The Republic of Estonia is a country in Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea to the west and the Gulf of Finland to the north. Estonia has land borders with its fellow Baltic state, Latvia, to the south, with Russia to the east, and maritime border with Finland to the north.
Main article: History of Estonia
Estonia has been populated by the native Finno Ugric Estonians since prehistory. It was first christianised when the German "Livonian Sword Brethren" and Denmark conquered the land by 1227. Subsequent foreign powers that controlled Estonia at various times included Denmark, Sweden, Poland and finally Russia. However, the upper classes and the higher middle class remained primarily Baltic German until roughly 1918; the Germans who had stayed then were either forced by Hitler or later Stalin to leave during or after the end of World War II.
Following the collapse of Imperial Russia after the October Revolution, Estonia declared its independence as a republic on February 24, 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in June 1940, as a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and then occupied by the Third Reich from 1941-1944, it was again occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944. Estonia regained its freedom on August 20, 1991, with the Singing Revolution and collapse of the Soviet Union. August 20 remains a national holiday in Estonia because of this.
Since the last Russian troops left on August 31, 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe and outside, becoming a member of NATO on March 29, 2004 and of the European Union on May 1, 2004.
Main article: Politics of Estonia
Estonia is a constitutional democracy, with a president elected by its unicameral parliament (elections every five years). The government or the executive branch is formed by the prime minister, nominated by the president, and a total of 14 ministers. The government is appointed by the president after approval by the parliament.
Legislative power lies with the unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu or State Assembly, which consists of 101 seats. Members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The supreme judiciary court is the National Court or Riigikohus, with 17 justices whose chairman is appointed by the parliament for life on nomination by the president.
Main article: Counties of Estonia
Estonia numbers 15 main administrative subdivisions. Due to the geographical and demographic size of these subdivisions, they are to be considered counties rather than states (Estonian: pl. maakonnad; sg. - maakond). Here is a list of them:
Main article: Geography of Estonia
Between 57.3 and 59.5 latitude and 21.5 and 28.1 longitude, Estonia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising east European platform. Average elevation reaches only 50 m.
Oil shale (or kukersite) and limestone deposits, along with forests which cover 47% of the land, play key economic roles in this generally resource-poor country. Estonia boasts over 1,400 lakes (most very small, with the largest, Lake Peipsi, being 3,555 km²), numerous bogs, and 3,794 kilometers of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. The number of islands and islets is estimated at some 1,500 with two large enough to constitute their own counties, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.
Its highest point is the Suur Munamägi in the southeastern corner of the country (318 m).
See Weather (English), Ilm (Estonian) or Pogoda (Russian).
Main article: Economy of Estonia
As a member of the European Union, Estonia is part of the world's largest economic zone. In 1999, Estonia experienced its worst year economically since it regained independence in 1991, largely because of the impact of the August 1998 Russian financial crisis. Estonia joined the WTO in November 1999 - the second Baltic state to join - and continued its EU accession talks. Privatization of energy, telecommunications, railways, and other state-owned companies is a continuing process. Estonia completed most of its preparations for EU membership by the end of 2002 and now has one of the strongest economies of the new members states of the European Union, which Estonia joined on 1 May 2004. The Estonian economy is growing fast, partly due to a number of Scandinavian companies relocating their routine operations and Russian oil transit using Estonian ports. Estonia has a strong IT sector. GDP PPP is at $16,500, the highest in the Baltic states.
In 1994, Estonia became among the first in the world to adopt a flat tax, with a uniform rate of 26% regardless of the income a person makes. In January 2005 the personal income tax rate was reduced to 24%.
Since 1st of January 2000, companies do not have to pay income tax on re-invested income.
Main article: Demographics of Estonia
About seventy percent of the population consist of ethnic Estonians, with the rest from other former Soviet republics, mainly Russia, who predominantly live in the industrial north eastern county of Ida-Virumaa and in the capital Tallinn. There is also a small group of Finnish descent.
The country's official language is Estonian, which is closely related to Finnish. Russian is also widely spoken, as is English.
According to a census undertaken in 2002, the Estonian people are:
The predominant religion of Estonians is the Christian belief in the form the Evangelical Lutheran confession.
Less than a third of the population define themselves as believers; of these the majority are Lutheran, whereas the Russian minority is Eastern Orthodox. Some ancient equinoctial heathen traditions are still held in high regard, and the summer equinox is a time of great celebration and festivities. Some neopagans revere the local ancient God Taara.
Today, about 32 % of the population are members of a church or religious group; they are made up of:
There are also a number of smaller Protestant and Jewish groups.
The Estonian language, together with Finnish and Hungarian, belong to a language group called the Finno-Ugric languages. They are linguistically unrelated to what linguists call the Indo-European language family, which includes all other European languages except Basque, Turkish and Maltese. Speakers of English or another Indo-European language (such as Spanish, Russian, or German) who learn Estonian, or speakers of Estonian who learn an Indo-European language, face a harder task than speakers of one Indo-European language learning another.
Estonia is widely praised for having the highest practical rate of literacy in the world.
Main article: Culture of Estonia