardening. Collecting things (like stamps, coins, beer bottles, postcards, etc.) is also widespread. Younger people prefer going out to discotheques. Dancing is popular among young people of both sexes.

Travel is a relatively new and increasingly popular form of recreation. During the Soviet occupation the borders of Estonia were closed. It was impossible for the average person to travel abroad. Now, travel is common, with many Estonians visiting the close-by Scandinavian countries or Germany.


Estonian folk art traditions date back to ancient times when clothes, tools, footwear, utensils, and toys were made by hand. During long and dark winter nights, Estonian women wove fabrics for national costumes. Striped, multicolored skirt fabrics were made of yarn dyed with herbs. Blouses were made of linen and embroidered by hand. Woolen sweaters, cardigans, mittens, and socks were knitted with elaborate patterns. Each county had its own characteristic patterns. Traditional Estonian jewelry is made of silver. Estonian craftspeople were already known for their skills during the Middle Ages.

Even today, many Estonian women enjoy knitting and embroidering, and prefer hand-made craft items to those made by mass industry.


During the Soviet occupation, there were tensions between Estonians and ethnic Russians living in Estonia. After Estonia became independent in 1991, these tensions increased. Russians who wish to become Estonian citizens must learn to speak Estonian. This is an extremely difficult language and Estonia's insistence on citizens knowing it has drawn international criticism. Russians have enjoyed economic success in Estonia; many of them have lived there for decades and want to stay.

More serious problems in Estonia include lack of financial resources for social spending. In many cases, wages and salaries for unskilled or low-skilled workers are small. Some people are barely able to make ends meet.

Alcoholism and crime are also major problems in Estonia. Efforts are being made by the government to increase safety and people's trust in the police. Unemployment is still relatively low (about 2 percent) and does not pose a social problem.


Rank, Gustav. Old Estonia, the People and Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.

Raun, Toivo. Estonia and the Estonians. 2d ed. Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1991.

Taagepera, Rein. Estonia: Return to Independence. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1993.

Vesilind, Priit J. "The Baltic Nations." National Geographic ( November 1990): 237.


Embassy of Estonia, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide, Estonia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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Estonia (ĕstō´nēə), Estonian Eesti, officially Republic of Estonia, republic (2005 est. pop. 1,333,000), 17,413 sq mi (45,100 sq km). It borders on the Baltic Sea in the west; the gulfs of Riga and Finland (both arms of the Baltic) in the southwest and north, respectively; Latvia in the south; and Russia in the east. Tallinn is the capital and largest city. In addition to the capital, other important cities are Tartu, Narva, Parnu, and Viljandi.

Land and People

Despite its northerly location, Estonia enjoys a mild climate because of marine influences. Mainly a lowland, the republic has numerous lakes, frequently of glacial origin; Peipus (Lake Chudskoye), the largest, is important for both shipping and fishing. Along Estonia's Baltic coast are more than 800 islands, of which Saaremaa is the most notable. The republic's rivers include the Narva, Pärnu, Ema, and Kasari.

Estonians, who are ethnically and linguistically close to the Finns, make up about 68% of the population; Russians constitute some 25%, and there are Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Finnish minorities. Estonian is the official language, but Russian, Latvian, and Lithuanian are also spoken. The majority of those practicing a religious faith belong to either the Evangelical Lutheran or the Russian Orthodox church. There are small minorities of other Christians, but most of the population is unaffiliated. Since independence (1991), citizenship has generally been limited to ethnic Estonians, a practice widely criticized because it denies political and civil rights to the many Russian-speaking inhabitants. In 1993 ethnic Russians were officially declared foreigners, raising even stronger objections. Long-term non-Estonian residents can become citizens, but the government has limited the number that can do so annually.


In the years that it was part of the Soviet Union, Estonia provided the USSR with gas and oil produced from its large supply of oil shale. It is still the world's second largest producer of oil shale. The majority of its workforce is involved in industry, which also includes mining, shipbuilding, information technology, and the manufacture of wood products, electronic and telecommunications equipment, textiles and clothing, and machinery. Its efficient agricultural sector employs some 11% of the labor force and produces meat (largely pork), dairy products, potatoes, flax, and sugar beets. Fishing is also important. Peat, phosphorite, clays, limestone, sand, dolomite, marl, and timber are important natural resources.

The country began small-scale privatization in 1991 and during the 1990s auctioned off several larger industries; it has also actively sought foreign investment. Estonia subsequently experienced significant economic growth, but also suffered more than most European Union nations during the 2008–9 global recession. The nation exports machinery and equipment, wood and paper, textiles, food products, furniture, metals, chemicals, fertilizers, and electric power. Imports include machinery, chemical products, textiles, foodstuffs, and transportation equipment. Estonia's major trade partners are Finland, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and its fellow Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania.


Estonia is governed under the constitution of 1992. The president, who is the head of state but has little substantive power, is elected by parliament for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is nominated by the president and approved by parliament. The unicameral Parliament (Riigikogu) has 101 members who are popularly elected to serve four-year terms. Administratively the country is divided into 15 counties.


To the Nineteenth Century

The Estonians settled in their present territory before the Christian era. They were mentioned (1st cent. AD) by Tacitus, who called them Aesti. In the 13th cent. the Danes and the German order of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword formed an alliance to conquer the pagan Estonian tribes. The Danes founded Reval (now Tallinn) in 1219 and introduced Christianity and Western European culture to Estonia. While Denmark took the northern part of Estonia, the knights occupied the southern portion. In 1346 the Danes sold their territory to the order, and Estonia remained under the rule of the knights and the Hanseatic merchants until the order's dissolution in 1561.

Northern Estonia then passed to Sweden; the rest was briefly held by Poland but was transferred to the Swedes by the Treaty of Altmark (1629), which ended the first Polish-Swedish war. The lot of the Estonian peasants, who had been reduced to virtual serfdom under German landowners, improved somewhat under Swedish rule; but Peter I of Russia conquered Livonia in 1710, and Russian possession was confirmed by the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. Despite some land reforms, the German nobles—the Baltic barons—retained their sway over the Estonian peasantry until the eve of the 1917 Russian Revolution. German burghers controlled most of the urban wealth.

Industrialization proceeded apace during the 19th cent.; the republic became heavily interlaced with railroads, and the port of Tallinn grew in importance. Estonian national consciousness began to stir in the mid-19th cent. but was countered by Russification, which in turn spurred rebellion and considerable emigration (notably to the United States and Canada).

The Twentieth Century

Estonia suffered bloody reprisals for its important role in the Russian Revolution of 1905. In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Moscow appointed a puppet Communist regime under Jaan Anvelt to rule Estonia; its authority, however, failed to extend beyond Tallinn. An Estonian proclamation of independence in Feb., 1918, was followed shortly by German occupation. After Germany surrendered to the Allies in Nov., 1918, Estonia declared itself an independent democratic republic and repulsed the invading Red Army.

In 1920, by the Peace of Tartu, Soviet Russia recognized Estonia's independence. Political stability, however, eluded the republic, which had 20 short-lived coalition regimes before 1933, when a new constitution gave the president sweeping authority. Political parties were abolished in 1934, and President Konstantin Päts instituted an authoritarian regime. A more democratic constitution came into force in 1938; but the Nazi-Soviet Pact of Aug., 1939, placed the Baltic countries under Soviet control, and the following month the USSR secured military bases in Estonia.

Complete Soviet military occupation came in June, 1940. Following elections in July, Estonia was incorporated into the USSR as a constituent republic. Over 60,000 persons were killed or deported during the occupation's first year. Estonian irregulars fought Soviet troops in June, 1941, as part of the German invasion, and their support of the Nazis continued through 1944. Occupied by German troops during much of World War II, Estonia was retaken by Soviet forces in 1944, who, as in 1940, killed or deported thousands of Estonians. Collectivization of agriculture and nationalization of industry began in the late 1940s, and the Estonian economy was steadily integrated with that of the USSR despite strong resistance.

In Mar., 1990, amid increasing liberalization in the USSR, the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared invalid the 1940 annexation by the USSR. In 1991, during the attempted hard-line coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Estonia declared its independence from the USSR. A new constitution was ratified and went into effect in 1992; Lennart Meri was elected president and Mart Laar, a radical free-market advocate, became prime minister. The last Russian troops were withdrawn from Estonia in Aug., 1994.

Laar lost a vote of confidence in 1995 and was replaced by Tiit Vähi, who headed two centrist coalition governments and survived a vote of confidence early in 1997, but resigned shortly thereafter. He was replaced by Mart Siimann, head of the Coalition party and Rural Union, but Laar again became prime minister in Mar., 1999. In Sept., 2001, Arnold Rüütel was elected to succeed Meri as president; Meri was barred from seeking a third term. Laar resigned in Jan., 2002, and Siim Kallas, of the center-right Reform party, succeeded him.

Parliamentary elections in Mar., 2003, gave the leftist Center party and conservative Res Publica party with an equal number of seats. Res Publica formed a coalition with the Reform party; Juhan Parts, of Res Publica, became prime minister. In 2004 Estonia became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. Parts' government fell in Mar., 2005, and Andrus Ansip, of the Reform party, formed a new coalition government the following month. Rüütel failed to win a second term in Sept., 2006, when Toomas Hendrik Ilves, a former foreign minister, was elected president.

The Reform party won a plurality of parliamentary seats in the Mar., 2007, elections, and Ansip remained prime minister, leading a new coalition government (re-formed in 2009). The relocation of a Soviet war memorial (and the soldiers buried there) from downtown Tallinn the following month sparked several days of rioting by ethnic Russians, thinly disguised economic retaliation by Russia, and cyberattacks against government and other Estonian computer facilities. The country adopted the euro in 2011. In Mar., 2011, Ansip's coalition won the parliamentary elections, and he remained prime minister. President Ilves was reelected the following August.

Ansip's government resigned in Mar., 2014; he had planned to step down as prime minister before the 2015 elections. Taavi Rõivas, a member of the Reform party and the social affairs minister, became prime minister of a Reform–Social Democratic government. The Mar., 2015, elections left the government with plurality, but the conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union joined the coalition; Röivas remained prime minister.


See R. J. Misiunas and R. Taagepera, The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 1940–1980 (1983); A. Roos, Estonia: A Nation Unconquered (1985); T. U. Raun, Estonia and the Estonians (1987).

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Official name : Republic of Estonia

Area: 45,226 square kilometers (17,462 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Suur Munamāgi (318 meters/1,043 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 2 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 350 kilometers (220 miles) from east to west; 240 kilometers (150 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries: 633 kilometers (392 miles) total boundary length; Latvia 339 kilometers (210 miles); Russia 294 kilometers (182 miles)

Coastline: 3,794 kilometers (2,352 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Estonia is a country in northeastern Europe, located between Latvia and Russia and bordering the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea, and the Gulf of Riga. With a total area of about 45,226 square kilometers (17,462 square miles), which includes about 1,520 islands in the Baltic Sea, the country is slightly smaller than the combined areas of the states of New Hampshire and Vermont. Estonia is divided into fifteen counties.


Estonia has no outside territories or dependencies.


Estonia's marine location keeps the climate moderate along the coast. Inland, temperatures are typically more extreme. Summers in Estonia are generally cool, with temperatures rarely exceeding 18°C (64°F). Winters are cold, with temperatures usually remaining below freezing from mid-December to late February. July and August are the wettest months. Precipitation is moderate, ranging from 48 to 69 centimeters (19 to 27 inches). The annual average precipitation is about 58 centimeters (23 inches). Rain and melting snow cause some flooding of rivers in the spring.


The smallest of the three Baltic states (the other two are Latvia and Lithuania), Estonia is a low, flat country with a hilly region in the southeast. It has a long, shallow coastline on the Baltic Sea, with many islands off the coast. Over a third of the country is forest. A wide variety of native birds and animals live in the wooded countryside of Estonia. The golden eagle, white-tailed eagle, spotted eagle, eagle owl, and black stork are all protected species; the European flying squirrel is a common sight in the Estonian forest.

The country is dotted with more than one thousand natural and artificial lakes. Estonia is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The northwestern part of the country borders on the Baltic Sea, which is a part of the Atlantic Ocean. The rest of Estonia's coastline is on two major inlets of the Baltic: the Gulfs of Finland and Riga.

The Gulf of Finland reaches east about 400 kilometers (250 miles) between Finland on the north and Estonia and Russia on the south. Its width varies from 19 to 129 kilometers (12 to 80 miles), with the narrowest part at the eastern end.

The Gulf of Riga is found to the southwest of mainland Estonia, directly south of Estonia's major islands, with Latvia on the far shore. It is about 145 kilometers (90 miles) long from north to south, and ranges from 72 to 129 kilometers (45 to 80 miles) wide from east to west.

Sea Inlets and Straits

Narva Bay, at the northeastern edge of the country's coastline, links the Gulf of Finland with Lake Peipus to the south through the Narva River.

Pärnu Bay, on the southwest coast, is an inlet of the Gulf of Riga.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are thousands of islands along Estonia's coastline. The largest islands lie west of the mainland. Saaremaa is the largest island, at 2,714 square kilometers (1,048 square miles). It lies between the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga. The Sõrve Peninsula extends off the southern end of the island, and is separated from Latvia by the Irben Strait. Raising livestock and tourism are the principal economic activities of this low-lying island.

Hiiumaa, the next-largest of Estonia's islands, measures 961 square kilometers (371 square miles) in area. It is located in the Baltic Sea, southwest of the entrance to the Gulf of Finland. The Soela Strait separates it from Saaremaa to the south. Its most distinctive feature is Cape Ristna, which projects off the western coast into the Baltic. Fishing and tourism are the island's chief industries. Many of its inhabitants are of Swedish descent.

The other islands are all much smaller. Vormsi and Muhu Islands lie between the larger islands and the Estonian mainland. Arbuka, Kihnu, and Ruhnu Islands are in the Gulf of Riga.


The two largest lakes are Lake Peipus on the eastern border with Russia and Lake Võrts (Võrtsjarv) in south-central Estonia. Lake Peipus covers 3,520 square kilometers (1,360 square miles). A long, narrow channel connects it on the south with the smaller Lake Pskov, which lies mostly within Russian territory. Lake Peipus is drained on the north by the Narva River, which flows into the Gulf of Finland. Fishing is the chief industry. Lake Peipus is navigable for about eight months of the year. Lake Võrts's area is 270 square kilometers (105 square miles).


The Pärnu is the longest river in Estonia at 144 kilometers (89 miles) long. It flows southwest, emptying into the Gulf of Riga at Pärnu Bay. Other important rivers include the Ema in the southeast and the Narva, which forms the country's northeastern border with Russia.


There are no desert regions in Estonia.


While Estonia is a flat country, much of its area is forested or marshy. Approximately 25 percent of the land (9,260 square kilometers/ 3,575 square miles) is considered arable, but with no permanent crops. Permanent pastures (1,810 square kilometers/699 square miles) comprise 11 percent of land use. About 110 square kilometers (68 square miles) of land is irrigated for crop production.

About 44 percent of Estonia's area consists of forests and woodlands. Meadows cover about 2,520 square kilometers (973 square miles). Tree species are chiefly pine, birch, aspen, and fir. Wildlife includes elk, deer, and wild boar. Beaver, red deer, and willow grouse have been protected by legislation because of their dwindling numbers.

Estonia is mostly a low-lying plain, but there are some modest hills in the central and southern regions, known as the Pandivere, Otepää, and Haanja Uplands. The country's highest point, Suur Munamägi (318 meters/ 1,043 feet), is in the extreme southeast corner of the country near the Russian border.

Along the north coast is an area of slightly elevated limestone known as the Glint. There, waterfalls as high as 56 meters (185 feet) tumble down the exposed limestone cliffs.


The hills and other uplands of Estonia are not high enough to be considered mountains, and there are no volcanoes in the country.


Humans created most of the larger caves in Estonia. The Piusa Glass Sand Caves, located near Tartu, are a series of eight caves that were dug into hills of Devonian sandstone, which is a sedimentary deposit formed in the Devonian Era about 360 to 408 million years ago. This sand was found to be highly suitable for making glass, but mining operations ceased some time ago. Now, the caves serve as a hibernation site for what is considered by naturalists to be the largest bat colony in the Baltic countries.


There are no plateau regions or monoliths in Estonia.


A hydroelectric power plant was built in 1956 near the city of Narva, on the Narva River. This dam created the artificial reservoir now known as Lake Narva.


The region known as the Baltic States includes the independent nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all of which line the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Finland and Sweden, two other countries which also touch the Baltic Sea, are generally included in the region known as Scandinavia.



Grabowski, John, F. The Baltics. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2001.

Hiden, John, and Patrick Salmon. The Baltic Nations and Europe: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the Twentieth Century. New York: Longman, 1991.

Raun, Toivo V. Estonia and the Estonians. 2nd ed. Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1991.


Pettai, Vello A. "Estonia: Old Maps and New Roads." Journal of Democracy, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1993, 117-125.

Vesiland, Priit J. "The Baltic Nations." National Geographic, November 1990, 2-37.

Web Sites

Estonia: Estonian Tourist Board. (accessed May, 2003).

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Country statistics


44,700sq km (17,300sq mi) 1,356,931

capital (population):

Tallinn (404,000)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Estonian 62%, Russian 30%, Ukrainian 3%, Belorussian 2%, Finnish 1%


Estonian (official)


Evangelical Lutheran 80%, Apostolic Orthodox 8%, Baptist 2%


Kroon = 100 senti

Republic on the e coast of the Baltic Sea, Estonia is the smallest of the three Baltic states that gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Land and Climate

Estonia is mostly flat. The area is strewn with moraine, and is dotted with more than 1500 small lakes. Lake Peipus and the River Narva make up most of Estonia's Russian border. Estonia has more than 800 islands that make up c.10% of total area; the largest is Saaremaa. Despite its northerly position, it has a fairly mild climate. Rainfall averages from 480 to 580mm (19–23in). Farmland and pasture account for more than 33% of land use.

History and Politics

In 1217 the German order of the Brothers of the Sword conquered southern Estonia (Livonia). By 1346 the Teutonic Knights controlled the country, and by the 16th century German nobles owned much of the land. In 1561, Sweden took the n part of the country, and Poland seized the s. In 1629 Sweden became the dominant power. Russia gained all of Estonia at the end of the Great Northern War (1700–21). In 1918, Estonia gained independence. In 1940, Soviet forces occupied Estonia, but were driven out by Germany in 1941. More than 60,000 Estonians were killed or deported in the first year of Soviet occupation. Soviet troops returned in 1944, and Estonia became one of the 15 socialist republics of the Soviet Union. Estonians strongly opposed Soviet rule, and the Soviets deported many people to Siberia. In 1990 Estonia declared independence, and the Soviet Union recognized this in 1991. In 1992 Estonia adopted a new constitution, and multiparty elections were held. In 2002, two-time Prime Minister Mart Laar resigned and Siim Kallas formed a new coalition government. In 2004, Estonia joined the European Union.


Under Soviet rule, Estonia was the most prosperous of the Baltic states (2000 GDP per capita, US$10,000). Privatization and free-trade reforms increased foreign investment and trade. Chief natural resources are oil shale and forests. Manufactures include petrochemicals, fertilizers, and textiles. Agriculture and fishing are important. Barley, potatoes, and oats are major crops.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Republic of Estonia; Estonians refer to themselves as eestlased and to the country as Eesti or Eesti Vabariik.


Identification. "Eesti" can be traced to a first-century mention by the Roman historian Tacitus of a people or place called Aestii or Aestui. The name may derive from a German word referring to the east. Place names have been traced to this period, suggesting a link between language and homeland. The first written evidence of Estonian is in the Chronican Livoniae (11801227), which includes descriptions of the society and a selection of words and phrases.

Estonians have strong connections to local traditions related primarily to different dialects and reinforced by variations in customs and dress. Islands, including Saaremaa, have their own traditions, and people speak distinctive dialects. Other local cultures with different dialects include the mulgid (in southern Viljandimaa), the vorukad (from Voru), and the setud (from Setumaa, currently divided by the border between Estonia and Russia). Despite local attachments, people feel that they share a common culture. The country has a sizable community of ethnic Russians whose connections to Estonia have begun to develop only recently.

Location and Geography. The country is bordered to the west and north by the Baltic Sea, with Lake Peipsi forming a border with Russia to the east. Most of the country is at or near sea level. The lowest areas, encompassing the islands, western Estonia, and the northern coast and extending along Lake Peipsi, traditionally have been associated with maritime trade and fishing.

A single state is of recent origin. Estonia was divided into two provincesEstland to the north and Livland (including part of modern Latvia) to the southduring Polish-Swedish rule from the 1560s to 1710 and later under imperial Russia.

Demography. In 1999, the population was about 1.45 million. Estonians account for 65 percent of the population, Russians 28 percent, and Ukrainians 2 percent. Before World War II, the population was about 88 percent Estonian. After the war, the percentage of Estonians steadily declined, reaching a low of 61 percent in 1989, with the Russian population increasing to 30 percent. The percentage of Estonians has increased since that time. Approximately fifty thousand Estonians live in the former Soviet Union, and another fifty thousand to seventy thousand reside in North America, Europe, and Australia.

Linguistic Affiliation. Estonian belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic group, related closely to Finnish and more distantly to Hungarian and various languages spoken in Siberia. Speakers of the language probably arrived in the region between 2000 and 3000 b.c.e. Until the nineteenth century, Estonian was spoken by the peasantry, and thus it is central to the national identity. Until the nation regained independence, Estonians were more likely than Russians to speak both Estonian and Russian. This is changing as citizenship and job opportunities push Russians toward learning Estonian. English is gaining popularity as a second or third language.

Symbolism. There is a strong attachment to the mother tongue ( emakeel ) and the fatherland ( isamaa ). The metaphor of the family is common, with a sense of belonging reinforced by a shared understanding of history and roots in rural, peasant values. These values connect Estonians to nature. The cornflower and the barn swallow are common national symbols, and stone and wood have an organic meaning for peasants struggling against nature. The national struggle against foreign occupation is an extension of this historical fight for survival. The most important political symbols are the horizontally striped blue, black, and white flag, symbolizing sky, earth, and virtue and hope, and the coat of arms featuring three lions. The flag represents the nation, and its presence atop the Tall Hermann tower in Tallinn, the capital, represents national and cultural independence.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Estonia was ruled by Poles, Danes, Germans, Swedes, and Russians after the thirteenth century. Before the nineteenth century, the national identity was synonymous with the peasantry. The local nobility and clergy, merchants, and traders were predominantly Baltic Germans; an Estonian could enter the upper classes only by adopting the German language and German customs. Estonians referred to themselves as maarahvas ("country folk") and to a Baltic German as a saks (short for "German"). The first term showed a connection to a place, while saks was used to refer to anyone with high status.

The development of a written language was important to cultural awareness. The first Estonian book was printed in 1535, and a Bible was published in 1739. Education in Estonian was a key part of national development. In addition to the peasant tradition of teaching children to read at home, an elementary education system was organized in the 1680s. By 1850, approximately 90 percent of the population was literate.

From 1802 to 1856, the peasantry was emancipated and granted limited property rights. Although these reforms had little effect, they limited the power of Baltic Germans and began to separate ethnic identity from economic status. Under Tsar Nikolai I, Russification policies were introduced to assimilate non-Russian populations into the empire. Under these policies, approximately 17 percent of Estonians were converted to the Russian Orthodox religion. Apart from the actual number of conversions, the policy suggested a cultural basis for challenging the domination of the Baltic Germans, who used religion to justify the socioeconomic status quo.

The middle of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of the national awakening. A small group of intellectuals played a vital role in giving the traditional culture a national meaning. In 1857, a new newspaper, the Perno Postimees (Pärnu Mailman ), published by Johannes Voldemar Jannsen, became the first publication to refer to "Estonian people" ( eesti rahvas ) instead of "country folk" and catered to a popular readership by publishing articles in colloquial Estonian that dealt with everyday concerns. Other newspapers followed, including Sakala, edited by Carl Robert Jakobson. Scholarly interest grew with the founding of the Estonian Alexander School and the Estonian Writer's Society, both headed by Jakob Hurt. Intellectuals also invented traditions. Inspired by the Finnish Kalevala , Friedrich Robert Faehlmann outlined and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald completed the Estonian epic Kalevipoeg , which was published from 1857 to 1861.

Other aspects of culture were adapted from earlier usages and made "more Estonian" as older traditions such as the wearing of folk clothing and singing in the traditional style declined. The first song festival was organized by Jannsen in 1869. Capitalizing on the popularity of church choirs, the festival became the most popular national tradition, although the first one was modest in size and included only two Estonian authors. Poetry, long part of the national song tradition, emerged as a literary form, with Lydia Koidula (Jannsen's daughter) the best loved poet.

In an attempt to undermine the power of the Baltic Germans, Russification was reintroduced by Alexander II and Alexander III. Orders to use Russian in schools had the unintended effect of uniting Estonians against what they saw as an attack on their culture.

By the late 1800s, an Estonian identity had been established and efforts were being made to retrieve the "original culture" by collecting folk poems, sayings, and songs. This process became a national project, pushed originally by Hurt but largely dependent on newspapers. The work later expanded to include folk art and crafts and led to the creation of a national museum in 1908.

Nationalism has continued to evolve. After the Soviet Union occupied the country during World War II, cultural expression was subject to censorship and the use of symbols associated with independence (the flag) was banned.

Estonia was politically independent between 1918 and 1940, and became independent again in 1991. Nationalism survived by adapting forms of expression that could not be controlled by the Soviet authorities. Poetry, music, and film commented on political oppression in ways that only Estonians could understand. The influence of nationalism was reflected in the fact that 250,000 people took part in the 1969 song festival.

National Identity. In both the 1880s and the 1980s, national identity solidified in reaction to Russification policies imposed by the government. The "Letter of Forty," signed by forty well-known artists and intellectuals in 1980, raised concerns about the cultural effects of Russification, setting the stage for the New Awakening in 1987 and 1988.

Ethnic Relations. During the Soviet occupation, policies encouraging the immigration of Russians to Estonia reduced the percentage of ethnic Estonians. The immigrants were seen as occupiers and colonists, and relations between Estonians and Russians are still strained.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Although built under foreign rule, buildings are important symbols. City walls, towers, churches, and fortresses strongly connect Estonians to the past. Though few unaltered examples remain, the design of an old Estonian farmhouse is considered part of the national culture. The timbered house is long and low, with a relatively low-pitched thatched roof. Farm buildings are often arranged around a central yard area. There are regional variations in fencing, including wood fences (made of sticks or twigs) and low stone walls (mostly in coastal areas). Windmills are part of a remembered past, but only a handful remain for tourist purposes.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. In the fall and winter, soups and stews predominate, with potatoes a staple at most meals. In the spring and summer, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers accompany every meal. Sandwiches are common breakfast fare, and coffee is drunk frequently throughout the day and at social events. In coastal areas, fish is eaten. Many people grow fruits, vegetables, and berries during the summer and can what remains in the fall. Family dinners are infrequent, as both parents usually work. Most families try to share one meal together on the weekend.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Christmas dinner includes roast pork or goose, blood sausage, sauerkraut, potatoes, and head cheese, with gingerbread cookies for dessert. Other special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and funerals do not require special foods, though it is expected that food will be plentiful. Evening social gatherings almost always include meals accompanied by vodka.

Basic Economy. Although the culture emphasizes self-sufficiency, this is no longer possible as Estonia becomes integrated into the global economy. Local production, including agriculture, is augmented by imports, primarily from the European Union. Only 11 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture and forestry. While these residents may produce enough to be self-sufficient, most citizens are urbanized and purchase food and other necessities.

Land Tenure and Property. The privatization of property once controlled by the Soviet state continues. Not all property can be directly returned to the original owners. Owners are given vouchers for the value of the property that can be exchanged for other property or stock options.

Commercial Activities. In addition to goods for export, the economy is oriented toward food production, clothing, and manufactured goods, especially the production of spare parts for machinery, appliances, and automobiles. A large amount of wealth has been generated by privatization, as commercial interests compete to buy out smaller enterprises that have managed to acquire property.

Major Industries. Light manufacturing and textiles are important for both foreign and domestic markets. Oil shale is mined and used primarily to produce electricity.

Trade. Exports include machinery, parts, and electrical equipment (20 percent of exports in 1998), timber and wood products, textiles, and clothing. The main export markets are Finland, Sweden, and Russia. Imports include machinery and appliances (26 percent), foodstuffs (15 percent), chemical products (10 percent), metals (9 percent), and textiles (8 percent). The primary source of imports is Finland, followed by Russia, Sweden, and Germany.

Division of Labor. In the transition to a market economy, nearly all jobs give priority to younger workers. Education affords status to any employee even if his or her background is in a different field. Privatization has brought back family farms, but they are unlikely to survive the transition to membership in the European Union. Heavy industry and factory jobs have been cut, leaving many Russian workers unemployed.

Social Stratification

Classes and Caste. The top 20 percent of the population earns 40 percent of the total income, while the bottom 20 percent earns only 2 percent. Inequality has increased dramatically since 1991, but the trend has slowed since 1996.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The nouveau riche engage in many forms of conspicuous consumption, including expensive cars, cellular phones, designer clothing, and the display of trophy wives and mistresses.

Political Life

Government. In a parliamentary democracy with a state assembly ( Riigikogu ) of 101 members, the government is headed by a prime minister. The president is the ceremonial head of state and is elected by the assembly.

Leadership and Political Officials. Candidates for political office usually are drawn from a relatively small circle. Officials who leave office frequently work in prominent positions in government or private business. The current political parties are the Pro Patria Union, the Centrist Party, the Coalition Party, the Estonian People's Union, the Moderate Party, the Reform Party, and the United People's Party Fraction.

Social Problems and Control. The police operate at the national level. There is a three-tiered legal system: city and county and administrative courts, which hear criminal, civil, and investigative cases; appellate circuit courts; and a supreme court, which hears appeals and constitutional cases. The police and judicial systems are perceived as corrupt and are not trusted. People try to avoid any situation in which the authorities may get involved. Theft and burglary are overwhelmingly the largest crime problems.

Military Activity. Men serve one year in the military. Military service is unpopular and carries little prestige. There is an army, a navy, and a limited air defense system, as well as an internal security force, which is primarily the border patrol. Combined, there are about 4,500 people in the armed services. In addition, the Defense League ( Kaitseliit ) has about 6,000 volunteer members.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

There are limited unemployment benefits, and the elderly receive social security payments. Pensioners consider their benefits inadequate.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

There are more than 5,700 civic groups and organizations, along with 3,145 nonprofit organizations. Most have organized only recently and are understaffed and poorly funded.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Young women are given jobs in the most visible positions in the service sector, such as retail sales, bank tellers, and secretarial work. Men are almost always preferred for executive positions because they are considered more dependable and less emotional. Although there are some women in politics, they are under-represented in the government.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Women are expected to defer to men even when male views are seen as wrong or incorrect. However, women's rights are legally protected by the Constitution, which explicitly forbids gender discrimination.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. There are no formal or informal restrictions on marriage. Marriage to non-Estonians, especially Russians, is not welcomed but is not forbidden. It is estimated that more than half of all marriages end in divorce.

Domestic Unit. The family includes a husband, a wife, and an average of one child. It is not unusual for an elderly parent to live with the family. Both parents are likely to work, but the wife is responsible for household chores. Whether living in the household or separately, grandparents often help with child care.

Inheritance. Private and personal property can be inherited, usually by the children of the deceased.


Infant Care. Very small children usually do not leave the home but are taken for walks to get fresh air, which is considered healthy. Crying babies are picked up and calmed by their parents.

Child Rearing and Education. Children are allowed to explore and play on their own. Education is highly valued, and a child is expected to learn how to read, write, and do simple math at home.

Higher Education. A university education is prized and confers a high status.


Estonians are socially introverted and maintain a distance in public and private spaces. People move relatively quickly, seldom make eye contact, and talk in hushed tones in public. Russians are perceived as being loud, boisterous, and not respectful of personal space.


Religious Beliefs. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the largest denomination, with about 185,000 members. There is a dispute between the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC) and the Russian Orthodox Church; more ethnic Estonians belong to the EAOC, which has approximately three thousand members. Other churches have small but growing congregations. Most people attend church only at Christmas and do not consider themselves religious, although they believe in an afterlife and have some concept of fate. Astrology, supernatural beliefs, and shamanism (from the country's pre-Christian roots) have gained acceptance.

Medicine and Health Care

Doctors and modern medicine are beginning to be trusted. For common illnesses, people rely on traditional home remedies.

Secular Celebrations

Traditional weddings are two- or three-day events that include games and generous amounts of food and drink. Birthdays are always celebrated, and christenings and confirmations are celebrated with large parties. The most important holiday remains Christmas. Despite Soviet opposition, Christmas trees were decorated and traditional foods were served. New Year's Eve is considered part of the Christmas holidays. A sauna before midnight cleanses the body and spirit for the upcoming year.

The old folk calender included many days that influenced farming decisions. On Shrove Tuesday, people still go sledding to make flax plants grow taller. On Saint John's Eve (23 June), nearly all Estonians go to the countryside to celebrate midsummer with large bonfires. Saint Martin's Day (10 November) and Saint Catherine's Day (25 November) are celebrated with children dressing up in costumes and going door to door to perform for treats.

State holidays with official governmental celebrations include Independence Day (24 February), Victory Day (23 June), and Independence Restoration Day (20 August).

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Formerly state-subsidized, artists are now self-supporting.

Literature. Nationalism has depended on writing, and Estonians self-identify themselves in fictional works. Early novels mirrored rural hardships in distinctively Estonian settings. In the 1960s, writers began to comment on the lack of cultural and political freedom. Jaan Kross reinvented Estonian cultural heroes in his historical novels.

Graphic Arts. Applied arts, including pottery, ceramics, and textiles, often incorporate national motifs.

Performance Arts. Drama, ballet, and opera have been popular since the nineteenth century. Estonian classical music has gained global recognition through the composers Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, and Eduard Tubin and the conductors Eri Klas and Neeme Järvi.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Funding comes from international sources, and research frequently is completed in other countries. The study of genetic diseases and gene therapy has been established. Tartu University is known for work in linguistics and semiotics.


Kaskla, Edgar. "Estonian Nationalism in Comparative Perspective." Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Irvine, 1992.

Loit, Alexander, ed. National Movements in the Baltic Countries, 1985.

Misiunas, Romuald J. and Rein Taagepera. The Baltic States: Years of Dependence, 19401980, 1983.

Nirk, Endel. Estonian Literature, 1987.

Rauch, George von. The Baltic States: The Years of Independence, 19171940, 1974.

Raun, Toivo U. Estonia and the Estonians, 1987.

Taagepera, Rein. Estonia: Return to Independence, 1993.

Tedre, Ülo, ed. Estonian Customs and Traditions, 1995.

Web Sites

Estonian Institute. "Estonian Information Page by Estonian Institute,"

Edgar Kaskla

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The people of Estonia are called Estonians. Ethnic groups include Russians (30 percent); Ukrainians (3 percent); Belarusans (2 percent); and Finns, (1 percent). For more information on these groups, see the article on Russians in the chapter on Russia in Volume 7; the chapter on Ukraine in Volume 9; the chapter on Belarus in Volume 1; and the chapter on Finland in this volume.

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Es·to·ni·an / eˈstōnēən/ • adj. of or relating to Estonia or its people or their language. • n. 1. a native or national of Estonia, or a person of Estonian descent. 2. the Finno-Ugric language of Estonia, closely related to Finnish.

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Estonianantipodean, Crimean, Judaean, Korean •Albion •Gambian, Zambian •lesbian •Arabian, Bessarabian, Fabian, gabion, Sabian, Swabian •amphibian, Libyan, Namibian •Sorbian •Danubian, Nubian •Colombian • Serbian • Nietzschean •Chadian, Trinidadian •Andean, Kandyan •guardian •Acadian, Akkadian, Arcadian, Barbadian, Canadian, circadian, Grenadian, Hadean, Orcadian, Palladian, radian, steradian •Archimedean, comedian, epicedian, median, tragedian •ascidian, Derridean, Dravidian, enchiridion, Euclidean, Floridian, Gideon, Lydian, meridian, Numidian, obsidian, Pisidian, quotidian, viridian •Amerindian, Indian •accordion, Edwardian •Cambodian, collodion, custodian, melodeon, nickelodeon, Odeon •Freudian • Bermudian • Burundian •Burgundian •Falstaffian, Halafian •Christadelphian, Delphian, Philadelphian •nymphean • ruffian • Brobdingnagian •Carolingian • Swedenborgian •logion, Muskogean •Jungian •magian, Pelagian •collegian •callipygian, Cantabrigian, Phrygian, Stygian •Merovingian • philologian • Fujian •Czechoslovakian • Pickwickian •Algonquian • Chomskian •Kentuckian •battalion, galleon, medallion, rapscallion, scallion •Anglian, ganglion •Heraklion •Dalian, Malian, Somalian •Chellean, Machiavellian, Orwellian, Sabellian, Trevelyan, triskelion •Wesleyan •alien, Australian, bacchanalian, Castalian, Deucalion, episcopalian, Hegelian, madrigalian, mammalian, Pygmalion, Salian, saturnalian, sesquipedalian, tatterdemalion, Thessalian, Westphalian •anthelion, Aristotelian, Aurelian, carnelian, chameleon, Karelian, Mendelian, Mephistophelian, Pelion, Sahelian •Abbevillian, Azilian, Brazilian, caecilian, Castilian, Chilean, Churchillian, civilian, cotillion, crocodilian, epyllion, Gillian, Lilian, Maximilian, Pamphylian, pavilion, postilion, Quintilian, reptilian, Sicilian, Tamilian, vaudevillian, vermilion, Virgilian •Aeolian, Anatolian, Eolian, Jolyon, Mongolian, napoleon, simoleon •Acheulian, Boolean, cerulean, Friulian, Julian, Julien •bullion •mullion, scullion, Tertullian •Liverpudlian •Bahamian, Bamian, Damian, Mesopotamian, Samian •anthemion, Bohemian •Endymion, prosimian, Simeon, simian •isthmian • antinomian •Permian, vermian •Oceanian •Albanian, Azanian, Iranian, Jordanian, Lithuanian, Mauritanian, Mediterranean, Panamanian, Pennsylvanian, Pomeranian, Romanian, Ruritanian, Sassanian, subterranean, Tasmanian, Transylvanian, Tripolitanian, Turanian, Ukrainian, Vulcanian •Armenian, Athenian, Fenian, Magdalenian, Mycenaean (US Mycenean), Slovenian, Tyrrhenian •Argentinian, Arminian, Augustinian, Carthaginian, Darwinian, dominion, Guinean, Justinian, Ninian, Palestinian, Sardinian, Virginian •epilimnion, hypolimnion •Bosnian •Bornean, Californian, Capricornian •Aberdonian, Amazonian, Apollonian, Babylonian, Baconian, Bostonian, Caledonian, Catalonian, Chalcedonian, Ciceronian, Devonian, draconian, Estonian, Etonian, gorgonian, Ionian, Johnsonian, Laconian, Macedonian, Miltonian, Newtonian, Oregonian, Oxonian, Patagonian, Plutonian, Tennysonian, Tobagonian, Washingtonian •Cameroonian, communion, Mancunian, Neptunian, Réunion, union •Hibernian, Saturnian •Campion, champion, Grampian, rampion, tampion •thespian • Mississippian • Olympian •Crispian •Scorpian, scorpion •cornucopian, dystopian, Ethiopian, Salopian, subtopian, Utopian •Guadeloupian •Carian, carrion, clarion, Marian •Calabrian, Cantabrian •Cambrian • Bactrian •Lancastrian, Zoroastrian •Alexandrian • Maharashtrian •equestrian, pedestrian •agrarian, antiquarian, apiarian, Aquarian, Arian, Aryan, authoritarian, barbarian, Bavarian, Bulgarian, Caesarean (US Cesarean), centenarian, communitarian, contrarian, Darien, disciplinarian, egalitarian, equalitarian, establishmentarian, fruitarian, Gibraltarian, grammarian, Hanoverian, humanitarian, Hungarian, latitudinarian, libertarian, librarian, majoritarian, millenarian, necessarian, necessitarian, nonagenarian, octogenarian, ovarian, Parian, parliamentarian, planarian, predestinarian, prelapsarian, proletarian, quadragenarian, quinquagenarian, quodlibetarian, Rastafarian, riparian, rosarian, Rotarian, sabbatarian, Sagittarian, sanitarian, Sauveterrian, sectarian, seminarian, septuagenarian, sexagenarian, topiarian, totalitarian, Trinitarian, ubiquitarian, Unitarian, utilitarian, valetudinarian, vegetarian, veterinarian, vulgarian •Adrian, Hadrian •Assyrian, Illyrian, Syrian, Tyrian •morion • Austrian •Dorian, Ecuadorean, historian, Hyperborean, Nestorian, oratorian, praetorian (US pretorian), salutatorian, Salvadorean, Singaporean, stentorian, Taurean, valedictorian, Victorian •Ugrian • Zarathustrian •Cumbrian, Northumbrian, Umbrian •Algerian, Cancerian, Chaucerian, Cimmerian, criterion, Hesperian, Hitlerian, Hyperion, Iberian, Liberian, Nigerian, Presbyterian, Shakespearean, Siberian, Spenserian, Sumerian, valerian, Wagnerian, Zairean •Arthurian, Ben-Gurion, centurion, durian, holothurian, Khachaturian, Ligurian, Missourian, Silurian, tellurian •Circassian, Parnassian •halcyon • Capsian • Hessian •Albigensian, Waldensian •Dacian • Keatsian •Cilician, Galician, Lycian, Mysian, Odyssean •Leibnizian • Piscean • Ossian •Gaussian • Joycean • Andalusian •Mercian • Appalachian • Decian •Ordovician, Priscian •Lucian •himation, Montserratian •Atlantean, Dantean, Kantian •bastion, Erastian, Sebastian •Mozartian • Brechtian • Thyestean •Fortean • Faustian • protean •Djiboutian •fustian, Procrustean •Gilbertian, Goethean, nemertean •pantheon •Hogarthian, Parthian •Lethean, Promethean •Pythian • Corinthian • Scythian •Lothian, Midlothian •Latvian • Yugoslavian •avian, Batavian, Flavian, Moldavian, Moravian, Octavian, Scandinavian, Shavian •Bolivian, Maldivian, oblivion, Vivian •Chekhovian, Harrovian, Jovian, Pavlovian •alluvion, antediluvian, diluvian, Peruvian •Servian • Malawian • Zimbabwean •Abkhazian • Dickensian •Caucasian, Malaysian, Rabelaisian •Keynesian •Belizean, Cartesian, Indonesian, Milesian, Salesian, Silesian •Elysian, Frisian, Parisian, Tunisian •Holmesian •Carthusian, Malthusian, Venusian

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EstoniaCampania, Catania, pannier •apnoea •Oceania, Tanya, Titania •biennia, denier, quadrennia, quinquennia, septennia, triennia •Albania, balletomania, bibliomania, crania, dipsomania, egomania, erotomania, kleptomania, Lithuania, Lusitania, mania, Mauritania, megalomania, miscellanea, monomania, nymphomania, Pennsylvania, Pomerania, pyromania, Rainier, Romania, Ruritania, Tasmania, Transylvania, Urania •Armenia, bergenia, gardenia, neurasthenia, proscenia, schizophrenia, senior, SloveniaAbyssinia, Bithynia, curvilinear, Gdynia, gloxinia, interlinear, Lavinia, linear, rectilinear, Sardinia, triclinia, Virginia, zinnia •insignia • Sonia • insomnia • Bosnia •California, cornea •Amazonia, ammonia, Antonia, Babylonia, begonia, bonier, Catalonia, catatonia, Cephalonia, Estonia, Ionia, Laconia, Livonia, Macedonia, mahonia, Patagonia, pneumonia, Rondônia, sinfonia, Snowdonia, valonia, zirconia •junior, petunia •hernia, journeyer

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