The Republic of Estonia, typically referred to by its shortened name simply Estonia, is a small northern European country with a population of approximately 1.3 million people. The country is a former Soviet satellite, and under Soviet control was known as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Though the nation of Estonia was briefly an independent republic starting in 1918, at the onset of World War II, it was annexed by the Soviet Union. For a period of fifty-one years, from 1940 until 1991 when they declared their independence from Moscow, the country of Estonia suffered from Soviet oppression and forced annexation. Prior to being annexed by the Soviet Union, the nation was previously under control of several different kingdoms including the Danes, Swedes, and Germans. Estonia was so susceptible to Russian (Soviet) force, because of their relative geographic location. Estonia borders both Latvia and Russia, is separated by Finland by the Gulf of Finland, and also has a stretch of coastline bordering the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. Today, largely because their relative geographic situation next to Russia, though native Estonians account for roughly two-thirds of the population, ethnic Russians make-up most of the remaining one-third. Other ethnic groups that reside in the country are Belarusian, Finnish, and Ukrainian.
The city of Tallinn is the capital and largest city in the country, with an estimated 400,000 people living there. Other major cities/seaports include Parnu, Viljandi, Narva, and Tartu, though none of them have really significant population numbers. The country of Estonia is 132nd in the world in geographic size, with approximately 45,000 square miles. Though the majority of the country is mainland, the nation also includes roughly 1,520 islands that are located throughout the Baltic Sea. Of these islands, the island of Saaremaa is the biggest and most populated, with 1,031 square miles and approximately 40,000 inhabitants.
Due to the country’s long coastline, Estonia has a thriving fishing industry that is among the most dominant in northern Europe. In addition, perhaps the largest contributor to the country’s economy is its large oil shale industry. Estonia is the world’s second largest supplier of oil shale in the world, which made it vital to the Soviet economy when it was occupied by them. The economy is more diverse however, in that there are also established agricultural and industrial sectors. The industries most prevalent in Estonia include shipbuilding, mining, telecommunications and electronics manufacturing, motors, cement, home furnishings, clothing and textiles. The agricultural sector produces a lot of pork, potatoes, flax, and dairy items. Since Estonia has such a diverse (yet) thriving economy, it has one of the highest GDP per capita figures out of all of the former Soviet satellites, with an average purchasing power of approximately $18,216 per person. This figure of $18,216 per person is a higher figure than that of the former “mother country”, Russia, who has a mere $12,096 average GDP. Though many former Soviet satellites experienced recession and hardship in the post-Soviet era, the Estonians rebounded well and their economy and stability is an indication of that.
In addition to experiencing relative economic stability, Estonians have also been fortunate to have political stability as well. A democratic constitution was drafted in 1992 after their declaration of independence from Russia, and has been in place since being drafted. The government is a multiparty republic with the parliament members being elected by the popular vote of the people to serve four-year terms. There is only one national assembly (thus it’s a unicameral parliament) with 101 elected members. The president is elected by the parliament to serve five-year terms and is little more than a figure head, as the prime minister handles the daily operations of the government. The prime minister, however, is appointed by the president of the parliament and his or her nomination must be approved by the majority of the parliament. All parliamentary members are accountable to their people, the constituents. The President of Estonia was President Arnold Ruuetel, who was only the country’s second president, having been elected in 2001 and served until 2006. In 2006, Ruuetel lost reelection and the elected President of Estonia was Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Upon his election as president, Toomas Ilves decided to allow the Prime Minister appointed by President Ruuetel, to remain in his position. The current Prime Minister of Estonia is Andrus Ansip, who has fulfilled the role since April, 2005.