History of Tallin    History of Tartu

Estonia, Throghout Time

Estonia has consistently and unfortunately been a land that has seen much conflict. As a land bridge connecting East and West in the northern part of the hemisphere, Estonia has been considered geographically strategic; thus, countries such as Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland have all fought to control the country.

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In the early 1600s, Estonia was a part of the Swedish Empire. She was ceded to the Russian Empire in the early 1700s. Over two hundred years later, just when Estonia had achieved a measure of independence, World War II broke out and the area was annexed by the Soviet Union. During the war, Germany occupied Estonia from 1941-44, when the Soviets reoccupied the country. Only recently has Estonia finally regained her independence following the Soviet collapse. Estonia has since established a constitution and a parliamentary government which is headed by a prime minister and a president. Estonia has also joined the European Union.

During her long history of occupation, several key historical influences stand out. Though German immigrants, particularly Baltic Germans, introduced enlightened ideas such as freedom of thought, fraternity among men and the importance of a literate populace, Estonians themselves spearheaded a cultural awakening in the mid 1800s. This movement featured the founding of an Estonian national epic, called "Kalevipoeg," and other sweeping reforms indicative of a new national pride. Though it proved to be short-lived after a "Russification" period occurred beginning in 1889, the seeds had been sown for a strong foundation of Estonian nationalism.

Another key period was Estonia's first real independence, beginning in 1918 and lasting until World War II. During this period, Estonia experienced a number of political and social reforms that further established the land as as autonomous area. A land reform in 1919 was an important step. This reform redistributed to the population (especially to volunteer soldiers) large estates of land that had belonged to the German Baltic nobles of a bygone era. Great cultural advances occurred during this time of independence, including the establishment of Estonian-language schools and encouragement of home-grown artists. One shiningly progressive cultural phenomena, particularly in comparison with the Nazi barbarism that was to shortly shock the world, was the 1925 guarantee of cultural automony to Estonia's numerous minority groups, including its sizable population of Jews.

Germany and Russia signed a pact in 1939 which basically divided up several countries between the two powers. Estonia fell under the Soviet "sphere of influence" and eventually the Soviet government strong-armed Estonia into supplying the country as a base for Soviet military garrisons. As many as 25,000 Soviet troops were stationed in Estonia for the duration of World War II. It was during this dark time that many thousands of the Estonian Jewish population were deported to Siberia. Also, the Nazis used Estonian land as a place to build extermination camps which killed thousands of Jews brought there from other parts of Europe.


Copyright Roy Mason 2010