January 21, 2013, 5:46 pm
Source: CIA World Factbook
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View of Haanja Upland from the tower of Suur Munam├Ąg, Estonia. Source: Wikipedia.

Estonia is a nation of just under one-and-a-third million people in Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, between Latvia and Russia.

The mainland terrain of Estonia is flat, boggy, and partly wooded.

Offshore of mainland Estonia lie more than 1500 islands.

Its major environmental issues include:

  • Air polluted with sulfur dioxide from oil-shale burning power plants in northeast; however, the amount of pollutants emitted to the air have fallen steadily, the emissions of 2000 were 80% less than in 1980;
  • The amount of unpurified wastewater discharged to water bodies in 2000 was 1/20 the level of 1980;
  • In connection with the start-up of new water purification plants, the pollution load of wastewater decreased;
  • Estonia has more than 1400 natural and manmade lakes, the smaller of which in agricultural areas need to be monitored;
  • Coastal seawater is polluted in certain locations

After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918.

Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US - it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with the West. It joined both NATO and the European Union in the spring of 2004, formally joined the OECD in late 2010, and adopted the euro as its official currency on 1 January 2011.


Between 57.3 and 59.5 degrees latitude and 21.5 and 28.1 degrees 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 meters (160 ft.).

The climate resembles New England's. Oil shale and limestone deposits, along with forests that cover 47% of the land, play key economic roles in this generally resource-poor country. Estonia has more than 1,500 lakes, numerous bogs, and 3,794 kilometers of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. Tallinn's Muuga port offers one of Europe's finest warm water harbor facilities.

Estonia's strategic location has precipitated many wars fought on its territory between other powers at its expense. In 1944, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) granted Russia the trans-Narva and Petseri regions on Estonia's eastern frontier. Russia and Estonia signed a border treaty in 2005 recognizing the current border. Estonia ratified the treaty in June 2005, but Russia subsequently revoked its signature to the treaty, due to a reference the Estonian parliament inserted regarding the Peace Treaty of Tartu.

Location: Eastern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, between Latvia and Russia

Geographic Coordinates: 59 00 N, 26 00 E

Area: 45,228 sq km (land: 42,388 sq km; water: 2,840 sq km). Note: this  includes 1,520 islands in the Baltic Sea

Land Boundaries: 633 km (Latvia 343 km, Russia 290 km)

Russia recalled its signature to the 1996 technical border agreement with Estonia in 2005, rather than concede to Estonia's appending a prepared unilateral declaration referencing Soviet occupation and territorial losses.

Russia demands better accommodation of Russian-speaking population in Estonia.

Estonian citizen groups continue to press for realignment of the boundary based on the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty that would bring the now divided ethnic Setu people and parts of the Narva region within Estonia

As a member state that forms part of the EU's external border, Estonia must implement the strict Schengen border rules with Russia

Coastline: 3,794 km

Maritime Claims:

territorial sea: 12 nm
exclusive economic zone: limits fixed in coordination with neighboring states

Natural Hazards: sometimes flooding occurs in the spring

Terrain: marshy, lowlands; flat in the north, hilly in the south.  The highest point is Suur Munamagi (318 m)

Climate: maritime; wet, moderate winters, cool summers

Topology of Estonia. Source: J.S. Aber


Ecology and Biodiversity

See main article: Ecoregions of Estonia

Estonia is part of the Sarmatic mixed forests ecoregion. Sarmatic mixed forests comprise an ecoregion distributed over a sizable portion of northern Europe and the Ural area of Russia; more specifically this forest type is found particularly in Scandinavia, the Baltics and the Ural area of Russia. Typically, Sarmatic mixed forests comprise a transition into boreal tiaga at their northern limit and mixed broadleaf forests at their southern limit. In Sweden these forests include certain areas of lowland to submontane hemiboreal and nemoral pine forests. The sarmatic mixed forests are comprised of a mixed conifer broadleaf plant association dominated by Norway Spruce (Picea abies) and Scots Pine (pinus sylvestris) with some broadleaf admixture, especially oak species such as Quercus robur in the north.

Satellite image of Estonia. April 2004. Source: NASA

People and Society

Population: 1,274,709 (July 2012 est.)

Estonians belong to the Finno-Ugric peoples, as do the Finns and the Hungarians. Archaeological research confirms the existence of human activity in the region as early as 8000 BC; by 3500 BC the principal ancestors of the Estonians had arrived from the east.

Estonians have strong ties to the Nordic countries today stemming from deep cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Scandinavian colonization and settlement. This highly literate society places great emphasis upon education, which is free and compulsory until age 17. About 20% of the population belongs to the following churches registered in Estonia: Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, Estonian Orthodox Church subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate, Baptist Church, Roman Catholic Church, and others.

As of January 1, 2011, 84.2% of Estonia's population held Estonian citizenship, 8.7% were citizens of other countries (primarily Russia), and 7.1% were of undetermined citizenship.

Written with the Latin alphabet, Estonian is the language of the Estonian people and the official language of the country. Estonian is one of the world's most difficult languages to learn for English-speakers: it has 14 cases, which can be a challenge even for skilled linguists. During the Soviet era, the Russian language was imposed for official use.

Ethnic groups: Estonian 68.7%, Russian 25.6%, Ukrainian 2.1%, Belarusian 1.2%, Finn 0.8%, other 1.6% (2008 census)

Rooftop view of the lower town of Tallinn as seen from the upper town. The prominent church is that of Saint Nicholas, originally built in the 13th century. Partially destroyed by Soviet bombing during World War II, the church was restored and is today used as an art museum and concert hall.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in the upper town of Tallinn was completed in 1900.
Talinn is the capital city and main seaport of Estonia. It is located on Estonia’s north coast to the Gulf of Finland. Talinn replaced the previously used official German name Ravel when Estonia became independent in 1918. After WWII started, Estonia was annexed by the USSR, and later invaded by Nazi Germany. In 1991 an independent democratic Estonia was re-established. The Estonian economy has seen recent development of an information technology sector and growth of tourism. The picturesque old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This scene was acquired on June 18, 2006, covers an area of 35.6 x 37.5 km, and is located at 59.5 degrees north latitude and 25 degrees east longitude. Source: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team

Age Structure:

0-14 years: 15.1% (male 99,919/female 94,066)
15-64 years: 67.2% (male 410,132/female 451,736)
65 years and over: 17.7% (male 74,803/female 152,307) (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate: -0.65% (2012 est.)

Birthrate: 10.43 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Death Rate: 13.6 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)

Net Migration Rate: -3.33 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)

Life Expectancy at Birth: 73.58 years 

male: 68.3 years
female: 79.19 years (2012 est.)

Total Fertility Rate: 1.44 children born/woman (2012 est.)

Languages: Estonian (official) 67.3%, Russian 29.7%, other 2.3%, unknown 0.7% (2000 census)

Literacy: (age 15 and over can read and write): 99.8% (2000 census)

Urbanization: 69% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of 0.1% (2010-15 est.)


Estonians are one of the longest-settled European peoples and have lived along the Baltic Sea for over 5,000 years. The Estonians were an independent nation until the 13th century A.D. The country was subsequently conquered by Denmark, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and finally Russia, whose defeat of Sweden in 1721 resulted in the Uusikaupunki Peace Treaty, granting Russia rule over what became modern Estonia.

Independence remained out of reach for Estonia until the collapse of the Russian empire during World War I. Estonia declared itself an independent democratic republic on February 24, 1918. In 1920, by the Peace Treaty of Tartu, Soviet Russia recognized Estonia's independence and renounced in perpetuity all rights to its territory.

The first constitution of the Republic of Estonia was adopted in 1920 and established a parliamentary form of government. Estonia's independence lasted for 22 years, during which time Estonia guaranteed cultural autonomy to all minorities, including its small Jewish population, an act that was unique in Western Europe at the time.

Leading up to World War II (WWII), Estonia pursued a policy of neutrality. However, the Soviet Union forcibly incorporated Estonia as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, in which Nazi Germany gave control of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the Soviet Union in return for control of much of Poland. In August 1940, the U.S.S.R. proclaimed Estonia a part of the Soviet Union as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (E.S.S.R.). The United States never recognized Soviet sovereignty over Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania.

During World War II, between 1939 and 1945, through both the Nazi and Soviet occupations, Estonia's direct human losses reached 180,000 residents, which amounted to 17% of its total population. During the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944, 7,800 citizens of the Republic of Estonia (70% ethnic Estonians, 15% ethnic Russians, 12.8% Estonian Jews, and 2.2% representing other nationalities) were executed in Nazi prison camps. Of the total number executed during the period of Nazi occupation, an estimated 1,000 were Estonian Jews--or roughly 25% of the pre-war Jewish population of Estonia. Additionally, an estimated 10,000 Jews were transported to Estonia from elsewhere in Eastern Europe and killed there. Soviet authorities conducted mass deportations in 1940-41, 1944, and 1949, with smaller deportations running through 1956. In total, an estimated 60,000 Estonians were murdered or deported by the Soviet Union. Another 70,000 fled to the West in 1944.

In the late 1980s, looser controls on freedom of expression under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reignited the Estonians' call for self-determination. By 1988, hundreds of thousands of people were gathering across Estonia to sing previously banned national songs in what became known as the "Singing Revolution."

In November 1988, Estonia's Supreme Soviet passed a declaration of sovereignty; in 1990, the name of the Republic of Estonia was restored, and during the August 1991 coup in the U.S.S.R., Estonia declared full independence. The U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet recognized independent Estonia on September 6, 1991. Unlike the experiences of Latvia and Lithuania, Estonia's revolution ended without blood spilled. After more than 3 years of negotiations, on August 31, 1994, the armed forces of the Russian Federation withdrew from Estonia.

In 1992, a constitutional assembly introduced amendments to the 1938 constitution. After the draft constitution was approved by popular referendum, it came into effect July 3, 1992. Presidential elections were held on September 20, 1992, with Lennart Meri as victor. Lennart Meri served two terms as president, implementing many reforms during his tenure. Meri was constitutionally barred from a third term. Arnold Ruutel became president in 2001, and Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 2006 and again in 2011. Since fully regaining independence, Estonia has had 10 governments with 7 different prime ministers elected: Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Tiit Vahi, Mart Siimann, Siim Kallas, Juhan Parts, and Andrus Ansip. In March 2011 Ansip was reelected as Prime Minister.

The most recent parliamentary election took place on March 6, 2011. Prime Minister Andrus Ansip’s center-right coalition remained in power after a strong victory in the polls. The Reform Party and the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union form the current majority government with 33 and 23 seats in parliament, respectively. Other parties in the parliament include the Center Party and the Social Democrat Party.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves is the President of Estonia. He was a member of the Social Democrat Party, a former Ambassador to the United States, two-time Minister of Foreign Affairs, a member of the Estonian parliament, and a former member of the European Parliament. He first took office on October 9, 2006 and was reelected in August 2011.


Estonia is a parliamentary democracy, with a 101-member parliament (the Riigikogu) and a president who is elected indirectly by parliament or, if no candidate wins a two-thirds majority in parliament, by an electoral college composed of members of parliament and of local councils’ representatives. Estonia holds presidential elections every 5 years. The next presidential election will be in 2016. The president serves a maximum of two terms.

Parliamentary elections take place every 4 years; members are elected by direct ballot in local districts and by proportional representation. A party must gather at least 5% of the votes to take a seat in parliament. Citizens 18 years of age or older may vote in parliamentary elections and be members of political parties. EU citizens who are 18 years of age or older and registered in the population register may vote in European Parliament elections and if they are registered in a local district population register, they may also vote in local elections. In addition, non-citizen long-term residents may vote in local elections, although they may not run for office.

After parliamentary elections, the president traditionally asks the party with the most votes to form a new government. The president chooses the prime minister--usually the leader of the largest party or coalition in the parliament--with the consent of the parliament to supervise the work of the government. The Estonian Government has 12 ministers.

At the local level, Estonians elect government councils by proportional representation. The individual councils vary in size, but election laws stipulate minimum size requirements depending on the population of the municipality.

Estonians may vote via the Internet in local, Estonian parliamentary elections, and European Parliament elections.

Government Type: parliamentary republic

Capital: Tallinn (population: 399,000 est. 2009)

Administrative divisions: 15 counties (maakonnad, singular - maakond); Harjumaa (Tallinn), Hiiumaa (Kardla), Ida-Virumaa (Johvi), Jarvamaa (Paide), Jogevamaa (Jogeva), Laanemaa (Haapsalu), Laane-Virumaa (Rakvere), Parnumaa (Parnu), Polvamaa (Polva), Raplamaa (Rapla), Saaremaa (Kuressaare), Tartumaa (Tartu), Valgamaa (Valga), Viljandimaa (Viljandi), Vorumaa (Voru). note: counties have the administrative center name following in parentheses

Counties of Estonia. Source: Wikipedia.


Independence Date: 20 August 1991 (declared); 6 September 1991 (recognized by the Soviet Union)

Legal System: civil law system. Estonia accepts compulsory Intenational Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction with reservations; and, accepts international Criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction. Estonia's Supreme Court, the Riigikohus, has 19 justices, all of whom receive lifetime tenure appointments. The parliament appoints the chief justice on nomination by the president.

International Environmental Agreements

Estonia is party to international agreements on: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Air Pollution-Sulfur 85, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.


Total Renewable Water Resources: 21.1 cu km (2005)

Freshwater Withdrawal: 1.41 cu km/yr (56%/39%/5%) (56% domestic, 39% industrial, 5% agricultural)

Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 1,060 cu m/yr (2002)


Agricultural products: grain, potatoes, vegetables; livestock and dairy products; fish

Irrigated Land: 40 sq km (2008)


Natural Resources: oil shale, peat, rare earth elements, phosphorite, clay, limestone, sand, dolomite, arable land, sea mud

Land Use:

arable land: 12.05%
permanent crops: 0.35%
other: 87.6% (2005)


Estonia, a 2004 European Union entrant, has a modern market-based economy and one of the higher per capita income levels in Central Europe and the Baltic region.

Estonia's successive governments have pursued a free market, pro-business economic agenda and have wavered little in their commitment to pro-market reforms.

Estonia is considered one of the most liberal economies in the world, ranking 14th in the Heritage Foundation's 2011 Economic Freedom Index. Its 2011 score was 0.5 points higher than in 2010 due to significant improvements in Estonia’s monetary and labor freedoms. Hallmarks of Estonia's market-based economy have included a balanced budget, a flat-rate income tax system (the first in the world), a competitive commercial banking sector, and a hospitable environment for foreign investment, including no tax on reinvested corporate profits (tax is not levied unless a distribution is made). Estonia joined the European Union (EU) in 2004. It adopted the euro as its currency and became the 17th member of the euro zone on January 1, 2011.

Estonia began to adopt free-market policies even before it declared independence from the Soviet Union in mid-1991 and has continued to pursue reform aggressively ever since. For example, the government set privatization as an early priority and has now completed the process of putting most major industries in private hands. After independence the Government of Estonia took steps to simplify the tax system and in 1994 implemented a flat tax for income. Tax evasion is now relatively low by regional standards.

The introduction of the Estonian kroon in June 1992, with only U.S. $120 million in gold reserves and no internationally backed stabilization fund, proved decisive in stabilizing foreign trade. For stability, the kroon was pegged by special agreement to the deutsche mark (DM) at EKR8 = DM1 and later to the euro. The new Estonian currency became the foundation for rational development of the economy. Money began to have clear value; the currency supply could be controlled from Tallinn, not Moscow; and long-term investment decisions could be made with greater confidence by both the state and private enterprise. The central bank is independent of the government but subordinate to the parliament. In addition to its president, the bank is managed by a board of directors, whose chair is also appointed by parliament.

Estonia's liberal economic policies and macroeconomic stability have fostered exceptionally strong growth and better living standards than those of most new EU member states. The fall of the Soviet Union and the rapid contraction of Estonia's market to the East during the early 1990s caused Estonia's economy to shrink 36% from 1990 to 1994. But economic reforms in Estonia and the ability of its economy to reorient toward the West allowed Estonia's economy to pick up beginning in 1995. Driven by liberal economic policies and fiscal discipline, the Estonian economy grew quickly, at an average annual rate of 8% from 2000 to 2007. The recent global recession struck early in Estonia with the bursting of a large real estate bubble in 2007. GDP fell by 5.1% in 2008 and 14.3% in 2009. Estonia's economy began growing again in the fourth quarter of 2009, and in 2010 the economy continued to recover with growth of 2.3%. The pace of recovery quickened in 2011 driven largely by exports, with final GDP figures expected to show growth over 7%. Unemployment dropped dramatically in 2011; however, long-term unemployment remains a concern, with nearly half of all unemployed persons out of work for over 1 year.

The economy benefits from strong electronics and telecommunications sectors; the country is so wired that it is nicknamed E-stonia. Bars and cafes across the country are typically equipped with wireless connections. Skype, designed by Estonian developers, offers free calls over the Internet to millions of people worldwide. Tourism has also driven Estonia's economic growth, with Tallinn’s beautifully restored old town a major European tourist destination.

The current government has followed relatively sound fiscal policies that have resulted in balanced budgets and very low public debt.

The economy benefits from strong electronics and telecommunications sectors and strong trade ties with Finland, Sweden, Russia, and Germany. Tallinn's priority has been to sustain high growth rates - on average 8% per year from 2003 to 2007. Estonia's economy fell sharply into recession in mid-2008, primarily as a result of an investment and consumption slump following the bursting of the real estate market bubble.

Estonia is a net exporter of electricity, using locally mined oil shale to fire its power plants. However, it imports all of its natural gas (roughly 10% of total energy consumption) from Russia. Alternative energy sources such as wind and biomass make up about 9% of primary energy production. An undersea electricity cable inaugurated in December 2006 allows Estonia to trade electricity with Finland. Estonia and Finland are due to complete a second undersea cable in 2014.

In 1999, Estonia joined the World Trade Organization, adding to its previous membership in the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Estonia's final decision to join the EU was conditional on the outcome of a national referendum, which was held in September 2003 and returned a large majority in favor of membership. Estonia joined the Schengen zone in December 2007. In May 2007, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ministers invited Estonia to begin accession discussions; Estonia completed the accession process to the OECD in December 2010.

Foreign Trade
An integral part of Estonia's transition to a market economy during the early 1990s involved reorienting foreign trade to the West and attracting foreign investment to upgrade the country's industry and commerce. In 1990, only 5% of Estonia's foreign trade was with the developed West; 87% was with the Soviet Union, and of that, 61% was with Russia. Estonia's main foreign trading partners today include Sweden, Finland, Germany, and others in the West. Russia's share of Estonia's trade is approximately 10.4%.

Estonia is part of the European Union, and its trade policy is conducted in Brussels. By the late 1990s, Estonia's trade regime was so liberal that adoption of EU and World Trade Organization (WTO) norms required Estonia to impose tariffs in certain sectors, such as agriculture, which had previously been tariff-free. Openness to trade, rapid growth in investment, and an appreciating real exchange rate resulted in large trade deficits from 2000 to 2008.

Estonia's economy benefits from its location at the crossroads of East and West. Estonia lies just south of Finland and across the Baltic Sea from Sweden, both EU members. To the east are the huge potential markets of northwest Russia. Estonia's modern transportation and communication links provide a safe and reliable bridge for trade with the former Soviet Union and Nordic countries. Many observers also see a potential role for Estonia as a future link in the supply chain from the Far East into the EU.

GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $26.93 billion (2011 est.)

GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $22.5 billion (2011 est.)

GDP- per capita (PPP): $$20,200 (2011 est.)

GDP- composition by sector:

agriculture: 2.6%
industry: 29.2%
services: 68.2% (2011 est.)

Industries: engineering, electronics, wood and wood products, textiles; information technology, telecommunications

Currency: Kroon (EEK) up to anuary 2011, then Euro.





Administration, N., Agency, C., & Department, U. (2013). Estonia. Retrieved from


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