May Estonians Finns
More Finnish than Baltic
Estonia is formally one of the Baltic states. Culturally, however, most Estonians feel closer to the Finns than to the Latvians and Lithuanians. The Estonian capital Tallinn and the Finnish capital Helsinki are only 85 kilometers apart - to be covered in 90 minutes by high-speed ferry.
Estonians and Finns share the same ancestry: the Finno-Ugric tribes who immigrated from the Urals.
Their languages also come from the same family. They are Baltic Finnish languages: almost without hard sounds, but with an enormous number of vowels. "Jäääär", for example, means something like "edge of the ice" and "Töö-öö" is what the Estonian calls a night he worked.
The number of vowels in the Estonian language is actually only exceeded by the number of grammatical cases: While the German language manages with nominative, genitive, dative and accusative cases, Estonian distinguishes 14 cases, Finnish even 15.
Water plays a big role
The cultural affinity between Estonia and Finland goes so far that the two countries even share the melody of their national anthem. However, Estonians and Finns each praise their own country as the most beautiful in the text.
After the Second World War, the Soviet Union banned the singing of national songs in the Baltic States, including, of course, the national anthem.
At that time it was fortunate for Estonians to share the melody of the anthem with their Finnish neighbors, because it could be heard on Finnish radio every evening at the end of the broadcast and was also received in Estonia.
After Estonia became independent in 1991, there were considerations to provide the anthem with a new, very own melody. However, they were not followed up.
Estonia also differs in landscape from Latvia and Lithuania, the other Baltic states. Water plays a major role: almost ten percent of the Estonian national territory consists of islands - 1520 tiny islets that lie off the coast and are now often nature reserves.
There are also more than 1,400 lakes and more than 7,000 rivers that crisscross the country. Incidentally, one cannot say "mainland" in many places: one fifth of the Estonian national territory consists of swamps.
"Kas te räägite saksa keelt?" - Do you speak German?
The Estonians are patriots. Since they are finally independent, the national flag has been hoisted every morning on Toompea above Tallinn at the parliament. For many centuries, however, the Estonian people were ruled by foreign masters.
In the Middle Ages it was Germans who ruled Estonia: Reval - today's Tallinn - was for a long time one of the most important trading cities of the Hanseatic League, the powerful association of German merchants.
The influence of the Baltic German nobility persisted for 700 years, and German was the language of instruction and authorities in Estonia until 1885.
In addition to the Germans, Sweden, Danes, Poles and Russians also ruled Estonia. But in the middle of the 19th century, the Estonians began to develop a strong sense of nationality. They rejected the privilege of the German-speaking upper class as well as the Russification policy of the Tsarist Empire, which also introduced Russian as the official and teaching language in Estonia.
During the First World War, Russian troops were driven out of the entire Baltic region, and Estonia achieved independence for the first time on February 24, 1918 - but not for very long. Today, however, the Estonian national holiday is celebrated on this date every year.
Estonia and the Second World War
During the Second World War, Estonia lost a quarter of its population. Until 1940 Hitler had the Baltic Germans brought "home to the Reich". They were relocated to the newly created Reichsgau Wartheland, which had previously belonged to Poland.
Then in June 1940 the Soviet Union occupied the country. Estonian intellectuals were persecuted and deported. In 1941 the Germans came back and also set up concentration camps in Estonia. In 1944 the country fell back to the Red Army, which again deported the elite.
100,000 really or supposedly anti-Soviet residents of Estonia were deported to Siberia, and the same number had to emigrate. Almost 200,000 Russian workers were resettled for this purpose.
The Soviet Union took specific measures to destroy the Estonian national consciousness: it weakened the Estonian language, destroyed books and banned the singing of national songs.
The decades under Soviet occupation were a traumatic time for many Estonians, which they have neither forgotten nor forgiven to this day.
Peaceful protest and rapid development
"My fatherland, my happiness, my joy" is the first line of the Estonians' national anthem, which was forbidden in the Soviet Union for a long time. In the summer of 1988 it was sung again by more than 300,000 people on the singing field in the capital Tallinn.
The peaceful protest was one of the highlights of the "Singing Revolution" with which the Baltic states regained their independence.
In 1991 Estonia finally became independent. In Tallinn, the engine for rapid development was immediately fired: The young generation wanted freedom and independence and in just a few years made Estonia a modern European state.
On May 1, 2004, Estonia was admitted to the European Union (EU) and, alongside Slovenia, became a "model student" among the new member states: politically and economically stable.
Close to nature and conscious of tradition
"How beautiful are you ..." is the second line of the Estonian national anthem. Estonia is not a superlative country: Finland has more lakes, Sweden more islands, Russia more bears.
But Estonia has a bit of everything. So far, individual tourists and the Estonians themselves have enjoyed the original dreamy beauty outside of the cities. Because although three quarters of the population live in cities, Estonians are very close to nature.
The beauties of the landscape play a major role in the national consciousness: the forests, which are still native to the lynx and wolves, the deserted beaches and the sea, the "White Nights" in summer, when it hardly gets dark, and the "White Christmas" "in winter when the Baltic Sea freezes over.
In just a few years, Estonia has become an independent modern state, but without giving up old traditions. Folk songs, costumes, dances and legends have maintained the national consciousness of the small people during the long period before independence. Even today they still have a permanent place in the everyday life of the Estonians.
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