A republic in northeastern Europe on the Baltic Sea; Also called: Esthonia.
Country in N Europe, bounded E by Russia, S by Latvia, and N and W by the Baltic Sea.
Under the 1992 constitution, there is a 101-member, popularly elected Riigikogu (parliament), serving a five-year term. Parliament elects a president for a similar term. The president appoints the prime minister.
Independent states were formed in the area now known as Estonia during the 1st century AD. In the 13th century southern Estonia came under the control of the Teutonic Knights, German crusaders, who converted the inhabitants to Christianity. The Danes, who had taken control of northern Estonia, sold this area to the Teutonic Knights 1324.
By the 16th century German nobles owned much of the land. In 1561 Sweden took control of the north, with Poland governing the south; Sweden ruled the whole country 1625–1710. Estonia came under Russian control 1710, but it was not until the 19th century that the Estonians started their movement for independence.
struggle for independence
Estonia was occupied by German troops during World War I. The Soviet forces, who tried to regain power 1917, were overthrown by Germany March 1918, restored Nov 1918, and again overthrown with the help of the British navy May 1919, when Estonia, having declared independence 1918, was established as a democratic republic. A fascist coup 1934 replaced the government.
In 1939 Germany and the USSR secretly agreed that Estonia should come under Russian influence and the country was incorporated into the USSR as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic 1940. During World War II Estonia was again occupied by Germany 1941–44, but the USSR subsequently regained control.
Nationalist dissent grew from 1980. In 1988 Estonia adopted its own constitution, with a power of veto on all Soviet legislation. The new constitution allowed private property and placed land and natural resources under Estonian control. An Estonian popular front (Rahvarinne) was established Oct 1988 to campaign for democratization, increased autonomy, and eventual independence, and held mass rallies. In Nov of the same year Estonia’s supreme soviet (state assembly) voted to declare the republic “sovereign” and thus autonomous in all matters except military and foreign affairs, although the presidium of the USSR’s supreme soviet rejected this as unconstitutional. In 1989 a law was passed replacing Russian with Estonian as the main language and in Nov of that year Estonia’s assembly denounced the 1940 incorporation of the republic into the USSR as “forced annexation”.
Several parties had sprung up by the elections of March 1990—the Popular Front, the Association for a Free Estonia, and the Russian-oriented International Movement—and a coalition government was formed. A plebiscite in the spring of 1991 voted 77.8% in favor of independence. By the summer the republic had embarked on a program of privatization. The prices of agricultural products were freed July 1991.
On 20 Aug 1991, in the midst of the attempted anti-Gorbachev coup in the USSR, during which Red Army troops were moved into Tallinn and the republic's main port was blocked by the Soviet navy, Estonia declared its full independence and outlawed the Communist Party. In Sept 1991 this declaration was recognized by the Soviet government and Western nations; the new state was granted membership in the United Nations.
In Jan 1992 prime minister Edgar Savisaar and his cabinet resigned after failing to alleviate food and energy shortages. Tiit Vahl, the former transport minister, formed a new government and in June a new constitution was approved by referendum. The Sept 1992 presidential election failed to produce a clear winner, and in the parliamentary elections no single party won an overall majority. In Oct 1992 parliament chose nationalist Lennart Meri of the Fatherland Group as the new president. Meri appointed Mart Laar as prime minister, a free-marketeer, who, aged 31, referred to himself as “Thatcher’s grandson”. Laar was voted out of office by parliament Sept 1994, and President Meri appointed Andres Tarand to replace him. The last Russian troops were withdrawn Aug 1994.
ex-communists restored to power
The Estonian people suffered economic hardship as a result of the government's on-going reform program and in the March 1995 elections the former communists, under Tiit Vahl, won the largest number of seats in parliament.