The Soviet era (1944–1991) meant severe
repression and astonishment of Estonia. When the
pressure from Moscow eased from the mid-1980s, an
Estonian national movement arose. In 1991, Estonia
became independent from the Soviet Union. The 1990s were
riddled with energy crises and difficult economic
problems, while reforms for market adaptation were
implemented. In 2004, Estonia joined the EU and the NATO
After the Second World War (1939–1945), the Soviet
occupation power in Estonia carried out a brutal
overhaul of the country, at the same time as the state
was industrialized and agriculture was forcibly
collectivized. Heavy and chemical industries as well as
energy production were expanded, while political
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Estonia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In March 1949, more than 20,000 people were forced
from Estonia to Siberia and deportations continued until
the death of Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1953. This
happened partly under armed resistance from the Forest
Brothers, a guerrilla movement active until the
After the hard Stalin era, the years under Nikita
Khrushchev (1953–1964) were marked by greater openness
and some decentralization of the economy. At the same
time, the Russian position was strengthened at the
expense of the Estonian language. Russian-speaking
workers mass immigrated, recruited by large Soviet
military-industrial companies that were transferred to
northeastern Estonia and which Estonian authorities
lacked transparency and control over.
Gorbachev and the perestroika
During the 1970s, the ideological reins were
tightened again and towards the end of the decade a new
refreshment campaign was carried out. A school protest
against the crash was struck down in 1980.
However, the signs of a deep economic crisis
throughout the Soviet Union were increasing. When Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his perestroika
(renewal or reform policy) in 1986, political repression
began to wane. It became possible to openly discuss
abuses and question central directives.
An igniting spark for the Estonian national and
political revival was the protests against Moscow's
plans for environmentally hazardous mining of
phosphorite in Estonia. At the same time, a debate arose
about the survival of the Estonian language and culture
and the need to recapture Estonian history after decades
of Soviet falsification of history.
On August 23, 1987, a mass demonstration was
organized against the Additional Protocol of the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (see Older History), whose
existence was still denied by Moscow, and against the
accession to the Soviet Union. In February 1988, the
70th anniversary of Estonia's first declaration of
independence was celebrated in several parts of the
In the spring of 1988, the Estonian People's Front (Rahvarinne)
was formed in support of Gorbachev's reform policy. It
was the first openly active political movement in the
Soviet Union alongside the Communist Party. In June
1988, "The Singing Revolution" was born, when people in
the hundreds of thousands gathered for nightly national
events on Tallinn's vocal field.
The public front wins the first free elections
The conservative Estonian Communist leader Karl Vaino
was deposed and replaced by the more liberal Vaino
Kiesas. Confrontation was switched to dialogue between
the party and the Popular Front, but the demonstrations
continued during the summer. In August, the Estonian
National Independence Party was formed, which was more
radical than the People's Front and the first political
party in the Soviet Union alongside the Communist Party.
More parties were founded gradually.
On September 11, 1988, 300,000 people - almost a
quarter of the country's population - gathered at the
singer field, where for the first time political leaders
openly demanded Estonian independence.
The Communist Party sought to adapt to the
development. On November 16, 1988, Estonia's highest
sovereign (parliament) adopted a declaration of
sovereignty and a year later the decision taken during
the 1940 forced entry into the Soviet Union was
repealed. The Communist Party's power monopoly was
asserted and free elections to Estonia's highest Soviet
were held in March 1990.
In the election, 78 of the 105 seats were won by the
People's Front and other groups that advocated for
independence. The newly elected parliament appointed
Arnold Rüütel as chairman, announced that a transitional
period against independence had begun, and elected
People's Front leader Edgar Savisaar as prime minister.
The national name from the interwar period, the Republic
of Estonia, was reintroduced as was the blue-and-white
Although Moscow's leaders refused to discuss
Estonia's release, the process did not lead to
bloodshed. In a referendum in March 1991, the demand for
independence was supported by just over three quarters
of the population.
Independence is followed by social chaos
In connection with the coup attempt in Moscow in
August of the same year, Russian military vehicles
rolled into Tallinn and Russian soldiers occupied the TV
station. However, Parliament was allowed to rally and
adopted a resolution on August 20, on instant
independence for Estonia.
Two days later, it was clear that the coup in Moscow
had failed. The Tallinn government banned the Estonian
Communist Party and the KGB security service in the
country. Independence was recognized by the outside
world and Estonia was accepted as a member of the UN.
The divorce from the USSR led to social chaos with
energy crisis, commodity shortages, rationing,
hyperinflation and black stock trading. Moscow shocked
prices of oil and natural gas. Foreign trade with the
Soviet Union collapsed, industry products could not be
sold in other markets, people became unemployed and
social misery prevailed in their quarters. Government
bureaucracy was broken up, employees were laid off and
services were added on merit.
Prime Minister Savisaar was forced to resign in 1992.
He was succeeded by Tiit Vähi, whose government replaced
the Russian ruble with the Estonian crown, the crown,
which existed during Estonia's first independence. The
crown was tied to the German soil. Currency reform
became a symbol and an important instrument in the
construction of the new independent Estonia.
State socialism is being dismantled
In the 1992 elections, the bourgeois election
federation won the Confederation of Finland, led by
former dissidents and young politicians without a Soviet
stamp. Party leader and historian Mart Laar formed a
coalition government with the Social Democratic
Moderates and the National Independence Party.
In the presidential election that year, incumbent
Arnold Rüütel received the most votes but not a
sufficient majority. The decisive vote in Parliament was
won by the candidate of the Confederation of the
Federation, former Foreign Minister Lennart Meri.
Mart Laar's government initiated intensive reform
work to dismantle state socialism, introduce market
economy and privatize business. State trade support was
abolished, industrial production fell and foreign
investment became the driving force of the export
industry. Estonia became first in Europe in 1994 with a
uniform tax rate. Tens of thousands of unemployed became
their own entrepreneurs. But several reforms were
unpopular, including the retirement age. Some of them
involved severe hardships for many esters.
The Russian minority objected to the fact that those
who came to Estonia during the Soviet era were not
granted citizenship and voting rights without
conditions. Residents of the Narva area demanded
political autonomy in local referendums. Mart Laar was
convicted in a 1994 parliamentary vote following
allegations of self-dealing in state currency
Gap between city and country
In the same year, the last Soviet troops left Estonia
after difficult negotiations since independence. The
government applied for EU membership in 1995 and began
negotiating with Brussels three years later. Estonia,
Latvia and Lithuania's strong desire for NATO membership
was more cautiously countered by the Western countries,
who were expecting Russia's resistance.
Before the 1995 parliamentary elections,
dissatisfaction was felt especially among peasants and
pensioners who were hard hit by the reforms. A rural
alliance won, led by Tiit Vähi, who formed government
together with the leftist Center Party. But the
coalition broke down and the Center was replaced by the
Liberal Reform Party.
A gap grew between an economically successful young
generation in Tallinn and poor pensioners in the rural
agricultural crisis and unemployment. Russia's ruble
collapse in 1998 had severe consequences for Estonia's
food exports. In the crisis year 1999, the Center won
the election with promises of subsidies to the farmers
and tax breaks for low-income earners.
President Meri, however, set aside the skeptical EU
leader Savisaar and gave the government assignment to
the Confederation of Martial Arts. This formed a
coalition with the Reform Party's Siim Kallas and
Moderates Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Their goal was to lead
Estonia into the EU and NATO.
Membership in the EU and NATO
In the same year, Parliament elected opposition
candidate Arnold Rüütel as new president after Meri. In
2002 Mart Laar resigned and was succeeded as head of
government by Siim Kallas.
A newly formed Conservative Party, Res Publica, made
a strong choice in the 2003 elections, and Juhan Parts
leader was able to form government despite the Center
becoming the largest again.
The political agreement on Estonian EU membership was
broken when the Center decided to push for no to the EU.
However, in the 2003 referendum, 67 percent of voters
said yes to the EU. A crucial argument was that Estonia
needs the EU as protection against Russia. In the spring
of 2004, Estonia became a member of both the EU and NATO
(see Foreign Policy and Defense).
Adaptation to the EU led to high rural unemployment,
while high-tech companies flourished and the country's
economy grew. However, many Estonians emigrated for
better paid work in other EU countries, mainly Finland.
Juhan Part's unstable government fell in 2005. The
reform party's new leader Andrus Ansip took over and
received a reduced flat tax in coalition with the Center
and the Rural People's Union. In 2006, Toomas Hendrik
Ilves was elected new president by an electoral college,
after Parliament failed in three rounds to elect a
Claws and looting
In 2007, Estonia had the EU's second highest economic
growth and the second lowest unemployment rate. In the
election campaign the same year, the parties offered
each other tax cuts and increased public salaries. One
battle issue was Prime Minister Ansip's proposal to move
a 60-year war memorial from the inner city of Tallinn.
The so-called bronze soldier recalled the Soviet victory
against the German Nazi army, but was seen by the
Estonians as a symbol of Soviet occupation.
In the election, the Reform Party emerged strongly
among young ester and became the largest party. The
Center Party, which was against the relocation of the
Bronze Soldier, was supported by Russian-speaking voters
and older ester and became second largest. The new
right-wing alliance of the Confederation of Finland and
the Res Publica (IRL) ended up in third place.
Ansip became the first prime minister since the
country's independence, which could reign after an
election, now in a coalition between the Reform Party,
the IRL and the Social Democrats. The Anip government
decided to move the bronze soldier and a number of
soldier graves to a war cemetery outside the center of
Tallinn. The rioting raged among thousands of ethnic
Russians and looting was carried out in the capital. One
man was killed, over 100 injured and more than 1,000
Relations with Russia deteriorated. Estonia accused
Moscow of revolt. An unofficial Russian boycott followed
the transit traffic on Estonia's railways. Russian
hackers carried out what was called history's first IT
war, when Estonian media, banks and the government
ministry got their websites excluded.
The financial crisis is affecting Estonia
The gap between Esther and Russians in Estonia
widened. Every other est supported the Reform Party, but
three-quarters of Russians supported the Center Party.
An expert group found that the integration of the
Russian minority had failed. Russian-speaking
politicians demanded the right to vote for everyone on
equal terms (see Population and Languages). President
Ilves increased the anger of the Russians when he
declared that there was no reason for him to learn
The war between Russia and Georgia in 2008 sharpened
the tension between Tallinn and Moscow. Russia was
accused of distributing Russian passports to stateless
people in Narva and more and more ethnic Russians were
seeking Russian citizenship.
Estonia's high economic growth was reversed in the
fall of 2008, when the global financial crisis erupted.
The government made severe budget cuts and in 2009 the
Social Democrats left the coalition after vainly
demanding tax increases. The Reform Party and the IRL
further ruled in a minority.
GDP fell dramatically and the government responded
with new austerity measures. Public wages were sharply
lowered, unemployment reached record highs and labor
emigration to the rest of the EU accelerated again.
However, the economy turned upwards in 2010 and
Estonia met the requirements to join the euro zone in
the New Year 2011. The budget deficit had shrunk,
government debt was lowest in the EU and exports hit
Although many voters were hard hit by the budget
cuts, Ansip's government won the election in March 2011.
Both the Reform Party and the IRL went ahead and the
coalition gained a majority in parliament and could
continue to govern.
The actions of the Russians raise concerns
The Center Party returned after the leader Edgar
Savisaar was accused of soliciting secret party
contributions from Russia. The Social Democrats rose
sharply under the new leader Sven Mikser, who emphasized
Scandinavia's welfare societies as role models.
Then the economy slowed down and the Reform Party's
election success was replaced by falling public support.
The Minister of Justice was forced to resign following
allegations of cheating with party contributions. Voting
in an internal party led to a bitter battle and
exclusion of the former Foreign Minister.
In 2014, Ansip resigned to succeed Siim Kallas as EU
Commissioner. Kallas, in turn, wanted to take over after
Ansip as prime minister but met resistance. Instead, the
reform party elected 34-year-old Socialist Taavi Rõivas
as new party leader and head of government.
Rõiva's new coalition with the Reform Party and the
Social Democrats took office shortly after Moscow's
annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine in March.
The actions of the Russians raised concerns about
Russian provocations against Estonia. US President
Barack Obama visited Tallinn and guaranteed the country
US and NATO support. For the first time, NATO soldiers
were deployed to Estonia (see also Foreign Policy and
Tense state of domestic and foreign policy
Following Obama's visit, Russia seized an Estonian
intelligence officer on Estonian land and brought him to
Russia accused of espionage (see Calendar). The defense
reported repeated Russian violations of Estonian
airspace, and the Estonian military, together with NATO
troops, conducted a parade through the Russian-speaking
Narva near the border with Russia.
In the shadow of the tense situation, parliamentary
elections were held in March 2015. Rõiva's government
with the Reform Party and the Social Democrats lost the
election and lost the majority in parliament. After
difficult negotiations, Rõivas managed to form a
tripartite coalition with the Reform Party, the IRL and
the Social Democrats.
The collaboration intensified, and Rõivas was subject
to growing criticism. The split of the coalition became
clear when Parliament elected a new president in the
fall of 2016. The parties supported various candidates
and blocked each other. The locked situation forced a
compromise in Parliament with an unpolitical candidate.
Kersti Kaljulaid, with experience from the European
Court of Auditors, was elected President.
Subsequently, the Social Democrats and the IRL
revolted against the Reform Party and entered into a
coalition with the left-wing Center Party (see Current
Politics). New Center Leader Jüri Ratas was elected by
Parliament as Prime Minister in November 2016.