Estonia, in Estonian Eesti, is the northernmost of the three countries that arose after the collapse of the Russian Empire on its western borders. As a peripheral Baltic state and considering its general character, Estonia belongs to Northern Europe, while as part of European Russia it was considered to belong to Eastern Europe. Due to its position on the so-called Varega border line, which divides Western Europe from Eastern Europe and which runs, 200 km wide, from the Gulf of Finland to the Sea of Azov, the eastern limits of Estonia are well defined (lakes and swamps); while in the south the border can be considered open. To the west and north it is bathed by the Baltic (Gulf of Finland, Muhu channel and Gulf of Riga). The entire border measures approximately 4100 km., of which about 3400 run along the sea (including the coasts of the islands); the land border (including the stretch that cuts through Lake Peipus) is about 700 km. With Russia the border also takes into account strategic criteria, while with Latvia it follows purely ethnographic-linguistic limits.
Today’s Estonian state encompasses a territory of 47,549 sq km; the maximum north-south length is 350 km; the maximum width 250 km. Located in the northern temperate zone, Estonia extends between 57 ° 30 ‘and 59 ° 42’ lat. N. and between 21 ° 45 ‘and 28 ° 21’ longitude Estonia The territory consists of the mainland, the two large islands: Hiiumaa (Dagö) and Saaremaa (Ösel) and several smaller islands to the west and north.
At the 1989 census the population of the Republic amounted to 1,573,000 residents, corresponding to an average density of 34.9 residents. per km 2. At the previous census (1979) the ethnic composition of the population was as follows: 64.7% Estonians, 27.9% Russians, 2.5% Ukrainians and 1.6% Belarusians. The country has only one notable city, the capital Tallin, which with its 482,000 residents it groups 31% of the total population. The main economic activities continue to be agriculture and livestock. The cultivated area is equal to 2.6 million ha (1986); cereals (1,257,000 t) and potatoes (728,000 t) the most common crops. About 22% of the territory is covered by forests and this heritage is intensely exploited. From an energy point of view, Estonia possesses rich deposits of oil shale, located mainly in the north-eastern region, from which it obtains natural gas, which is then sent to St. Petersburg and the Estonian capital via a 208 km gas pipeline. 27 million tonnes of oil shale are extracted annually, while reserves are estimated at 3700 million tonnes. Non-energy mineral resources are limited to phosphates.
In the Twenties and Thirties, manufacturing activities connected with the transformation of agricultural products or based on a certain level of craftsmanship had already established themselves; these were then joined by some branches of medium, electrical and precision mechanics.
The railway network, in 1983, reached 1030 km. There are about twenty Estonian ports, but – especially the northernmost ones – they are blocked by ice for a few weeks a year. Tallin, the largest port in the country, handles about 4/5 of the total maritime transport.
The consolidation of Soviet rule starting from September 1942, after the retreat of the German troops (see App. II, i, p. 879), accentuated the Russification process of the country also favored by the deportations of tens of thousands of Estonians, which lasted until the 1960s. In that period, the national resistance was in vain, mainly expressed in isolated actions. New and more incisive forms of opposition and dissent, including organized ones, appeared starting from 1978 following the “Prague Spring”. But it was only after 1985 – the year of M. Gorbačëv’s rise to power – that a national and independence movement developed with increasingly radical characteristics. On 23 August 1988 – the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between the USSR and Nazi Germany (1939), under which the Baltic countries had lost their independence – demonstrations took place demanding greater autonomy. With this goal in the October 1988 the Estonian People’s Front was formed, while in the following November the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared the sovereignty of Estonia within the USSR and established the right of veto against the laws of the Union. Since then the process towards independence took a more rapid pace. At the end of 1988 Estonian became the official language again; in May 1989 representatives of the Popular Fronts of the three Baltic republics met to define the strategies of independence; on 23 August, as evidence of a unity of purpose, an imposing human chain joined the Baltic peoples; in January 1990 the Communist Party was transformed into an independent Social Democratic Party; finally, the elections of March 1990 for the Estonian Supreme Soviet registered the victory of the independence forces (78 representatives out of 105, including many former communist exponents), which shortly afterwards declared the transition phase towards definitive independence open. The process ended in 1991: a referendum – called for March 3 as opposed to that for the maintenance of the Union which was to be held on the 17th – registered 77.8% in favor of the definitive detachment from the USSR. Independence was proclaimed on August 20, 1991. In September of the same year, Estonia, together with the other Baltic republics, was admitted to both the CSCE and the UN.