“At this point the Suevic sea, on its eastern shore, washes the tribes of the Æstii, whose rites and fashions and style of dress are those of the Suevi, while their language is more like the British. They worship the mother of the gods, and wear as a religious symbol the device of a wild boar. This serves as armour, and as a universal defence, rendering the votary of the goddess safe even amidst enemies. They often use clubs, iron weapons but seldom. They are more patient in cultivating corn and other produce than might be expected from the general indolence of the Germans. But they also search the deep, and are the only people who gather amber, in the shallows, and also on the shore itself.”
Source: The “Germania” of Tacitus, AD 97
The most remote testimonies on human presence in Estonia date back to 10.000 years ago. Around 3.000 BC some Finno-Ugric tribes moved to the region and joined the Neolithic tribes that already lived there.
In 1.200 AC there were some Crusades demanded by the Pope in order to Christianize the Baltic area, which was pagan. During the 13th century the Northern part of Estonia was ruled by Denmark, whilst the southern part was ruled by the Teutonic Knights.
Tallinn was founded in this period. Local population repeatedly tried to rebel against the foreign conquerors. In 1343 there was the most violent revolt. Estonian people almost destroyed Tallinn in order to overcome the Danish conquerors. The struggle lasted for two years and was finally put down. But it was not a fruitless revolt. Denmark was forced to give the Northern part of the country to the Livonian Order.
In the 14th Century, Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu became part of the Hanseatic League, which led to a consequent commercial and economic development. In the 16th Century, Russian troops, headed by Ivan the Terrible, invaded Estonia, causing terror and destruction. Russians wanted to establish a way out on Estonia and on the Baltic Sea. According to their opinion, the conquered territory should constitute a strategic outpost - both from a military and an economic viewpoint – to control all the area.
In the 17th Century, Sweden declared war on Russia. Estonia quickly became a battlefield. The two countries had a long and bloody struggle which concluded with the Russian defeat.
Swedish domination led to a period of peace and prosperity. After devastation, Estonia knew a really positive historical period. Commerce and culture flourished, schools opened all throughout the country, the first Estonian books were published and the University of Tartu was founded.
Unfortunately, the “Swedish period” was quite short. Russia formed a strong alliance with Denmark and declared war on Sweden. Supported by the local population, Swedish people held on for almost ten years (1701-1710) but finally had to surrender.
Tartu was totally destroyed and its inhabitants were deported to Russia. For more than half a century Estonian peasants suffered oppression and they were reduced to serves. Swedish reforms were abrogated. In 1710 a plague killed thousands of people, already worn out by war and hunger.
19th Century was characterized by peasants’ struggles and reforms. There was a land reform through which peasants had the possibility to buy the fields they cultivated. During this period some important patriotic movements were founded. They led to the diffusion of a deep national feeling.
Czarist reaction was particularly hard. Russian language became compulsory and Orthodox religion was practically imposed. The organizations aimed at defending patriotic and peasants rights were banished. But by that time “the National Awakening” was irreversible. In 1905 disorders brought out all over the country but they were put down again. German nobility was able to take advantages of that situation, thus reinforcing their privileges.
The First World War coincided with the Russian Revolution of 1917 which led to the end of the Czarist period. On July 14, 1917, the Estonian National Council became the country “provisory government”. On February 24, 1918, the Independent Democratic Republic was constituted. German middle class did not accept the independence. They did not want to lose the economic and social privileges they had got during the previous years.
But German defeat, that took place at the end of the First World War, favoured Estonian resistance. In 1919 the Estonian Constituent Assembly was elected. Independence lasted for about twenty years. The Land Reform was strengthened, a peace treaty with Russia was signed and a first Constitution was adopted on June 19, 1920.
At the end of 1924 there was a Coup d'etat attempt, which was stopped by the Estonian Independentists. In spite of the unstable political situation, Estonian economy knew an important development in this period. In 1928 the local currency – the Estonian Kroon - was coined and began to be distributed.
The Crash of 1929 had a deep political influence on Estonia. After a period of “apparent calm”, in 1934 there was another Coup d'etat, which, differently from the Coup d'etat attempt in 1924, succeeded. Parliament was closed. Moreover civil and political rights were almost wiped out.
On August 23, 1939, Molotov/Ribbentrop pact signed by Nazis and Russians, led to the division of all the Baltic area. Russia began to control Estonia which was occupied on June 17, 1940. On August 6, 1940, Estonia became part of the Soviet Union. Estonian dissidents and nationalists were subjected to a very strong repression. Many of them fled abroad, other were transferred to forced-labour camps in Siberia.
In 1941 Estonia was occupied by Nazi troops. The occupation lasted till the end of the Second World War, when the Russian Red Army took the control of the country again. The following years were really difficult. Strengthened by the victory against Nazis, Moscow government carried out a “Russianification” campaign in all the Baltic area.
Only in the second half of the 50’s there was a decentralization which guaranteed Estonia a certain autonomy. Economy began to grow, which led to a salary growth. Estonian workers were among the “best paid” labourers of all the Soviet Union. In August 1987, in Tallinn there was a political event aimed at bringing into question Moscow hegemony. On November 6, 1988, Estonian Supreme Soviet voted for the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration, which represented the first remarkable step towards definitive independence.
On August 23, 1989, the Popular Fronts of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia organized an important demonstration that will be eternally imprinted in the history of the three Baltic countries. A symbolic human chain from Tallinn to Vilnius was assembled, in order to call attention on the desire for independence belonging to the three countries. On March 12, 1990, the Congress of Estonia was elected by more than 600 thousands Estonians. At the same time Estonian Supreme Soviet declared the Soviet laws on Estonian territory illegal. In March 1991 a popular referendum established that more than 80 percent of Estonian population was pro-independence. In September 1992 there were the first free elections of Estonian history.
During the 90’s a “wild liberalization” led to the development of criminality and corruption. In 2003 these social problems favoured the ascension of Res Publica Party, a political party whose programme also included “moral issue”.
In addition to this moral issue, national and international attention was also focused on a “Russian question”. In 1990 Russian speaking population corresponded to 30 percent of the total population. The promulgation of the citizenship law, which compelled citizens to have an Estonian language examination, brought about discontent among the so-called linguistic minorities. Citizenship was denied to 200 thousands persons, despite they were working and living in Estonia.
In September 2003 Estonian people decided to join the European Union, through a referendum. In May 2004, Estonia officially acceded to the EU.