Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Five Common Misconceptions about Estonia

It's easy to form a false impression of Estonia when you don't have all the facts and English-speaking journalists are notorious for getting them wrong.  In order to set the records straight, here are five common myths dispelled with the facts which will help you avoid unintentionally offending an Estonian. These points should also provide you with a better understanding of Estonia and its people.

1. Estonia gained its independence in 1991.

Fact: Estonia won its independence in the bitter two year War of Independence (Est: Vabadussõda - "freedom war") lasting from 1918 until 3rd February 1920 when the Treaty of Tartu was signed with Soviet Russia.  This was a culmination of a national awakening which had gathered momentum in the preceding decades.  In 1940 the Soviet Union invaded, occupied and illegally annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.  The countries continued to exist as far as international law was concerned and their entire statehoods are based on the concept of legal continuity.  Estonia restored its independence in 1991. In February 2018 Estonia will celebrate its 100th birthday!

2.  Estonia is a Slavic country (like Poland, Russia, Czech Republic etc.)

Fact:  The nearest relative of the Estonian language is Finnish, part of the Finno-Ugric language family.  There is no relationship between Estonian and any other European languages except Finnish and, more distantly, Hungarian.  Many cultural similarities are also shared with the Finns.

3. Estonia is "tiny".

Fact:  Estonia isn't among the world's largest countries but it isn't "tiny" either.  The Vatican City, San Marino, Andorra and Luxembourg are "tiny".  Driving from Läbara in Estonia's southwest to Narva in the country's north east would take at least 7 hours without stopping.  Estonia is larger in area than the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.

4. Estonia is an impoverished, run-down ex-Soviet country.

Fact:  Estonia has a thriving economy with the lowest national debt in the EU.  It scores very high in freedom from corruption, rule of law, security of private property and press freedom.  It is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to do business.

5. Estonia is an "Eastern European" country.

Fact: Ask any Estonian and you would be rebuffed.  Estonians consider themselves very much a Nordic people, part of Northern Europe.  Estonia lies in Europe's far north on the same longitude as Finland and the same latitude as northern Scotland.  Estonians' nearest relatives are the Finns and Sami (Lapps) and they share a very similar mentality, work ethic and value system with their Nordic neighbours such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark.