Estonia is a typical Baltic country with an incessant Nordic feeling in the air. In a world that’s changing in a break-neck speed, if you long for a time-off amidst refreshingly genuine surroundings, Estonia is your dream abode. Freed from the clutches of the Russian communist rule nearly a decade ago, Estonia welcomes global citizens in to their humble territory with open arms. Historic castles, manor houses, forests, old cities, beaches and islands and the warm hearted people are sure to engulf you in their everlasting charm. From the vivid coastlines of the west to the cold mountain ranges in north, this country nestles an array of natural splendour. It is snuggled in to the northern part of Europe and lies in close proximity to the Russian neighbours. The narrow Gulf of Finland separates Estonia from Finland in the north and in the west, the middle part of the Baltic Sea keeps it off from Sweden. The land borders are shared with fellow Baltic country Latvia to the south and Russia in the east. The capital city of Tallinn is a shining portrait of medieval Europe.
Estonia, with a total land area of 45, 000 sq. kms, is comparatively bigger than its fellow European countries like Holland or Switzerland. It stretches 350 kms. from east to west and from north to south it is spread across 240 kms. Sea islands form one tenth of it’s territory and about one twentieth comprises of lakes. Estonia boasts over 1,400 lakes with the largest being Lake Peipus. The numbers of islands are approximately 1,500, with two of them large enough to be considered as individual counties. Situated on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, Estonia lies between 57.3° and 59.5° N and 21.5° and 28.1° E. The country's highest point is the Suur Munamägi in the southeast (318 m), the general terrain being plain land.
The western part of Estonia is adorned with lovely sea shores and islands. Naturally, this part of the country has become a lovely abode for the aqua and marine life aficionados. The largest town in western Estonia is Pärnu. It's the regional hub round the Baltic Sea as the most spectacular resorts are built here consisting of sophisticated spas. The aesthetic architectural landscape and neat and clean streets promotes the city as an ideal base for tourists. Another important city of western Estonia is Haapsalu, distinguished for its 19th-century castles of Russian Royal family.
Lighthouse on Saaremaa
Dense forests and endless hills define the geographic pattern of southern Estonia. The main city of this region is Tartu that is home to Estonia’s biggest university. The fortification walls built by invading Russians and Swedes, the oldest St. James Church are many other sights of interests.
The northern part of Estonia is a magical mix of natural spectre. From the towering cliffs lining parts of this Baltic Sea coast region to the most popular nature reserves, Lahemaa National Park, it showcases vast ecological features. This region is nearly equidistant from Helsinki and St. Petersburg. The gorgeous Narva Castle, jagged coasts, vast forests and wetlands also exist here.
All over Estonia, oil shale (or kukersite) and limestone deposits and forest areas take up 47% of the land and play key roles in the economy of this resource-starved country. Seasons vary widely in Estonia and offer many surprises. The sky remains cloudy for about half the year. The length of the longest day in summer is over 19 hours, while the shortest winter day lasts only six hours. It is not completely dark at night from the beginning of May until the end of July. The temperature in the summer months (June–September) is typically 15 to 18ºC; in winter, –4 to –5ºC.
Ethnic Estonians constitute nearly seventy percent of the population. Among the rest, thirty percent are mostly first and second generation of immigrants from various parts of the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia. They reside predominantly in the capital city of Tallinn and the industrial urban areas in northeastern Estonia.
The country's official language is Estonian, which closely resembles Finnish. Russian is also another language that is much more widely understood than spoken. The young generation is well acquainted with English.
Rakvere Stone Castle
The Estonian history is battered by the centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule. The first trace of human life in Estonia dates back some 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, after a glacier melted and habitable circumstances emerged. During the 12th century the Teutonic Knights ruled the Baltic region. Estonia was included to Christendom at the beginning of the 13th century, after the crusaders from Germany and Denmark invaded in 1227.
After this period, many Estonian towns and cities belonged to the Hanseatic League, including Tallinn (Reval), which had received its city status as early as in 1248. From 1558 onwards, Estonia became the battleground for a war involving Denmark, Sweden, Russia and Poland. And each of the countries left behind a deep impact of their culture on Estonia in different time.
Estonia attained independence on 24th of February in 1918. During independence, Estonia established diplomatic relations and made its existence felt throughout Europe. It included a parliament called Riigikogu, elected by all Estonians aged 18 or above.
But it fell into USSR rule in 1940 due to signing of the Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It regained its freedom from the communist rule in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The last Russian troops left in 1994 and Estonia was fully independent once more. Estonia became a NATO member state on 29 March 2004 and a European Union member state on 1 May 2004.
View of Tallinn
Estonia is a continually expanding and dynamic economy. The economic structure is still gathering pieces from the losses incurred due to frequent invasions. In spite of the rapid growth rate of the last 5-6 years, it is still way behind its Western European counterparts. But it has managed to survive the worst financial crisis, which was a consequence of the August 1998 Russian economical debacle.
Despite the fact that the economic growth during the recent years has been very extensive, Estonians earn about half of the average European income. But the differences are diminishing. Now Estonia is a member of the European Union and part of the world's largest economic zone. It became the second Baltic state to join the WTO in November 1999.
Privatisation has been implemented on large scale basis and the rules governing the economy resemble those of the Western Europe. Energy, telecommunications, railways, and other state-owned companies have come under this policy. Nowadays the Estonian government is pursuing a balanced policy and the state budget has been more or less balanced or in surplus. In 1994 it became the first economy in the world to pursue a flat tax rate structure irrespective of the income level of the citizens. It started with a uniform rate of 26% but in January 2005 the personal income tax rate was reduced to 24%. The result is during the recent few years the actual tax revenue has notably exceeded the expenditure, therefore the state loan burden is really modest.
These swift changes brought about an increase in unemployment in the 1990s. But now the situation is gradually improving and unemployment has dropped to less than 7% with the number of the employed is on the increase. Due to the rise in productivity salary rise is quite marked as well. The turnaround came with assistance from the European Union, the World Bank and the Nordic Bank. Moreover a number of Scandinavian companies are utilising the Estonian ports to relocate their operations sparking a boost for the country’s economy.
The Estonian economy is diverse with prospering industry and transport sector, as well as utilization of available natural resources in the fields related to the forest. Finland and Sweden are the most important trade partners. The tourism industry also generates significant profits with more than 2 million tourists flocking in to the country in a year. The strong information technology (IT) base and a GDP PPP per capita of $16,461 have pushed Estonia at the top among the Baltic States.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn
Estonia is a democratic country where the constitution is considered the ultimate guideline for the authorities. Here, the supreme power belongs to the people of Republic of Estonia, who exercise it via the legislative body, the Riigikogu. They participate in state governance and express their political will in the Riigikogu elections, held every 4 years. Riigikogu has the authority to appoint high officials, including the Prime Minister and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and elects, if necessary, the President.
The prime minister, nominated by the president, and a total of 14 ministers, forms the government or the executive branch. The president appoints the government after approval by the parliament.
The Riigikogu or State Assembly, a unicameral parliament that consists of 101 seats, exercises the Legislative. Members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms.
The judiciary power lies with the National Court or Riigikohus. A committee of 19 justices shoulder the judicial responsibilities. The President of the country nominates the chairman of this committee and the parliament appoints him for life.
Finally, Estonia with its vivid natural beauty and other contemporary pleasures of life proves to be an ideal get away from the fast paced lifestyle of the European continent.