Estonia, formally the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti Vabariik), is a nation in Northern Europe’s Baltic area. It is bounded on the north by the Gulf of Finland, on the west by the Baltic Sea, on the south by Latvia (343 kilometers), and on the east by Lake Peipus and Russia (338.6 km). Sweden is to the west of the Baltic Sea, while Finland is to the north. Estonia’s landmass consists of a mainland and 2,222 islands and islets in the Baltic Sea, with a total land area of 45,339 km2 (17,505 sq mi) with a humid continental climate.
Estonia has been inhabited since at least 6500 BCE, with Finno-Ugric speakers — the linguistic forebears of contemporary Estonians – coming as recently as 1800 BCE. Following centuries of Teutonic, Danish, Swedish, and Russian domination, Estonians underwent a national awakening, culminating in independence from the Russian Empire towards the conclusion of World War I. During WWII, Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Nazi Germany a year later, and taken by the Soviets again in 1944, when it was reconstructed as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. The Estonian SSR published the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration in defiance of Soviet authority in 1988, during the Singing Revolution, and independence was restored on the night of August 20, 1991, during the Soviet attempted coup.
Tallinn, the capital and biggest city of modern Estonia, is a democratic parliamentary republic split into fifteen counties. It is one of the least populated member nations of the European Union, Eurozone, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), OECD, and Schengen Area, with a population of 1.3 million.
Estonians are a Finnic people with strong cultural connections to their northern neighbor, Finland, and Estonian, the official language, is a Finno-Ugric language closely related to Finnish and the Sami languages, as well as distantly to Hungarian.
Estonia is a developed nation with a sophisticated, high-income economy that is one of the EU’s fastest expanding. It has a high Human Development Index and scores well on measures of economic freedom, civil rights, education, and press freedom (3rd in the world in 2012 and 2007). Estonians have universal health care, free education, and the world’s longest paid maternity leave of any OECD nation. Since its independence, the nation has quickly expanded its information technology industry, becoming one of the world’s most technologically sophisticated civilizations. Estonia was the first country to conduct elections via the Internet in 2005, and the first to provide E-residency in 2014.
Estonia is a Baltic jewel that offers tourists the opportunity to view a small dynamic country on the Baltic Sea’s coasts. Although the swimming season is brief, the coastline is dotted with beautiful beaches. After all, the Baltics are not known for their pleasant weather, which every tourist to Estonia should be aware of; the summer is brief and the winter is harsh.
Tallinn’s medieval old town was constructed by the Germans during the Middle Ages and is in excellent shape, with the medieval city walls and towers nearly entirely intact, ranking as one of Europe’s finest medieval old cities. Visitors may also see an ex-Soviet occupied nation that is now a member of the European Union. Traces of the Soviet period may still be observed, for example, Paldiski, an abandoned Soviet army camp that was previously off-limits to Estonians, can be readily visited on a day trip from Tallinn. Estonia is well-known for its idyllic islands and vast bogs, which have been turned into national parks with easy access for visitors.
Estonia is located on the flat northwestern portion of the rising East European platform between 57.3° and 59.5° N and 21.5° and 28.1° E, on the eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea, just across the Gulf of Finland from Finland. The average height is just 50 metres (164 feet), while the highest point in the nation is the Suur Munamägi in the southeast at 318 metres (1,043 ft). The coastline is 3,794 kilometers (2,357 miles) long, with many bays, straits, and inlets. The total number of islands and islets is believed to be about 2,355. (including those in lakes). Two of them are big enough to be considered counties in their own right: Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. On Saaremaa, Estonia, there is a small, recent cluster of meteorite craters, the biggest of which is named Kaali.
Estonia is located in the northern temperate climatic zone, on the border between marine and continental climates. Estonia has four seasons that are almost equal in duration. In July, the hottest month, average temperatures vary from 16.3 °C (61.3 °F) on the Baltic islands to 18.1 °C (64.6 °F) inland, while in February, the coldest month, average temperatures range from 3.5 °C (25.7 °F) on the Baltic islands to 7.6 °C (18.3 °F) inland. The average annual temperature in Estonia is 5.2 degrees Celsius (41.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The average annual precipitation varied from 535 to 727 mm (21.1 to 28.6 in) from 1961 to 1990.
Snow cover typically lasts from mid-December to late March, with the heaviest coverage in the south-eastern portion of Estonia. There are approximately 1400 lakes in Estonia. Most are relatively tiny, with Lake Peipus being the biggest at 3,555 km2 (1,373 sq mi). The country is riddled with rivers. The longest are Vhandu (162 km or 101 mi), Pärnu (144 km or 89 mi), and Pltsamaa (144 km or 89 km) (135 km or 84 mi). Estonia contains a lot of fens and bogs. Estonia is covered by forests about 61 percent of its total area. Pine, spruce, and birch are the most prevalent tree species.
Estonia is shared phylogeographically by the Circumboreal Region’s Central European and Eastern European provinces within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the WWF, Estonia’s land is part of the Sarmatic mixed forest ecoregion.
Prior to WWII, ethnic Estonians made up 88 percent of the population, with national minorities accounting for the remaining 12 percent. Russians, Germans, Swedes, Latvians, Jews, Poles, Finns, and Ingrians were the biggest minority groups in 1934.
The proportion of Baltic Germans in Estonia had decreased from 5.3 percent (46,700) in 1881 to 1.3 percent (16,346) by 1934, owing mostly to emigration to Germany in the aftermath of widespread Russification at the end of the nineteenth century and Estonia’s independence in the twentieth.
Between 1945 and 1989, the proportion of ethnic Estonians living within Estonia’s current borders fell to 61 percent, owing primarily to the Soviet program promoting mass immigration of urban industrial workers from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as wartime emigration and Joseph Stalin’s mass deportations and executions. Minorities comprised more than one-third of the population by 1989, as the number of non-Estonians had almost fivefold increased.
At the end of the 1980s, Estonians saw demographic change as a national disaster. This was the consequence of migratory policies crucial to the Soviet Nationalisation Programme aimed at russifying Estonia — administrative and military immigration of non-Estonians from the USSR, along with deportation of Estonians to the USSR. Large-scale emigration by ethnic Russians and the evacuation of Russian military posts in 1994 increased the percentage of ethnic Estonians in Estonia from 61 percent to 69 percent in 2006.
Modern Estonia is a highly ethnically diverse nation, although this diversity is not visible in most of the country since the non-Estonian population is concentrated in two counties. Thirteen of Estonia’s fifteen counties are above 80 percent ethnic Estonian, with Hiiumaa being the most homogenous, with Estonians accounting for 98.4 percent of the population. However, ethnic Estonians make approximately 60% and 20% of the population in the counties of Harju (containing the capital city of Tallinn) and Ida-Viru, respectively. Russians account up 25.6 percent of the overall population, but 36 percent of the population in Harju county and 70 percent of the population in Ida-Viru county.
The Estonian Cultural Autonomy Act of 1925 was unique in Europe at the time. More than 3,000 individuals from minorities with long-standing connections to the Republic of Estonia may be awarded cultural autonomy. Prior to the Soviet takeover, German and Jewish minority were able to elect a cultural council. In 1993, the Law on Cultural Autonomy for National Minorities was reintroduced. Historically, indigenous ethnically Rannarootslased people have inhabited vast portions of Estonia’s northern coast and islands (Coastal Swedes).
Due to property changes in the early 1990s, the number of Coastal Swedes has increased in recent years, reaching almost 500 individuals in 2008. In 2005, Estonia’s Ingrian Finnish minority elected a cultural council and received cultural autonomy. In 2007, the Estonian Swedish minority gained cultural autonomy in the same way.
The Teutonic Knights converted Estonia to Christianity in the 13th century. Protestantism expanded throughout the Reformation, and the Lutheran church was formally founded in Estonia in 1686. Many Estonians claim to be atheists since religion was linked with German feudalism in the nineteenth century. Another minority religion, Russian Old-believers, has historically existed around Lake Peipus in Tartu County.
Today, Estonia’s constitution protects religious freedom, separation of church and state, and individual rights to religious and believe privacy. Estonia, according to the Dentsu Communication Institute Inc, is one of the world’s least religious nations, with 75.7 percent of the population professing to be irreligious. According to the Eurobarometer Poll 2005, just 16% of Estonians believe in God, the lowest percentage of any country examined. The ancient Lutheran denomination has a significant presence, with 180,000 registered members, according to the Lutheran World Federation.
According to Eurobarometer’s 2012 surveys on religiosity in the European Union, Christianity is the most popular religion in Estonia, accounting for 28.06 percent of Estonians. Eastern Orthodox are the biggest Christian group in Estonia, accounting for 17% of the population, followed by Protestants at 6% and Other Christians at 22%. Nonbeliever/Agnostic account for 22%, Atheist account for 15%, and undeclared account for 15%.
The biggest religious denomination in the country is Lutheranism, which is practiced by 160,000 Estonians (or 13% of the population), mostly ethnic Estonians. According to other groups, such as the World Council of Churches, there are as many as 265,700 Estonian Lutherans. Furthermore, there are between 8,000 and 9,000 subscribers worldwide.
Another significant group is those who practice Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which is mostly practiced by the Russian minority, and the Russian Orthodox Church is the second biggest denomination with 150,000 adherents. Another 20,000 people are members of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which is affiliated with the Greek-Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate. Thus, regardless of citizenship or ethnicity, the number of Lutherans and Orthodox followers is nearly equal. Catholics in Estonia have their own Latin Apostolic Administration.
According to the 2000 census (data in the table on the right), there were about 1,000 followers of the Taara religion or Maausk in Estonia (see Maavalla Koda). The Jewish community has a population of about 1,900 people. Around 68,000 individuals identify as atheists.
The World Bank classifies Estonia as a high-income economy since it is a member of the European Union. According to the IMF, the country’s GDP (PPP) per capita in 2015 was $28,781, placing it between the Slovak Republic and Lithuania, but behind other long-standing EU members such as Italy and Spain. The nation is rated eighth in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, and its economy is the fourth freest in Europe. Estonia, along with Lithuania and Latvia, has been dubbed the Baltic Tigers due to its fast development. Estonia joined the euro on January 1, 2011, becoming the 17th eurozone member state.
According to Eurostat, Estonia had the lowest ratio of government debt to GDP among EU nations at the end of 2010, at 6.7 percent.
Estonia’s market economy is distinguished by a balanced budget, virtually non-existent public debt, a flat-rate income tax, a free trade environment, a competitive commercial banking sector, innovative e-Services, and even mobile-based services.
Estonia generates about 75% of the power it consumes. In 2011, about 85 percent of it was produced using locally mined oil shale. Alternative energy sources such as wood, peat, and biomass account for around 9% of primary energy output. In 2009, renewable wind energy accounted for about 6% of total consumption. Petroleum products are imported into Estonia from Western Europe and Russia. Key areas of the economy include oil shale energy, telecommunications, textiles, chemical goods, banking, services, food and fishing, wood, shipbuilding, electronics, and transportation. Muuga, near Tallinn, is an ice-free port with excellent transshipment capability, a high-capacity grain elevator, chill/frozen storage, and new oil tanker off-loading facilities. The railroad connects the West with Russia and other places to the East.
Because of the worldwide economic crisis that started in 2007, Estonia’s GDP fell by 1.4 percent in the second quarter of 2008, more than 3 percent in the third quarter of 2008, and more than 9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The Estonian government enacted a supplemental negative budget, which the Riigikogu approved. The budget’s income was reduced by EEK 6.1 billion in 2008, while spending was reduced by EEK 3.2 billion. In 2010, the economy stabilized and began to expand on the back of robust exports. In the fourth quarter of 2010, Estonian industrial production rose by 23% over the previous year. Since then, the nation has seen economic development.
In 2008, Estonian PPS GDP per capita was 67 percent of the EU average, according to Eurostat statistics. The average monthly gross wage in Estonia in March 2016 was €1105.
However, there are large differences in GDP across various regions of Estonia; presently, Tallinn generates more than half of the country’s GDP. Tallinn’s GDP per capita was 172 percent of the Estonian average in 2008, making Tallinn’s per capita GDP as high as 115 percent of the European Union average, surpassing the typical levels of other countries.
In March 2016, the unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, which was lower than the EU average, but real GDP growth in 2011 was 8.0 percent, which was five times the eurozone average. Estonia remained the only eurozone member with a budget surplus in 2012, and with a national debt of just 6% of GDP, it is one of Europe’s least indebted nations.