Estonia country profile

Map of Estonia

A small and heavily forested country, Estonia is the most northerly of the three former Soviet Baltic republics.

Not much more than a decade after it regained its independence following the collapse of the USSR, the republic was welcomed as an EU member in May 2004. The move came just weeks after it joined Nato.

These historic developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times.

Estonia was part of the Russian empire until 1918 when it proclaimed its independence. Russia recognised it as an independent state under the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.

During the two decades that followed it tried to assert its identity as a nation squeezed between the rise of Nazism in Germany and the dominion of Stalin in the USSR.

Tallin Tallinn: The capital's long history is evident in its old town

At a glance

  • Politics: PM Andrus Ansip heads a centre-right coalition which was re-elected in 2011
  • Economy: Estonia has experienced rapid growth. Key sectors include manufacturing and IT. Estonia joined the eurozone in 2011
  • International: Estonia joined Nato and the EU in 2004. It has a troop contingent in Afghanistan

Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring

After a pact between Hitler and Stalin, Soviet troops arrived in 1940 and Estonia was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed the Soviets out in 1941 but the Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century.

The rapidly expanding Soviet planned economy brought hundreds of thousands of Soviet immigrants to Estonia, causing widespread fear among Estonians that their national identity would eventually vanish.

Russians account for up to a third of the population.

The legacy of the Soviet years has left a mark which the country carries with it into its EU era: Many Russian-speakers complain of discrimination, saying strict language laws make it hard to get jobs or citizenship without proficiency in Estonian. Some Russian-speakers who were born in Estonia are either unable or unwilling to become citizens because of the language requirements.

After a decade of negotiations, Estonia and Russia signed a treaty defining the border between the two countries in May 2005. The Estonian parliament ratified it soon afterwards but only after it had introduced reference to Soviet occupation. Moscow reacted by pulling out. It took until 2012 for talks to start afresh.

The Estonian language is closely related to Finnish but not to the languages of either of the other Baltic republics, Latvia and Lithuania, or to Russian. The country has unique traditions in folk song and verse, traditions which have had to be strong to survive the many centuries of domination by foreign countries.

Estonia enjoyed an investment boom following EU accession, but in 2008 its economy was badly hit by the global financial crisis.

The government adopted tough austerity measures and won plaudits for getting the economy back into shape ahead of entry to the European single currency in January 2011.

Tallin's historic old town Tallin's historic old town is included in Unesco's World Heritage List

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