Estonia Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Estonia is a country located in Northern Europe. With the capital city of Tallinn, Estonia has a population of 1,326,546 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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 defense alliance.

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 repression increased.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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 mid-1950s.

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. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Estonia.

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 country.

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 flag.

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 transactions.

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 president.

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 temporarily arrested.

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 Russian.

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 record.

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 Defense).

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.

Estonia Modern History