Whoever bothers to examine the world map, discovers that Estonia lies on the same latitude with Northern Scotland and Alaska’s southern tip. And if an occasionally encountered Estonian adds by way of explanation that in summer months the Estonian beaches are full of sunbathers, you may well suspect that he is pulling wool over your eyes. In fact, far from it.
Thanks to its geographical position, Estonia has four clearly distinguished seasons: at least a month of cold and snow in winter, suitable weather for bathing in summer, returning migratory birds in spring and trees sporting colourful leaves in autumn.
The area of Estonia is a bit bigger than Belgium or Denmark, but the population is a modest 1.4 million. The number of towns is over 30. These are rather like dogs: the word dog can denote tiny creatures as well as Great Danes. The capital Tallinn accommodates about one third of the population, and the smallest town is probably no bigger than a largish village. What lies between the towns is mostly forest: almost 50% of Estonian territory is covered with forests. Thanks to this, Estonians can enjoy vast quantities of space and fresh air – a luxury in many parts of the world today.
For an Estonian, the rush-hour traffic jam starts with a five-minute halt, and if he cannot reach a forest after half an hour’s drive, this constitutes a violation of human rights. Estonians are fond of stressing that they are small in number, but resourceful.
It is true that when we compare the number of Olympic gold medallists or for example writers with the total population, the coefficient would probably be very impressive. Statistics allows other nice juxtapositions: compared with other European countries, we have more lynx, wolves and bears per person. And the largest number of Internet banking transactions.
In examining the themes and message of Estonian culture, some parallels can be drawn. In many fields „official” culture begins at the end of the 19th century, when Estonians became a nation in the modern sense. Initially, examples and ideas were taken from the romantic period of the German-speaking cultural area. The rich folkloric material was still alive in many regions at the beginning of the 20th century. The collecting of folklore and ethnographic items became one of the cornerstones and endless sources of inspiration of Estonian culture. Establishing itself as a nation in the 20th century, a period of great upheaval and collapse, culture still deals with the history and identity of the person and the nation (Films „Names on a Marble Plaque”, „Somnambuul”, books of Jaan Kross, Tõnu Õnnepalu), with the „us” and „them”, also investigates location and identity in a changing world.
Calendar of cultural events Culture.ee
The character of Estonians has been shaped by their country’s history, natural environment, long dark winters and white summer nights. Like every citizen of a northern country, Estonians at first glance seem friendly but reserved, polite and calm but serious.
Estonians explain with the various seasons and weather conditions their moody and changing nature – dark and cold winter makes them self-absorbed, but the first rays of sunshine bring out their easygoing and carefree side.
On first encounter, foreigners may be surprised to find that approaching Estonians with warm hugs and kisses has just the opposite effect from creating an open and friendly atmosphere. Most of them at that awkward moment think – just a hand-shake would have been enough…Estonians do not tend to go to extremes with emotionality and sentimentality: opening up and trusting others on a personal level takes longer than with some other nationalities. But foreigners are advised to be patient in order to find an easy-going and fun conversation partner, a generous host and a faithful friend, who will give his or her warm hug only to special people at special moments.
Nevertheless, there are many qualities that have helped Estonians through rough times and to achieve high goals in different walks of life – an ironic sense of humour, stubbornness, curiosity, patience etc. But of course there are as many different qualities and personalities as there are Estonians.
Estonians are fond of talking about their Lutheran work habits. This is largely the only religion-related topic that reaches your ear. In predominantly Protestant (since the early 16th century) Estonia, the church is separated from the state, and religious topics only emerge at Christmas and Easter. Confessional belonging is strictly everybody’s own business. Representatives of the state, however, consider it necessary to appear in church from time to time, and the church diligently voices opinions on social matters. The most heated religious debates focus on whether or not religion should be a compulsory subject in the school curriculum.
The mass Christianisation of Estonians began in the 13th century, although the previous pagan beliefs persisted until the 17th century. Alongside Christian holidays there are also a number of “pagan” traditions alive today; such as bonfires in May and on Midsummer’s Eve.
The majority of religiously active people belong to the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox church in Estonia has two separate branches: the Russian-language church subordinated to Moscow and the Estonian-language church subordinated to Constantinople. Visitors to Tallinn will immediately notice the Orthodox presence here: the cathedral from the period of Russification (the end of the 19th century) dominates Toompea hill in the Old Town. By Lake Peipsi, the archaic community of Old Believers has sheltered since the Russian reformation.
The most common time for Sunday services is 10 o’clock, but in some congregations services begin at 11 or 12. You should contact a congregation directly if you wish to become a member.
According to the Constitution, Estonia is an independent and sovereign democratic republic wherein the supreme power of the state is vested in the people. The people exercise their supreme power of the state on the elections of the Estonian parliament – Riigikogu. The Riigikogu has 101 members elected for a period of four years.
The head of state is the President, elected by the Riigikogu for a five-year term. The President has, in addition to symbolic functions, representational tasks and formal domestic duties, a string of rights and obligations that afford him the independent right to speak in political life. Kersti Kaljulaid, the current President of Estonia was elected by the Riigikogu on 3 October 2016.
The government carries out the country’s domestic and foreign policy, shaped by parliament; it directs and co-ordinates the work of government institutions and bears full responsibility for everything occurring within the authority of executive power. The government, headed by the Prime Minister, thus represents the political leadership of the country and makes decisions in the name of the whole executive power. The head of the Government, the Prime Minister, is appointed by the President and approved by the Riigikogu.
Estonia joined the European Union on the 1st of May 2004 together with nine other new member states. Estonia has 6 representatives in the European Parliament.
Find out more about Estonian state from Estonica, Encyclopedia about Estonia
The blue-black-white tricolour has been adopted by the Estonian people, and has become the most important and loved national symbol. The tricolour has been one of the most important symbols for the independence, consciousness and solidarity of the Estonian people. The same colour combination is used by no other national tricolour.
The coat of arms
The Estonian coat-of-arms has ancient roots and resembles both that of Denmark and of England. The three blue leopard-like creatures on a gold background were first used in 1219 as part of the coat-of-arms of the city of Tallinn and, later in history, of the Estonian province. In 1925, what is called the three lion coat-of-arms finally became the national coat-of-arms.
The Estonian national anthem “My native land, my joy – delight” has a joint history with that of our northern neighbour, Finland. The tune for the two national anthems is identical and was written by Frederick Pacius, himself of German origin. The words originate with a leading figure in the Estonian national movement of around the turn of the 19th century, J.W. Jannsen.
Public Holidays and a days off are:
January 1 – New Year’s Day
February 24 – Independence Day, Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia
May 1 – Spring Day
June 23 – Victory Day
June 24 – St.John’s Day or Midsummer Day
August 20 – Day of Restoration of Independence
December 24 – Christmas Eve
December 25 – Christmas Day
December 26 – Boxing Day
In addition several national holidays are celebrated with raising the flag.
After the economic boom in 2006 and 2007 and the crisis in 2008-2009, the Estonian economy is currently moving upwards again. The year 2010 showed a 3.1% GDP growth, which is largely the result of growing exports. Still, the unemployment rate remains high, remaining 13.3% of the workforce in the second quarter of 2011.
More than 67% of the Estonian GDP is derived from the service sectors, industrial sectors yield over 28% and primary branches (including agriculture) approximately 5.5% of the overall output.
The most important branch among processing industries in Estonia is timber, paper and furniture industry. Second comes the food processing industry, mostly in the form of meat and milk producing, but the production of drinks, bread and confectioneries is also substantial.
Provision of different kinds of services — from personal services (hairdressers, beauticians, dentists, etc) to sports and entertainment — is developing very quickly. Tourism has fostered the development of catering and hotels, internal tourism is also gaining popularity. In the rural areas farm tourism and eco-tourism are developing fast.
Nowadays only about 4% of the workforce is engaged in agriculture and the sector yields just slightly less than 3% of the overall production. Milk cattle, also pigs and poultry are the main farm animals raised in Estonia. Field crops include cereal crops, potatoes and vegetables. Plant products are mostly for internal use, a considerable amount of meat is imported. Some dairy products and some specific products – e.g. cultivated and wild berries, mushrooms, ecologically pure produce etc -are for export.