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Wednesday 22nd March
Estonia Information - Page 2
People have lived in Estonia since the Stone Age. Various tribes migrated to Estonia and settled in the country after the retreat of the continental glaciers about eleven thousand years ago. As no marked influx of new peoples has occurred since then, the settlement of Estonia could be considered to be among the most permanent in the whole of Europe. The Estonians worshipped their own gods and were one of the last European countries to convert to Christianity. After the first Crusades to the Holy Land, the Pope sent crusaders also to the North, to bring Christianity to the peoples of the Eastern Baltic Seaboard, among them the Estonians.

The Estonian capital city of Tallinn was founded by Danish and German crusaders and merchants. In the mid-fourteenth century the Danes sold their possessions in North Estonia to the Livonian Order - a religious fraternity of German crusaders.

In 1523 Tallinn became a member of the mercantile [North German] Hanseatic League but as a result of the long period of wars (1558-1629) between the feudal states of Old Livonia, Russia, Sweden, Denmark and Poland, Sweden gained control of Estonia. Swedish rule continued until the beginning of the eighteenth century when Russia conquered Estonia in the Great Northern War (1700-1721).

The Russians ruled for two centuries and after the First World War, in 1918, Estonia declared its independence. The War of Independence (1918-20) was fought against the Russian Bolsheviks and local Baltic German militia. During the war Estonia secured its borders and Soviet Russia recognised Estonia's independence on 2 February 1920.

During the Second World War in 1940 Soviet troops occupied Estonia annexing it to the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. However, in 1941 the Germans defeated the Soviet Army and occupied Estonia until 1944. Although Estonia tried to restore its independence it was incorporated as a Republic of the USSR.

Estonia finally regained its independence with the break-up of the USSR at the beginning of the 1990s. The independence was restored in 1991 and the last Soviet troops left in 1994.

Since regaining independence Estonia has pursued a policy of co-operation with Western Europe. In December 2002 Estonia took part in EU accession negotiations with nine other countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia). The Accession Treaty was signed on 16 April 2003 with 1 May 2004 the formal entry date. EU enlargement meant the unification of twenty-five countries after over half a century of political division and the "Cold War" which followed World War II.

Since becoming independent the Republic of Estonia has transferred public owned business to the private sector of the economy.

The agricultural sector contributes a relatively small amount to the Gross Domestic Product but employs a significant number of the working population. Agricultural products include potatoes, cereals, vegetables, fruit, livestock and dairy products. Estonia also has a fish farming industry as well as a fishing fleet.

Major industries include engineering, timber, furniture, paper, textiles and processed food. Estonia benefits from strong electronics and telecommunications sectors.

The services sector of the economy has grown rapidly and accounts for much of Estonia's economic activity. Banking, finance and other business services have undergone considerable changes in the last decade.

At the beginning of the century the tourist industry catered for Finns, Scandinavians and Germans but has since widened its activities to establish Estonia in the wider international tourist market. (2008)

Johann Koler (1826-1899), an Estonian painter, is considered to be the founder of Estonian art. With his unique and easily recognizable style, depicting city life, Eduard Wiiralt (1898-1954) is no doubt one of the most interesting Estonian artists of the twentieth century. August Weizenberg (1837-1921), a classical sculptor, was the founder of Estonian sculpture. Amandus Adamson (1855-1929) was another famous Estonian sculptor, whose allegorical works reflected his feelings for his country.

The first book containing a text in Estonian was published in 1525. The national epic, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), was written by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803-1882) in the mid-nineteenth century. Systematic collection of folk poetry started more than a hundred years ago, and the collection is now one of the largest in the world.

Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940) is acclaimed as Estonia's greatest writer and Marie Under (1883-1980) is considered to be Estonia's greatest modern poet. Other Estonian authors include Lydia Koidula, Eduard Vilde, Juhan Liiv, Gustav Suits, Karl Ristikivi, Jaan Kross, Jaan Kaplinski, Doris Kareva, Juhan Viiding, Viivi Luik and many others.

Arvo Part, born in 1935, is one of the most frequently performed contemporary composers in the world. In 1970, he produced his original, 'tintinnabulatory' pieces, but achieved his renowned subtlety and world fame with his large-scale religious works in his later period.

Folk singing and dancing helped Estonians preserve their national identity during their country's occupation. In the late 1980s mass singing demonstrations took place in Tallinn and elsewhere in Estonia that gathered hundreds of thousands of people. This was known as the "Singing Revolution".

Estonia is a sporting nation. The most popular spectator sport is basketball. Hockey and football are also played. Some Estonians play football for foreign teams.

Estonians are successful in athletics. Erki Nool won the Gold Medal for the decathalon at the Sydney Olympics. Cycling is also popular with Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu a leading international cyclist.

Estonians are well known for cross-country skiing, especially Andrus Veerpalu and Kristiina Shmigun. Other winter sports are skating and ice-boating.

Independence from Soviet Russia on 24 February 1918 is celebrated as well as Victory Day (over the Baltic German Landeswehr in the War of Independence 1919) on 23 June. Day of Restoration of Independence on 20 August 1991 is also observed.

New Year, Christmas, Easter, Spring Day, Pentecost and St. John's Day are celebrated.

News from Estonia can be found in Newslink.

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