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Estonia, formally known as the Republic of Estonia, is a Northern European country situated on the Baltic Sea. It is bordered by Latvia and Russia, and its neighbors, Finland and Sweden, lie across the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, respectively. Although the current state of Estonia is peaceful and stable, the country has had a tumultuous history.
Estonia was settled as early as 7500 BC, but most of today’s Estonians are related the Finns, descended from Finno-Ugric hunters who settled the area around 3000 to 2000 BC. As with many other countries in the region, Estonia succumbed to Europe’s power struggle, and was under foreign rule for several hundred years. In the 13th century, Germanic rulers would settle in, influencing the area up through the 18th century. The Danes took over from the 13th to the 16th centuries, followed by the Swedes. During the Swedish rule, which lasted up to the 18th century when the Russians gained control, it was known as the “good old Swedish” time due to increased peasant rights and education.
The period of Russian and, subsequently, Soviet rule was marked by immense suffering by the Estonians. Although serfdom was abolished in the 1800s when the Russians gained control, by 1939, Estonians were feeling the squeeze. Purges resulted in the murder, deportation or flight of 60,000 Estonians. It was so bad that in 1941 when Hitler invaded the country, they were happy to be “liberated.” As history would show, they were simply occupied by another oppressive government. The Estonian people would continue to suffer after the war under Soviet rule and collectivization, particularly until the death of Stalin in 1953.
In 1988, Estonians staged a “Singing Revolution,” where approximately 300,000 people gathered to proudly sing banned Estonian songs. Later that year, a declaration of sovereignty was made, followed by protests demanding secession from the Soviet Union. By August 1991, independence was again declared and gained, and Estonia officially became a member of the United Nations. In 2004, Estonia joined the European Union, the first Baltic nation to do so, as well as NATO. Today, Estonia is a parliamentary democracy with executive, judicial and legislative branches.
Estonia’s climate is heavily influenced by its geography. With more than 1400 lakes, numerous rivers, bogs, islands and islets, it is a humid, wet country. Approximately 160 to 181 days out of the year are rainy. The climate is mild, with an average temperature of 40° F (4.5° C). Winters are snowy, dark and cold with an average temperature in February of 23° F (-5.2° C). Summers are mild, averaging 63° F (17° C) in July. Most will recommend traveling to Estonia from April to May to avoid the dark, dreary winters and the rainy season, which extends from May to September.
Estonia’s economy is relatively robust for a Baltic nation. It has a high per capita income for the region as well as low unemployment rates. Today, Estonia is known internationally for its thriving information technology (IT) sector.