Estonia Shares Borders with Just 2 Countries

Estonia facts reveal that the country borders (on land) only 2 neighbors: Latvia on the south and Russia on the east. What about west and north? There, the country borders the sea – on the north, the Gulf of Finland (with Finland lying further north) and on the west, the Baltic Sea (with Sweden lying further west). Both of the country’s land borders are fairly short – the border with Latvia is 165 miles long and the border with Russia 180 miles long.

Estonia Is Divided into 15 Counties

Estonia facts show that its counties were first mentioned as early as the 12th century, in the document known as the Livonian Chronicle of Henry. Livonia was a region that spread through modern day Estonia and Latvia, and was populated by various Baltic and Finnish people.

The 15 counties of Estonia (maakonnad) are further divided into over 200 municipalities, of which fewer than 15% are considered urban municipalities (linnad) and more than 85% rural municipalities (vallad). The biggest county in Estonia, containing 23 municipalities, is the Harju County, which is home to more than half a million people and is also the location of Estonia’s capital Tallinn.

Tallinn Is the only City in Estonia with a Population of over 100,000

Estonia facts reveal that the country is one of the smallest in Europe, with a total population of 1.3 million people, so it is no big surprise that among its cities only Estonia’s capital Tallinn boasts a population larger than 100,000 (around 450,000). The second largest city is Tartu with 97,000 inhabitants, and, after that, there is only one other city with a population over 50,000 people – Narva in the Ira-Vidu County in the northeast of Estonia.

For comparison: while the USA’s 17th largest city (Charlotte, North Carolina) alone has a population of around 800,000 people, Estonia’s 20 biggest cities barely reach that mark together.

Estonia Celebrates 2 Independence Days

How is that possible? Well, Estonia had to achieve independence from Russia twice in the 20th century: for the first time in 1918, and then again in 1991. The original Independence Day occurred on February 24, 1918, 11 months after the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 (and yes, the February Revolution in Russia actually took place in March, since they used the old Julian calendar at the time), but was occupied by the Soviet Union two decades later, and stayed under that occupation (with an intermezzo of a few years of German occupation during World War II) until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.The earlier date is thus known as Independence Day, and August 20, 1991 is known as the Restoration of Independence Day.

Estonia Is a Very Ethnically Diverse Country

Estonia facts reveal that this is a consequence of the country’s vibrant history, which combined various cultures in a relatively small geographical area. Estonians represent the majority of the population, with around 69%, followed by Russians with 25%, Ukrainians with 2%, and Belarusians, Finns, Jews, Tatars, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Germans and Swedes each representing less than 1% of the entire population.

But the situation is very different in the Ida-Viru County in the northeastern part of Estonia (where it borders on Russia), where Estonians represent less than 20% of the population, and Russians more than 70%. This is also the reason why, although Estonian is the only official language in the country, Russian is also frequently used.

Estonia has been Conquered by Many Countries through the Centuries

Ancient Estonia has existed ever since 8,500 BC, but was conquered by Danes and Germans in the early 13th century. After this, it became the battleground of a great conflict that lasted for over two centuries and is nowadays known as the Northern Crusades. During the Crusades, the Christian kings of Denmark, Sweden and Poland, together with German military orders such as Teutonic Knights and the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, ravaged the pagan lands around the southern and eastern shores of the Baltic Sea.

Its lands were conquered by the Danish crusaders and later passed among various empires of the past centuries: the Terra Mariana, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Swedish Empire, the Russian Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Estonia’s final liberation finally came in 1991, when the mighty Soviet Union dissolved and left behind 15 new independent countries. Not counting Russia, which was declared the formal successor to the Soviet Union, Estonia was the second country to declare its independence (after Lithuania).

Estonia Suffered Many Casualties during World War II

Although Estonia was not directly involved in World War II (not fighting actively for the Allies nor the Axis, but only against the occupation of its land), it suffered heavy losses. Estonia lost around 20-25% of its population during the war; some left the country and some died as the result of the war. Estonia was first occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, but the Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union a year later and reached Estonia in July 1941, starting the second occupational wave of Estonia during World War II. German occupation lasted until September 1944, when the Nazi forces started evacuating back to the west, and Estonia started hoping for independence again, but hope was short lived – as soon as the German soldiers left, the Soviet Red Army occupied Estonia again.

In addition to suffering tens of thousands of deaths, Estonia also lost most of its ports and railways, and had nearly half of its industry destroyed.

The Estonian Language Belongs to the Uralic group, Not the Slavic as Russian

Although Estonia and its culture are historically tightly connected to Russia, the Estonian language has very little connection to the Russian language. Russian belongs to the Slavic group of languages (together with Czech, Slovak, Slovenia, Serbian, Bulgarian, Polish and others), while Estonian belongs to the Uralic group of languages – a very small group of languages that are nowadays spoken by only 25 million people across Finland, Hungary, Estonia and parts of Russia.

The Estonian language is most similar to the Finnish language, although it has also been heavily influenced by Swedish and German. But, despite having Germanic influences, the Estonian language is believed to be difficult to learn for English-speaking people.

Estonia Is One of the Least Religious Countries in the World Today

Estonia facts show that the statistics from different studies vary greatly, but between 70 and 80% of Estonians don’t belong to any religion. According to a Gallup poll on irreligion between the years 2006 and 2011, Estonia is the fourth least religious country in the world with 78% of the population being irreligious. It is surpassed only by Sweden with 88%, Denmark with 83% and China with 82%. For comparison: in the USA, only 36% claim to be irreligious.

Of those Estonians that are religious, more than half are Orthodox Christians and about one-third Lutheran Christians.

Estonia Is a Highly Developed Country

Despite its sometimes troubled past, Estonia facts nowadays reveal that Estonia is a great place to live – in contrast with many other former Soviet Republics. According to the 2015 Social Progress Index list, Estonia is ranked 23rd in the world, only seven places behind the United States and 12 places behind the United Kingdom. According to the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, Estonia is the 8th best country to live in, beating both the US and the UK, which placed 12th and 13th respectively. And, according to the World Bank, Estonia has been classified as a high-income economy ever since 2006.

Many of Us Use a Technology Developed in Estonia Every Day

In 2003, the first version of the Skype software, which provides video and voice calls over the internet, was presented to the public. Guess what? It was created by three Estonians (Ahti Heinla, Priit Kasesalu, and Jaan Tallinn) in cooperation with Janus Friis from Denmark and Niklas Zennström from Sweden.

Over the years, Skype has been acquired by various international business corporations, including e-Bay in 2005 (for $2.6 billion) and Microsoft in 2009 (for $8.5 billion). Today it has nearly 700 million users worldwide, out of which over 100 million use the Estonian software each month, and represents about 40% of the worldwide telephone market. Most of the development team and nearly half of all employees of Skype are still situated in Estonia nowadays.

Estonia Is One of the Most Wired Countries in the World Today

Access to the internet is a civil right in Estonia, and various projects at national level for supporting internet usage in the country in the past decade have catapulted Estonia to one of the leading countries in this area. Over 42% of the world’s population use the internet nowadays and in Europe this share is much bigger – about 70%. But these numbers are nothing compared to how many Estonians have access to the internet nowadays – over 80%. The Estonian government even undertook an ambitious project of making 100 Mbit/s wideband internet accessible to every single Estonian by 2015. Go Estonia!

Chess Grandmaster Paul Keres Was Born in Estonia

Estonia facts reveal that Grandmaster Keres was probably among the top 10 chess players in the world for most of the period from the late 1930s until the mid-1960s. He was the three-time Soviet Chess Champion, five times a near-candidate for the World Chess Champion title, and has on different occasions defeated nine undisputed chess champions of the world, including Alexander Alekhine, Jose Raul Capablanca, Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Botvinnik.

The great chess champion was not just adored during his lifetime, but also even after his death – his funeral in June 1975 in Tallinn was attended by more than 100,000 of his fans, which represented around 10% of the country’s entire population!

Estonia Has an Extremely High Literacy Rate

Estonia facts also reveal that this small Baltic country has one of the highest literacy rates in the world – 99.8%, greatly surpassing the world average of 84% (for comparison: USA literacy rate is 99%). There are only seven countries in the world that surpass Estonia’s literacy rate: Andorra, Finland, Greenland, North Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Norway. This success is definitely also a consequence of Estonian efforts to spread internet usage throughout the country, great support of the government to education on various levels, and a rich literary history that started as early as the 12th century.

Estonia has over 1,500 Islands

Most of these 1,500 islands are tiny (less than 4 square miles) and only four of them exceed 19 square miles. The largest of them is Saaremaa, with an area of 1,302 square miles, and which is home to over 30,000 inhabitants. The island has been inhabited ever since 5000 BC by the Osilians, the notorious Estonian Vikings, whose descendants still live on the island today. The second biggest island is Hiiumaa, measuring slightly less than 386 square miles in area, and boasting slightly fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. Both islands are popular tourist destinations – for both domestic and foreign tourists.

Tallinn Offers Free Public Transportation

How many cities do you know of that offer free public transportation? The answer is very likely none, but Estonia’s capital Tallinn offers exactly that – completely free public transport for residents of the city. And why would the city officials decide to do this? There are five main reasons. First, it enables the poorer population of the city to have access to transport. Second, it decreases the number of cars in the city, consequently also decreasing levels of pollution and improving the quality of the air. Third, it brings more inhabitants to register as residents, thus increasing the tax revenue of the city. Fourth, it helps out local businesses since all parts of the city are easily accessible. Fifth, it makes people feel like they live in a generous and caring city. Simple, but very effective…

Estonia’s Voters Can Vote Online

In fact, as Estonia facts reveal, this small and fairly unknown Baltic country was the first country in the world to offer its population the possibility to vote online in both general and parliamentary elections. The year 2005 was the first time local elections in Estonia and the Estonian National Electoral Committee offered voters the choice of voting online. The response of the public was reasonably good – over 9,000 people (or 1.85% of all who voted) voted online. But the popularity of e-voting is increasing year on year; in the 2015 parliamentary elections in Estonia, which saw the victory of the Reform Party, more than 175,000 voters (more than 30% of all who voted) cast their votes online.

The process is simple: online voters need an Estonian ID smart card (the usual mandatory ID document in Estonia) and can vote from four to six days prior to Election Day. They can vote as many times as they like, but only the last vote counts, so the voters can still cast only one vote each as is usual in modern democratic systems.

Estonia Has More than One Capital

Sure, Tallinn is the official capital of Estonia, serving as the country’s official political, business, financial and touristic center, but Estonia also has various other capitals that change throughout the year. For example, the country’s second largest city Tartu was historically considered the cultural center of Estonia and Estonians, while Parnu, a small city of 40,000 inhabitants, is considered to be the summer capital of the country. No wonder, since the city lies on the beautiful southwestern coast of Estonia…

Estonia’s Population Is Decreasing

Since 1990, when Estonia hit its peak population, its population has decreased by almost 15% (230,000 people)! This means that the current population of Estonia is lower than it was in the 1970s. The reasons for this are many, but the decrease in population in recent decades has mostly been caused by Estonia having more emigrants than immigrants. Another reason is the low Estonian total fertility rate: approximately 1.5 children born per woman in recent years. The total fertility rate in the US is slightly less than 2 children per woman, and the world average is around 2.5 children per woman.

There Are More Women than Men in Estonia

Nowadays, the global sex ratio is approximately 50.2% men and 49.8% women, but in Estonia, males constitute the smaller part of the population, with only about 45% – the remaining 55% are females. Many men might understand this leads to Estonia being a heaven for men by offering an abundance of women, but beware – one of the main reasons for the smaller population of men in Estonia is relatively low average life expectancy for men – about 68 years (lower than in most Western European countries), while life expectancy for women surpasses 79 years.

Estonia Facts — Facts about Estonia Summary

Estonia FactsEstonia – full name Republic of Estonia (Eesti Vabariik) – is a small country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe with approximately 1,300,000 inhabitants. Estonia has a rich and sometimes challenging history, being occupied or conquered by various other nations through the centuries, most recently by the Soviet Union from 1944 until 1991. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Estonia has greatly developed, becoming one of the best countries to live in in the region. It boasts great economical and press freedom, a high literacy rate and a good quality of life overall. It is also a member of the European Union, NATO, Eurozone and the Schengen area. Estonian is the only official language of the country, but as many Russians still live in Estonia nowadays, Russian is also frequently spoken.