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State

Capital

Estonia

Talinn

Currency unit

euro

Connections

Baltic

Borders

EU

Finland

NATO

Nordic

USSR

War

Jason Burke Estonia and Soviet empire

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

History

One of the three Baltic states formerly part of the Soviet Union. Like Latvia it was once a Swedish colony. All three were ruled by Russia until 1918. As part of the Brest-Litovsk treaty provisions following the defeat of Russia in the first world war they were occupied by the Germans. After they themselves withdrew the Baltic states were independent from 1919 until 1939 when they were occupied first by the Soviet Union as part of the Nazi-Soviet agreement of 1939 and then in 1942 again by the Germans. Stalin claimed that they had joined the Soviet Union at their own request, but the present democratically elected governments deny this. Western governments never recognized the incorporation, though they took no practical steps. In 1990 all three declared independence, but only made this effective in September 1991.

Estonia's ethnic affinities are with Finland whose language is mutually intelligible. For economics Estonian politicians would prefer to be linked with Scandinavia and ultimately with the European Union rather than with Russia.

There is a large (40%) minority of Russians who resisted the idea of independence. In early 1991 while the Gulf War was occupying the attention of western governments the Soviet government appeared to be trying to assert central control through the military and by setting up a "National Salvation Committee" as a cover in order to bypass the elected government.

Although the Baltic states have achieved independence they may find themselves very weak on their own. Estonia may well become closely associated with Finland, though Russia would probably attempt to prevent their formal union as this would threaten to block St Petersburg's outlet to the sea. Russian fascists are calling for the renewal of the empire. Putin's regime seems to want to revive the Soviet Union and treats the Baltic States as "near abroad".

Admitted to membership of the UN in September 1991. Estonia joined the EU in 2004.

In April 2007 the removal of a Soviet war memorial and the soldiers buried next to it has caused a dispute both with the Russian minority and the Russian government. An attack on the government's internet system seemed likely to have come from Russian sources, as part of Russia's support for the Russian speaking residents.

The war in Georgia suggests more trouble in the future.

Languages

Estonian
(related to Finnish)

Russian

 History

 Economics

 Green

 Rights

Politics

Multi-party elections have been held. The Communist party was outlawed following the August 1991 Soviet coup which showed that the January events in Talinn had been a rehearsal by the same people as the August plotters. The representatives of 40% of Russians may prove to be a problem, with probable polarization between the two ethnic communities. Even though these have been deprived of the vote they will remain a problem. Some will emigrate voluntarily but many will be unable to find a home in Russia.

Multi-party elections have been held. The Communist party was outlawed following the August 1991 Soviet coup which showed that the January events in Talinn had been a rehearsal by the same people as the August plotters. The representatives of 40% of Russians may prove to be a problem, with probable polarization between the two ethnic communities. Even though these have been deprived of the vote they will remain a problem. Some will emigrate voluntarily but many will be unable to find a home in Russia.

In the past it seemed that if the Nationalists gained power in Russia Estonia would be in danger of being pressed to return to Russian control. This no longer seemed likely, after NATO and EU membership which should make it securely part of western Europe.

However, after the Russian invasion of Georgia, Estonia's security no longer looks secure, especially considering the weak NATO response to those events.

Interesting Reading

See Norman Davies - Vanished Kingdoms for a summary of 20th century history.

 History

 Politics

 Green

 Rights

Economics

Estonia had a slightly more advanced economy than the other states of the former Soviet Union. Privatization of land has already been announced and locally controlled businesses show signs of being more entrepreneurial than in Russia. However, most industries were controlled by Soviet ministries and conformed to the Central Plan. The heavy industries, staffed by Russians, were devoted to supplying the military. Thus the independent government faces the problem of converting these industries.

Trade with Finland is increasing (though it takes the form of cheap labor - a hotel in Helsinki sends its laundry to Estonia for cheapness; some Estonians work in Finland at higher wages than they can get at home). Finland itself is suffering from the collapse of the Soviet economy.

Estonia was the first former Soviet state to set up its own currency (the Kroon) and to install customs guards at the Russian frontier.

Trade with Finland will be much easier following the adoption of the euro but the Kroon had been been linked to the Deutschemark and then the euro, so the change is mainly cosmetic..

Estonia was badly hit by the financial catastrophe of 2008 and following.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Rights

Green/Ecology

Much damage to environment from Russian bad habits: military bases poisoned with oil, industries with no pollution controls.

 History

 Politics

 Economics

 Green

Human Rights

The rights of Russian residents may give rise to concern.

The citizenship law published in July 1992 gave automatic citizenship only to those who were citizens of the 1920-40 republic, or their descendants. The 40% Russian minority is guaranteed rights to vote in local elections but not to vote for President and Parliament. The minority can achieve citizenship only by passing a language test. As Estonian is not an Indo-European language this will be difficult for the Russians. They were posted there to earn more than they could in Russia by working in the heavy, polluting, defense industries.

Last revised 6/01/12


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