THE PORTRAIT OF ESTONIA
During the post-Soviet period Estonia has recovered, adapted to the requirements of the contemporary world at the same time preserving its cultural identity and astonishes with an amazing combination of technological progress and medieval heritage. Increasing groups of tourists are impressed by the treasures of historical architecture, natural landscapes and dynamic culture.
Estonia's turbulent history was determined by its geographic location at the crossroad between Eastern and Western Europe. The country situated in a strategically important place, bordered by Russia in the east, Scandinavia in the north and west, as well as another Baltic neighbour - Latvia - in the south, was eyed upon by strong neighbours for many centuries.
After restoration of the independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia was severely degraded. At the end of the 20th century the country put a lot of effort in order to gain NATO and EU membership and often was an example for the Eastern Europe of how to pursue rapid modernization at the same time taking care of the cultural heritage, as well as improving living conditions. Having earned a good reputation for technological innovation, Estonia is sometimes referred to as the electronic state. Although the standard of living in rural areas rose not as fast as in the cities, Estonia became an important country well-liked by tourists. Its visitors are attracted not only by Tallinn, the lively capital with medieval old-town, but also the forests, marshes and islands, as well as traditional villages of primeval beauty.
Estonia inhabits 1.3 million people, most of them are Estonians, constituting seventy one percent of the population. About twenty percent of the population consists of Russians, while the rest - Ukrainians, Belorussians and Finns. Estonia also inhabits about 3.5 thousand Jews, who came to Estonia after the Second World War, most of them settling in the capital Tallinn.
SOCIETY AND CULTURE
In general Estonians are more influenced by the Scandinavian culture rather than the one of the Baltic neighbours. Estonians and Finns are also bound with close linguistic ties as their languages belong to the same Finno-Ugric language family. After the withdrawal of the soviets quite a number of Russian speakers remained in Estonia, causing diplomatic confrontations with Russia from time to time. Today the conflicts between Russians and Estonians reduced.
Estonians are especially proud of their heritage. The country's medieval history is reflected not only by architectural monuments, but by festivals as well, the roots of which reach back to those times. Folk culture is the most important for the national identity as up to the first period of independence, which began in 1918, the majority of Estonians were slaves of serfdom. The Estonian National Song Festival, which was held in 1869 for the first time and continues up to this day every five years, is considered as an important and inspiring symbol of national identity promotion.
Religion does not have a lot of influence on the lives of Estonians, although during the centuries of foreign occupation many people accepted Christianity, mostly Lutheran or Russian Orthodox.
The Communist Party of Estonia, which used to form the political life of the nation earlier, gave way to the multi-party system in the days of independence. The most famous of the parties - Estonian Centre Party - has been joined by several political groups with different political ideologies. Thus the government of Estonia consists of fragile coalitions of various parties.
Most of the politicians in high positions previously used to serve the Communist Party, thus many Estonians have a pretty cynical attitude towards politics. During the last decade of the 20th century corruption became a serious problem, but the current situation is much better, mostly due to the adoption of the strict EU legislation and more stable economy.
After restoration of the independence, the government engaged in a very consistent process of raising the country's economy, the capital Tallinn is full of remarkably elegant shops, bars and night clubs. The majority of the country's exports consists of machinery and equipment, as well as wood and paper. The economy also depends a lot on the prosperous informational technologies sector, tourism and Russian oil transportation through Estonian ports.
Tourism transformed a grey post-soviet country into a prosperous state. Estonian tourism management raised the interest of tour operators by advertising Estonia, while the private sector was quick to adapt and use the business opportunities opened by tourism. First of all, as it was expected, the increased flow of tourists has brought benefits to the country's capital Tallinn. However, recently development has reached even these territories, which suffered deprivation for years. Estonian islands, villages and towns in the depths of the mainland receive greater and greater tourism-related investments.