Estonia

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Eesti Vabariik
Flag of Estonia Coat of arms of Estonia
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: none
Anthem: Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm
Location of Estonia
Capital Tallinn
59°26′ N 24°45′ E
Largest city Tallinn
Official language(s) Estonian
Government
President
Prime Minister
Parliamentary democracy
Arnold Rüütel
Andrus Ansip
Independence
- Declared
- Recognised
- Occupied by USSR

Independence
- Re-declared
From Russia and Germany
24 February 1918
2 February 1920-
16 June 1940
From Soviet Union
20 August 1991
Area
• Total

• Water (%)

45,226 km² ( 129th)
{{{areami²}}} mi²

4.56%%
Population
2005 est.
• [[As of |]] census

Density

1,332,893 ( 148th)

29.8/km² ( 144th)
{{{population_densitymi²}}}/mi²
GDP ( PPP)
• Total
• Per capita
2006 estimate
$23,875 million ( 101st)
$17,672 ( 46th)
HDI ( 2003) 0.853 ( 38th) – high
Currency Estonian kroon ( EEK)
Time zone
• Summer ( DST)
EET ( UTC+2)
EEST ( UTC+3)
Internet TLD .ee
Calling code +372

The Republic of Estonia, or Estonia ( Estonian: Eesti Vabariik or Eesti) is a country in Northern Europe and a member state of European Union since 2004. It is separated from Finland in the north by the narrow Gulf of Finland and from Sweden in the west by the middle part of the Baltic Sea. Estonia has land borders with its fellow Baltic country Latvia to the south and Russia to the east.

History

Human settlement in Estonia became possible when the ice, from the last glacial era, melted away 11,000–13,000 years ago. The oldest known settlement in Estonia was located on the Pärnu River, near the town of Sindi (Pulli settlement, by village Pulli - on right bank of Pärnu River). It dates back to the middle of the 8th millennium BC.

Estonia was first christianised when the German " Livonian Brothers of the Sword" and Denmark conquered the land by 1227. Subsequent foreign powers that controlled Estonia at various times included Denmark, Sweden, Poland and finally ( 1710 de facto, 1721 de jure, see Treaty of Nystad) Russia. However, the upper classes and the higher middle class remained primarily Baltic German until roughly 1918. During and immediately after World War II, the remaining Germans were forced out by Hitler and, later, Stalin.

Following the collapse of Imperial Russia after the October Revolution, Estonia declared itself an independent republic on February 24, 1918. After the Estonian Liberation War and Treaty of Tartu signed in February 2, 1920 Estonia maintained this independence for twenty-two years, and the very same parliamentary government was reinstated in 1992, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It included a parliament called Riigikogu, elected by all Estonian citizens aged 18 or above. Riigikogu was disbanded in 1934 and the country was ruled by decree by president Konstantin Päts until the parliamentary elections in 1938.

The country was occupied by Soviet troops in June 1940, as a consequence of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Many of its political and intellectual leaders were killed or repressed, including Estonia's first president Konstantin Päts, who was deported to Russia. The country was occupied by the German Third Reich from 1941 to 1944, when Soviet forces reconquered it. Estonia regained its independence on August 20, 1991, with the Singing Revolution and the collapse of the Soviet Union. August 20 is now a national holiday in Estonia.

The last Russian troops left on August 31, 1994, and Estonia joined NATO on March 29, 2004 and the European Union on May 1, 2004.

Estonia signed a border agreement with Russia on May 18, 2005, slightly redefining the border they had been using since 1991, which the Riigikogu, the Estonian parliament, ratified on June 20, 2005. However, Russia took exception to Estonia's preamble to the law, which makes references to the Estonian state's uninterrupted legal continuity during the Soviet period and indirect references to the Soviet occupation of Estonia and announced that it is revoking its signature and that it desires to restart negotiations with Estonia.

Estonia has said that there is no need to renegotiate the border and that it has no land claims against Russia.

Etymology

After Estonia regained independence in 1991, there ensued a public debate on the chosen English language name for Estonia. The ending –onia in the name Estonia (earlier also Esthonia) is of Latin origin, and can remind one of Eastern European countries and of stones (or Stone Age). Many Estonians tend to identify more with Northern Europe, and could prefer the country to have a more Nordic-sounding name. The most widely-known of these alternative English language names is Estland, which is in fact the name for the country in most other Germanic languages (e.g., German, Dutch, Danish, and Swedish).

Politics

The Estonian Parliament building in Tallinn
The Estonian Parliament building in Tallinn

Estonia is a constitutional democracy, with a president elected by its unicameral parliament (elections every four years). The government or the executive branch is formed by the prime minister, nominated by the president, and a total of 14 ministers. The government is appointed by the president after approval by the parliament.

Legislative power lies with the unicameral parliament, the Riigikogu or State Assembly, which consists of 101 seats. Members are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. The supreme judiciary court is the National Court or Riigikohus, with 19 justices whose chairman is appointed by the parliament for life on nomination by the president.

Internet voting has already been used in local elections in Estonia, and the lawmakers in Estonia have authorized internet voting for parliamentary elections as well. (see COM).

Counties

Estonia numbers 15 main administrative subdivisions. Due to the geographical and demographic size of these subdivisions, they are to be considered counties rather than states (Estonian: pl. maakonnad; sg. - maakond). Here is a list of them:

Counties of Estonia
Counties of Estonia
  • Harju County (Estonian: Harjumaa)
  • Hiiu County (Estonian: Hiiumaa)
  • Ida-Viru County (Estonian: Ida-Virumaa)
  • Järva County (Estonian: Järvamaa)
  • Jõgeva County (Estonian: Jõgevamaa)
  • Lääne County (Estonian: Läänemaa)
  • Lääne-Viru County (Estonian: Lääne-Virumaa)
  • Pärnu County (Estonian: Pärnumaa)
  • Põlva County (Estonian: Põlvamaa)
  • Rapla County (Estonian: Raplamaa)
  • Saare County (Estonian: Saaremaa)
  • Tartu County (Estonian: Tartumaa)
  • Valga County (Estonian: Valgamaa)
  • Viljandi County (Estonian: Viljandimaa)
  • Võru County (Estonian: Võrumaa)

Geography

Map of Estonia

Estonia lies on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea on the level northwestern part of the rising east European platform between 57.3° and 59.5° N and 21.5° and 28.1° E. Average elevation reaches only 50 m, and the country's highest point is the Suur Munamägi in the southeast (318 m).

Oil shale (or kukersite) and limestone deposits, along with forests which cover 47% of the land, play key economic roles in this generally resource-poor country. Estonia boasts over 1,400 lakes (most very small, with the largest, Lake Peipus, (Peipsi in Estonian) being 3,555 km²), numerous bogs, and 3,794 kilometers of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. The number of islands and islets is estimated at some 1,500, with two of them large enough to constitute their own counties, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa.

Climate

See Weather (English), Ilm (Estonian) or Pogoda (Russian).

Economy

As a member of the European Union, Estonia is part of the world's largest economic zone. In 1999, Estonia experienced its worst year economically since it regained independence in 1991, largely because of the impact of the August 1998 Russian financial crisis. Estonia joined the WTO in November 1999 — the second Baltic state to join — and continued its EU accession talks. Privatization of energy, telecommunications, railways, and other state-owned companies is a continuing process. With assistance from the European Union, the World Bank and the Nordic Bank, Estonia completed most of its preparations for EU membership by the end of 2002 and now has one of the strongest economies of the new member states of the European Union, which Estonia joined on 1 May 2004. The Estonian economy is growing fast, partly due to a number of Scandinavian companies relocating their routine operations and Russian oil transit using Estonian ports. Estonia has a strong information technology (IT) sector. GDP PPP per capita is at $17,672, the highest among the Baltic states.

The north-west coast of Estonia near Nõva, Lääne county
The north-west coast of Estonia near Nõva, Lääne county

In 1994, Estonia became among the first in the world to adopt a flat tax, with a uniform rate of 26% regardless of the income a person makes. In January 2005 the personal income tax rate was reduced to 24%. A subsequent reduction to 23% followed in January 2006. In the following years the income tax rate will be decreased by 1% annually to reach 20% by January 2009.

Since January 1, 2000, companies have not had to pay income tax on re-invested income. However, tax is due on profit distributions (incl. hidden distributions) at a rate of 24%. Despite the fact that only the moment of taxation was shifted from earning profits to their distribution, leaving the rest of the corporate taxation system mostly unchanged, the current legislation is said to be in violation of one of the fundamental freedoms of the European Union - free movement of capital. Estonia is to remove this hindrance by January 2009 when the temporary derogation expires.

In June 1992, Estonia replaced the Ruble with its own freely convertable currency, the Kroon (EEK). A currency board was created and the new currency was pegged to the German Mark at the rate at 8 EEK for 1 DEM. When Germany introduced the Euro the peg was changed to 15.6466 Kroon for 1 Euro. The Estonian government is intending to adopt the Euro as the country's currency on 1 January 2007, and finalised the design of Estonia's Euro coins in late 2004.

Demographics

Indigenous Estonian-speaking ethnic Estonians constitute nearly 70 percent of the population. First and second generation immigrants from various parts of the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia comprise most of the remaining 30 percent. The latter, mostly Russian-speaking ethnic minorities reside predominantly in the capital city (Tallinn) and the industrial urban areas in northeastern Estonia ( Ida-Virumaa county). There is also a small group of Finnish descent.

The country's official language is Estonian, which is closely related to Finnish. Russian is also widely spoken as a secondary language by 30-70 year old ethnic Estonians because Russian was a compulsory second language in school during the Soviet era. Younger people, born at the end of or following the Soviet era, can usually speak English, having learned it as their first foreign language.

Estonia has the second highest HIV adult prevalence rate in Europe after Ukraine (1.1% in 2001).

Ethnicity

According to the most recent national census taken in 2003, the population of Estonia comprised the following self-reported ethnic groups:

  • 68.4% Estonians
  • 25.7% Russians
  • 2.1% Ukrainians
  • 1.2% Belarusians
  • 0.8% Finns
  • 1.7% others

Religion

Tallinn, churches in the background
Tallinn, churches in the background

The predominant religion of indigenous ethnic Estonians is the Christian belief in the form the Protestant Evangelical Lutheran confession, however less than a quarter of ethnic Estonians define themselves as active believers at present. Most believers amongst the Russian minority are Eastern Orthodox. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has since 1920s recognised a separate national Estonian Orthodox Church, which has led to strained relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, which claimed sole authority over Orthodox believers in the country during the period of Soviet rule.

Today, over 31% of the adult population are active followers of a particular faith, and they are made up of:

  • 15% Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
  • 14% Orthodox
  • 0.5% Baptists
  • 0.5% Roman Catholics

There are also a number of smaller Protestant and Jewish groups, as well as some neopagans who revere the local ancient deity Taara.

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