Estonia Overview


Estonia has had a checkered history. Numerous peoples and nations have subjugated the area over the years: Vikings, Germans, Swedes, Soviets – they have occupied the small country, oppressed it and left clear traces in the process.

The first settlements on Estonian territory can be found as early as 9,000 BC. In the 8th to 12th centuries AD, the Vikings were up to mischief. From the 13th century onwards, Danes and Germans exerted great influence: They tried to convert the Estonians to Christianity. The Brothers of the Sword and the Teutonic Order have left witnesses of this Christianization with the numerous, partly still preserved, order castles.

The Livonian War raged from 1558 to 1582 – Sweden, Poland, Denmark and Russia quarrel over the area on the Baltic Sea. Power went to Sweden, from the 16th century the Scandinavian people had the say. From 1700 to 1721 Russia, Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania and Saxony fought for supremacy in the Baltic Sea region and attacked Sweden. Russia gained supremacy. The Estonian population was severely decimated by this war, probably only about 100,000 Estonians survived.

During the war of freedom (1918 to 1920), Estonia tried to get more autonomy from Russia. In February 1920 the “Treaty of Tartu” came about and Estonia became independent. Between 1939 and 1940, the Baltic German population was resettled to Germany on the basis of the Hitler-Stalin Pact. From 1940 Estonia belonged to the territory of the USSR. During the Second World War, Estonia was reoccupied by the Germans between 1941 and 1944. This was followed by a renewed occupation by the Red Army, which began as a Soviet republic. Deportations, reprisals and Russification were part of everyday life.

In Estonia, independence movements repeatedly formed in the course of the occupation by other nations. Singing was part of the Estonian form of protest. In 1869, at the time of the Russian occupation, the first song festival took place in Tartu. Singing festivals are an expression of independence and self-determination, and the singing of traditional folk songs is a sign of identification. At the time of the Soviet Union, singing the Baltic hymns was forbidden. The “Singing Revolution” led to the breakaway from the Soviet Union from 1988 onwards. In 1989 two million people formed a chain from Tallinn via Riga to Vilnius and protested for the independence of the Baltic states. These protests and aspirations were not neglected by the Soviets: The military intervened in 1991 and there were sometimes bloody clashes with the civilian population in the entire Baltic region. In the same year, independence was finally achieved.

In 2004 Estonia joined both NATO and the European Union. According to Countryaah, the country has also been part of the euro zone since 2011.


Estonia is a multiethnic society: Estonians make up only 69 percent of the country’s 1.3 million inhabitants, 26 percent are Russians. In addition, minorities from Ukraine, Belarus and Finland live here. A total of 100 different nations live in the small state.

The relationship between the population groups is not uncomplicated. The integration of the Russians who moved there during the Soviet era or who were deliberately settled in the course of the Russification by the Soviets creates difficulties and leads to tensions. The language, an important part of integration, plays a major role: some of the Russian population still does not speak Estonian.

Estonian is the country’s official language. It belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group and is therefore closely related to Finnish. Due to the high proportion of Russian population, Russian naturally also plays a major role, especially in areas with a high Russian population, such as in the north-east of the country. Many Estonians now also speak and / or understand English, German or Finnish.


After the occupation by the Soviet Union, Estonia gained independence in 1991 in a largely peaceful process. The term “Singing Revolution” was coined in this context: in 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered at the Singers’ Festival in Tallinn to demonstrate their political independence and to underline this by singing the Estonian hymn and traditional folk songs, which had been banned until then.

Today the country is a parliamentary republic (officially: Republic of Estonia). The head of state is the president, who is elected for five years. The government is made up of the Prime Minister and the Ministers. The parliament has 101 members. One legislative period is four years. In this progressive country, you can vote in person, but also via the Internet and, since 2011, even by SMS. Estonians aged 18 and over are entitled to vote.

Estonia has been a member of the European Union since 2004 and the Schengen area since 2007. In 2011, Estonia was the first of the Baltic states to introduce the euro.


Religion does not play as big a role in Estonia as it does in neighboring countries. Many Estonians are non-denominational, only about 30 percent belong to a faith. The Evangelical Lutheran Church is of the greatest importance – it includes around 13 percent of the total population – closely followed by the Orthodox faith.

Around 15,000 Old Orthodox, also known as Old Believers, still live in Estonia. This branch of faith emerged in the 17th century as part of a church reform by Patriarch Nikon. Those who opposed this reform established the “old faith”. They were expelled from the Russian Church and persecuted. There are still some communities on the shores of Lake Peipus, for example in the town of Kolkja. Visitors are introduced to the life of the Old Believers in a small museum, and their churches can also be visited here.

Estonia Overview

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