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Estonia - SOCIETY




Estonia - Society

Population

According to 1989 census figures, Estonia had a population of 1,565,662 (see table 2, Appendix). By 1994 this number had dropped to an estimated 1,506,927 as a result of negative natural growth rates and net out-migration beginning in 1990. Females outnumbered males by some 100,000 in 1991 (see fig. 4). Seventy percent of the population was urban. The birth rate in 1993 was 10.0 per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 14.0 per 1,000.

Tallinn, the capital, is the largest city, with about 479,000 inhabitants in 1989. Tartu, the second most populous city, had about 113,000 residents in the same year, and Narva, on the Russian border, had 81,000 (see table 3, Appendix). Since the late 1980s, many place-names have had their pre-Soviet names restored. These include the Saaremaa town of Kuressaare (formerly Kingissepa) and some 250 streets throughtout the country.

In 1934 Estonia had a population of 1,126,413. War losses and Soviet deportations brought that figure down to an estimated 850,000 by 1945. During the Soviet era, the population grew steadily, fueled largely by in-migration from other areas of the Soviet Union (see table 4, Appendix). During the 1950s and 1960s, net in-migration accounted for more than 60 percent of the total population growth. In recent years, net migration has reversed, with some 84,000 people, mostly Russians, having left between 1989 and 1993. In the mid-1990s, these trends were continuing, though more slowly. Since 1992 Estonia has been offering financial assistance to people wishing to resettle in Russia; in October 1993, it signed a treaty with Russia regulating repatriation and resettlement. According to public opinion polls conducted in 1993 and 1994, however, the vast majority of local Russians were not inclined to leave Estonia.

The reverse flow of migration is thought to have contributed in the early 1990s to a slight rise in the Estonian proportion of the population. In 1989 Estonians constituted only 61.5 percent of the population, while Russians made up 30.3 percent, Ukrainians 3.1 percent, Belorussians 1.7 percent, and Finns 1.1 percent; Jews, Tatars, Germans, Latvians, and Poles constituted the remaining 2.3 percent. This was in sharp contrast to 1934, when Estonians represented 88.2 percent of the population and Russians only 8.2 percent. This demographic shift was a major concern for Estonians, who feared losing control of their own country. Another worrisome statistic for Estonians was their disproportionately small share of the yearly natural population growth (births minus deaths) until 1990 and their large share of the population's decrease in 1991 (see table 5, Appendix). Although Estonians dominate in the countryside, the Russian population in Estonia is nearly 90 percent urban, living mainly in Tallinn and in the northeastern industrial towns of Kohtla-Järve, Sillamäe, and Narva. Tallinn is about 47 percent Estonian. Kohtla-Järve is only about 21 percent Estonian, Sillamäe 5 to 6 percent, and Narva 4 percent.

Estonia - Health

In the mid-1980s, the average life expectancy in Estonia peaked at about sixty-six years for males and seventy-five years for females. Thereafter, these figures declined somewhat, especially for males, most likely because of deteriorating living standards. In 1994 overall life expectancy was estimated to be 70.0 years (65.0 years for males and 75.2 years for females). Infant mortality was about 19.1 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a 1994 estimate. Fertility rates dropped from an estimated 2.3 children born per woman in 1988 to about 2.0 in 1994. Abortion remained the main form of birth control, more so among Russians than Estonians. There were 24,981 abortions in 1992 (1,389 per 1,000 live births), although that figure was down from about 36,000 a decade earlier. Most women who have abortions are married. Nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. In recent years, a greater number of people have begun living together instead of marrying. Such couples account for 17 percent of all births in the country.

The primary cause of death is cardiovascular diseases, accounting for about 64 percent of all deaths in the mid-1990s. Cancer and accidents account for a large share as well. Estonia's suicide rate over the years has reflected the country's sociopolitical condition. In the mid-1970s, during the politically stagnant Brezhnev years, there were about 530 suicides per year. In 1990, after Estonia's political reawakening, suicides dropped to 425. In 1992, as economic conditions worsened, suicides climbed again, to 498. In November 1993, twenty-nine cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) were reported in Estonia, with two deaths having resulted from AIDS-related illnesses.

The state-run health care system inherited from the Soviet regime was being decentralized in the early 1990s and had yet to meet Western standards. In 1992 the number of physicians, equivalent to thirty-two per 10,000 inhabitants, was relatively high, but there was a shortage of nurses and other auxiliary medical staff. Hospital beds numbered ninety-two per 10,000 inhabitants, down from 121 in 1990. Although the cost of medicines increased, new imports from the West eased some of the chronic shortages of the Soviet era. But overall, shortages of basic medical supplies, including disposable needles, anesthetics, and antibiotics, remained a serious problem.

Estonia - Welfare

In 1990 and 1991, Estonia began taking over more of the administration of its social welfare system from the central Soviet authorities. The government instituted its own system of payments, for example, to compensate the population for the removal of state subsidies and an increase in food prices. In April 1991, the republic passed its own pension law, the implementation of which was upset by inflation, although later the situation improved with the introduction of a new currency. Still, with some 307,000 pensioners and a rapidly aging population, pensions accounted for a large share of the country's social fund (see Recent Economic Developments, this ch.). In response, the government began gradually raising the retirement age from fifty-five for women and sixty for men to sixty for women and sixty-five for men. In January 1993, more than 1,000 angry retirees staged a protest in front of Toompea Castle to demand higher pensions. At EKR260 a month, pensions were so low that many people complained that they could barely pay their rent and utility bills.

Other welfare benefits provided by the state included financial support for invalids, low-income families, and families having three or more children. The state also provided institu-tional care for elderly people and orphans.

Estonia - Education

With a half-century of Soviet rule behind it, independent Estonia began a process of thorough educational reform. In addition to a restructuring of curricula, the government began a reorganization of the secondary school system with the goal of increasing specialization among the country's high schools. In 1993 there were some 215,000 elementary and secondary school students in 724 schools across Estonia. About 142,000 students were enrolled in Estonian-language schools and about 70,000 in Russian-language schools, mainly in Tallinn and northeastern Estonia. In addition, there were individual schools teaching in other minority languages, including Hebrew, Swedish, and Ukrainian. Estonian-language schools offer twelve years of education--nine elementary and three secondary. Education in Russian-language schools lasts eleven years. Under a 1993 law, education was made compulsory up to the ninth grade. Estonia's vocational education network is also extensive, with seventy-seven schools across the country and about 26,000 students in 1993. Literacy is nearly universal.

Estonia's system of higher education centers on six universities. Tartu University, founded in 1632, is the country's largest, with about 7,600 students in 1993. The Tallinn Technical University had about 6,800 full-time students in 1993, and the Tallinn Pedagogical University had about 3,150. The Estonian Agricultural University in Tartu had about 2,800 students, and the Tallinn Art University and the Estonian Academy of Music each enrolled about 500.

Higher education was restructured in the early 1990s into a four-year system after the five-year Soviet system was dropped. A new degree structure comparable to the Western one of baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees was established. Soviet ideological subjects such as "scientific communism" were abandoned soon after the independence movement began in 1988. With the help of exchange programs and guest lecturers from the West, new programs were begun in economics, business, foreign languages, religion, political science, and sociology.

Estonia - Religion

The dominant religion in Estonia is Evangelical Lutheranism. Estonians were Christianized by the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century. During the Reformation, Lutheranism spread, and the church was officially established in Estonia in 1686. Still, Estonians generally tend not to be very religious, because religion through the nineteenth century was associated with German feudal rule. In 1992 there were 153 Lutheran congregations in Estonia with an estimated 200,000 members. Active members totaled about 70,000.

Orthodox Christianity is the second largest faith, with eighty congregations and about 15,000 members in 1992. Forty-three Orthodox congregations are Estonian, twenty-five are Russian, and twelve are mixed. There are eleven congregations of Old Believers (see Glossary) and a convent in Kuremäe, in northeastern Estonia. After independence, ethnic divisions among Orthodox Christians resurfaced over the question of their allegiance to Moscow. Many Estonian Orthodox Church leaders favored greater autonomy from Moscow or total allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the situation that existed during Estonia's first period of independence. In 1992 the Estonian Orthodox Church, despite local Russian objections, requested autonomy from Moscow. The issue was a delicate one for Russian Orthodox patriarch Aleksiy II, who had been born in Estonia and had served there as a metropolitan. However, in April 1993 he agreed to grant the Estonian Orthodox Church autonomy.

Among other religions in Estonia in the early 1990s there were eighty-three Baptist congregations with about 6,000 adult members, as well as about fifteen Methodist and several Seventh-Day Adventist congregations. Estonia's small Roman Catholic community was visited by Pope John Paul II during a tour of the Baltic states in September 1993, and the Dalai Lama came to Estonia soon after independence, in October 1991. The Jewish community has a synagogue in Tallinn.

Estonia - Language and Culture

The Estonian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family of languages, closely related to Finnish and more distantly related to Hungarian. It is among the most difficult languages in Europe, with fourteen cases for the declension of nouns and complicated rules for their use. There are no articles, however, nor any grammatical gender in Estonian. Indeed, the same word is used for both "he" and "she": tema . Over the years, the language has been standardized, but many dialects and accents remain, especially on the islands. Most of the foreign words used by Estonians come from German. Russian, Finnish, and English also have influenced Estonian, especially in the formation of slang.

Estonian culture developed in earnest during the nineteenth-century period of national awakening. Elements of Estonian peasant culture, such as songs and folktales, were brought together by the country's first cultural elite after 1850. Between 1857 and 1861, Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald compiled and published the Estonian national epic, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), which was based on various folklore themes. Written in verse, the epic tells the story of Kalevipoeg, the mythical ancient ruler of Estonia. Another achievement of this period was the establishment of Estonia's first regularly published Estonian-language newspaper, Perno Postimees , originally published in Pärnu by Johann Voldemar Jannsen in 1857. In 1878 Carl Robert Jakobson established the newspaper Sakala , which would soon become a major promoter of the cultural renaissance. Jakob Hurt, a schoolteacher and Lutheran minister, organized a collection of folk songs in the 1880s and gave several speeches extolling the value of Estonian culture.

The national literature had an earlier beginning, in the 1810s, with the patriotic poetry of Kristjan Jaak Peterson. In the second half of the nineteenth century, romanticism and love of country found equal expression in the poetry of Lydia Koidula, Estonia's first woman poet and a key figure of the cultural awakening. The first Estonian song festival was organized in 1869 in Tartu, attracting some 800 participants and about 4,000 spectators. This event would become a major tradition in Estonian cultural life and was held roughly every five years. At the end of the nineteenth century, Estonian theater also got its beginnings in Tartu with the formation of the Vanemuine theater group.

During the first independence period, Estonian culture thrived. During 1926-33 writer Anton Hansen Tammsaare published his five-volume epic novel, Tõde ja Õigus (Truth and Justice), which covered the period 1870-1930. Lyrical poetry grew with the works of Marie Under, Henrik Visnapuu, and Betti Alver. In 1919 the Pallas art school was founded in Tartu, giving rise and expression to several new artistic currents. Architecture became a new mode of expression for Estonians as the first architects were educated in Tallinn. Their works came to include the parliament building on Toompea Hill and several functionalist buildings in the resort town of Pärnu. The Estonian Drama Theater was established in 1926, complementing the already existing Estonia Theater, which featured operettas and ballet. By 1940 Estonia had eleven professional or semiprofessional theaters.

The return of the Red Army in 1944 after the German occupation caused much of Estonia's cultural elite to flee the country. Many writers and poets settled in Sweden, where they continued to issue works through their own publishing cooperative. Under Stalin, Estonian culture was subordinated to the propagandistic needs of the regime. In 1950, as the Estonian Communist Party was being purged, so too was Estonian culture. Many writers and artists were accused of "formalism" (adherence to bourgeois standards) or nationalism and were dismissed or deported. It was only in the 1960s, during the thaw under Khrushchev, that Estonian culture regained vibrancy, the result of increased foreign contacts and the arrival on the scene of a new generation of writers, artists, composers, and poets. The last category included Paul-Eerik Rummo (appointed minister of culture in 1992), Jaan Kaplinski (elected a member of parliament in 1992), and Hando Runnel. Novelist Jaan Kross made his debut during this period as a writer of historical works; his 1978 book, The Czar's Madman , was published in English in 1993 to critical acclaim. Graphic art became popular in Estonia during the 1960s, as did abstractionism among painters. The Estonian music scene saw the coming of age of Arvo Pärt, who would emigrate in 1980 to West Germany; Veljo Tormis, a composer drawing on themes from Finno-Ugric folk music; and Neeme Järvi, who emigrated in 1980 and later became director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Song festivals still were held continuously, often providing a popular outlet for national feeling. In the place of the banned national anthem, the song My Fatherland Is My Love , based on a poem by Lydia Koidula and music by composer and conductor Gustav Ernesaks, became Estonians' de facto an-them.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Estonian culture again felt some of the cold drafts of official control, but by 1986 the influence of glasnost began to stir cultural activity anew, this time far into the realm of politics. One of the first groups to mobilize in 1987 was the Estonian Heritage Society, which led volunteer projects to restore many of Estonia's cultural landmarks. At a 1986 writers' conference, the first complaints were publicly aired about censorship and Russification. In the main literary publications--Sirp ja Vasar , Vikerkaar , and Looming --an unprecedented number of articles began to appear dealing with hitherto banned topics. In April 1988, during a two-day public forum, nearly fifty of Estonia's most prominent cultural figures met to voice their concerns about the state of Estonia's culture, language, and people. Open criticism was leveled against the old-guard party leadership of Karl Vaino, and demands were made for real political reform. The forum was an awe-inspiring event for the hundreds of thousands of Estonians who listened on radio; yet it was only a prelude to the "singing revolution" that would follow that summer.

During the next several years, many of Estonia's artists, poets, and writers would become involved in politics. Thirteen cultural figures were elected to the Supreme Soviet in 1990, nearly twenty to the Riigikogu, the new legislature, in 1992. Culture suffered, however, because of economic decline. Paper shortages in 1990 and 1991 limited the number of books and literary journals that could be published. Art supplies, in high demand, often were available only in exchange for hard currency. Still, foreign contacts opened up completely with opportunities to view new creative works and to spread Estonian culture abroad. With independence again in hand, Estonia could look forward to another era of free cultural development in a common European home.





CITATION: Federal Research Division of the
Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.


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