This trip provided a chance to visit three countries—at least the capital cities in each of these countries—that we hadn’t visited before. The cities and countries with Tallinn Estonia, Riga Latvia and Vilnius Lithuania.
Each of the three small countries have spent most of their existence under foreign control (Denmark, Germany and Russia) and finally gained their independence from Russia in 1991. Each has made tremendous progress in exercising their recently gained freedoms and in developing their economies and their own unique cultures. The next several blogs are on Tallinn Estonia.
As an introduction, during our time there, we took numerous tours and visited several museums…all of which gave us a number of important insights about the country that do not conveniently fit into a descriptive narrative. So, rather than try, we will simply list some of the facts we found the most interesting here:
- The country’s economy was based overwhelmingly on nomadic hunting and fishing until 5,000 years ago. Then, it was overwhelmingly agricultural (especially oats, barley and wheat) until the late 19th century when serfdom was abolished. While this gradually led some serfs to purchase their own farms, the emergence of industrialization in the early 20th century interrupted this process. The promise of jobs, higher wages and greater social and economic freedom drew more and more people off the land, into urban manufacturing jobs. Even so, it was not until the 1950s that more than half the population had moved to urban and suburban areas—a percentage that has since grown to about 65 percent.
- The country had an average 2015 per capita Gross Domestic Product of $26,929.66 in U.S. dollars when adjusted by purchasing power parity. Incomes are taxed at a flat rate of 20 percent.
- Estonian is the native language for 67 percent of the population compared with Russian for 30 percent. English is the country’s secondary language and is a required course in schools. But while all young people speak at least some English, Russian remains the primary second language for many older people and especially among the 20 percent of the population that is ethnic Russian.
- Education, from pre-school through university is free and about half of all young adults have at least some post-secondary education.
- The entire country is on-line, with virtually all communications with the government, from filing residency requests, to filing documents to establish a new business, to the filing of taxes being handled over the internet;
- Estonia has the largest number of business start-ups (many of which are in technology) per capita in the world. It also has the largest per capita number of super-models.
- Atheism is the closest Estonia comes to having a national religion. Of its 2.4 million total people, only 180,000 claim to be Lutherans, 100,000 Russian Orthodox and 5,000 apiece Catholic and of older traditional Russian religions. Of these, few—especially of the professed Lutherans—attend church regularly. By contrast, most Estonians believe that trees have souls.
- Estonian women have their first child at an average age of 26 and have an average of 1.6 children apiece. 60 percent of these children are born out of wedlock.
- The country has a strong culture built on a common language, cultural values and a love of song. It has, for example, held an annual singing festival for the last 147 years. A festival that regularly draws about 25,000 singers and an 80,000-person audience. This musical heritage led to bands that delivered covert nationalistic messages thought Communist and lead to what Estonians refer to as bloodless “Singing Resolution” against Soviet repression.