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World > Europe > Estonia > Historical Highlights (Notes)

Estonia - Historical Highlights (Notes)


HISTORY
Ancient
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 then 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.

First Period of Independence
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 in November 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 would last 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.

Soviet Period
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 the course of WWII, Germany occupied Estonia for three years. In 1944, Stalin retook the country and resumed the mass deportations of ethnic Estonians to Siberia that had been initiated in 1941. Together with migration into Estonia from other parts of the Soviet Union, this resulted in the share of ethnic Estonians in the country decreasing from 88% in 1934 to 62% in 1989.

Re-establishing Independence
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 know 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.

Estonia became a member of the United Nations on September 17, 1991 and is a signatory to a number of UN organizations and other international agreements, including IAEA, ICAO, UNCTAD, WHO, WIPO, UNESCO, ILO, IMF, and WB/EBRD. It is also a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

After more than 3 years of negotiations, on August 31, 1994, the armed forces of the Russian Federation withdrew from Estonia.

Modern Period: 1990s - Today
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 Rüütel became president in 2001; Toomas Hendrick Ilves in 2006. Since fully regaining independence, Estonia has had 13 governments with 7 different prime ministers elected: Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Tiit Vähi, Mart Siimann, Siim Kallas, Juhan Parts, and Andrus Ansip.

Estonia began to adopt free-market policies even before it declared independence 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. Tax evasion is now relatively low by regional standards. Income tax is levied at a flat rate, a principle supported by all the major parties except the Center Party, for which a progressive tax system remains a keystone policy. Budget performance is exceptionally strong; the IMF projected a surplus of 3.4% of GDP in 2006.

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; only 21% of this trade represented exports. About 87% of Estonia's trade was with the Soviet Union, and of that, 61% was with Russia. Estonia's main foreign trading partners today are Sweden, Finland, Germany and others in the West. Russia's share of Estonia's trade is less than 10%.

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.

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 in 1995 with 4.6% growth and 4.0% growth in 1996. Russia's financial crisis in 1999 led to the only year of decline in Estonia's GDP since 1994--but the 0.7% decline was relatively small.

The 1994-2004 period was mainly dominated by the Estonian EU and NATO accession processes. Estonia was the first Baltic country to start direct accession talks with the EU. Estonia applied to join the EU in November 1995 and, while participating in accession negotiations, continued its program of major economic and social reforms. This gave Estonia a good opportunity to take into account EU objectives and to exploit the experience of existing EU member states when carrying out reforms. Examples of reform in the social area included the launch of unemployment insurance in 2002 and the 1999 implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which regulates safety and health requirements in the work place as well as the organizational aspects of the occupational health system.

In 1999, Estonia joined the World Trade Organization, adding to its previous membership of the IMF, World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

In November 2002, Estonia was one of seven Central and East European countries to be invited to join NATO; it officially became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004. In just fifteen years since re-establishing independence, Estonia has proven itself to be an excellent Ally, having built a military capable of participating in ever more complex and distant military operations.

EU accession negotiations proceeded rapidly, and Estonia joined the EU in May 2004, along with nine other countries, including its Baltic neighbors. The final decision 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 has developed into a strong international actor, through its membership in the EU and NATO; it is a capable advocate and promoter of stability and democracy in the former Soviet Union and beyond. Estonian troops have been in Afghanistan since 2002 and Iraq since 2003. It participates in the NATO training mission in Iraq and in the international police training mission for Iraq in Jordan. Estonia also provides peacekeepers for international missions in both Bosnia and Kosovo and contributes to EU battlegroups and NATO Response Force rotations. It supports democratic developments in key countries of the former Soviet Union and beyond by providing training to government and law enforcement officials as well as non-governmental organizations. It has valuable experience to offer new democracies from its own recent history, and it works hard to promote democracy, freedom, and stability worldwide.


Facts at a Glance: Geography - People - Government - Economy - Communications - Transportation - Military - Climate - Current Time - Ranking Positions - Estonian Kroon Exchange Rates
Notes and Commentary: People - Economy - Government and Political Conditions - Historical Highlights - Foreign Relations - Relations with U.S.



Facts at a Glance
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Climate
Current Time
Ranking Positions
Estonian Kroon Exchange Rates


Notes and Commentary
People
Economy
Government and Political Conditions
Historical Highlights
Foreign Relations
Relations with U.S.





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