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Total population
c. 1 million[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 Estonia: 898,845[1]
Other significant population centers:
 Finland 44,774[2]
 United States 27,113
 Canada 23,180-50,000[3][4]
 Sweden 23,000
 Russia 17,875[5]
 United Kingdom 14,000[6]
 France 12,590
 Australia 7,543[7]
 Germany 5,000
 Norway 2,871[8]
 Ukraine 2,868[9]
 Ireland 2,560[10]
 Latvia 2,000[11]
 Belgium 2,000[12]
Estonian, Võro, Seto
Majority: Either Protestant Christianity (Lutheranism) or Atheism
Minority: Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity.
Related ethnic groups
Baltic Finns

Estonians (Estonian: eestlased) (Finnish: virolaiset) are a Finnic people related to the Finns inhabiting the country of Estonia. They speak a Finnic language known as Estonian. Although Estonia is traditionally grouped as one of the Baltic countries, Estonians are linguistically more related to the Finns than to the Baltic peoples of Latvia and Lithuania.


Prehistoric roots[edit]

Estonia was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago, just after the Baltic ice lake had retreated from Estonia. While it is not certain what languages were spoken by the first settlers, it is often maintained that speakers of early Uralic languages related to modern Estonian had arrived in what is now Estonia by about 5,000 years ago.[13] Living in the same area for more than 5,000 years would put the ancestors of Estonians among the oldest permanent inhabitants in Europe.[14] On the other hand, some recent linguistic estimations suggest that Fenno-Ugrian language arrived around the Baltic Sea considerably later, perhaps during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BCE).[15][16]

The name "Eesti", or Estonia, is thought to be derived from the word Aestii, the name given by the ancient Germanic people to the Baltic people living northeast of the Vistula River. The Roman historian Tacitus in 98 AD was the first to mention the "Aestii" people, and early Scandinavians called the land south of the Gulf of Finland "Eistland" ("Eistland" is also the current word in Icelandic for Estonia), and the people "eistr". Proto-Estonians (as well as other speakers of the Finnish language group) were also called Chuds (чудь) in Old East Slavic chronicles.

The Estonian language belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic family of languages, as does the Finnish language. The first known book in Estonian was printed in 1525, while the oldest known examples of written Estonian originate in 13th-century chronicles. But despite Estonians speaking a Finnic language, Estonians are genetically closer related to their Baltic neighbors the Latvians and Lithuanians. This was approved by a doctoral thesis from the University of Tartu, however the same documents also stated that Estonians are still the closest genetic relatives the Finns have.[17]

National consciousness[edit]

Although Estonian national consciousness spread in the course of the 19th century during the Estonian national awakening,[18] some degree of ethnic awareness preceded this development.[19] By the 18th century the self-denomination eestlane spread among Estonians along with the older maarahvas.[20] The Bible was translated in 1739, and the number of books and brochures published in Estonian increased from 18 in the 1750s to 54 in the 1790s. By the end of the century more than a half of adult peasants were able to read. The first university-educated intellectuals identifying themselves as Estonians, including Friedrich Robert Faehlmann (1798–1850), Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801–22) and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803–82), appeared in the 1820s. The ruling elites had remained predominantly German in language and culture since the conquest of the early 13th century. Garlieb Merkel (1769–1850), a Baltic German Estophile, was the first author to treat the Estonians as a nationality equal to others and became a source of inspiration for the Estonian national movement, modelled on Baltic German cultural world before the middle of the 19th century. However, in the middle of the century, the Estonians became more ambitious and started leaning toward the Finns as a successful model of national movement and, to some extent, the neighbouring Latvian national movement. By the end of 1860 the Estonians became unwilling to reconcile with German cultural and political hegemony. Before the attempts at Russification in the 1880s, their view of Imperial Russia remained positive.[19]

Estonians have strong ties to the Nordic countries stemming from important cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Scandinavian and German rule and settlement.[21] Indeed, Estonians consider themselves Nordic rather than Baltic,[22][23] in particular because of a close ethnic and linguistic affinity with the Finns.

After Estonia gained independence from Russia in 1918, based on Tartu peace treaty, ethnic Estonians residing in Russia gained the option of opting for Estonian citizenship (those who opted, were called optandid - 'optants') and returning to the fatherland. The number of Estonians living in Russia in 1920 is estimated to have been 40,000. In sum, 37,578 people moved from Soviet Russia to Estonia (1920–1923).[24]

Recent developments[edit]

Estonian national costumes:
1. Kadrina 2. Mihkli 3. Seto 4. Paistu

Since 1991[edit]

Estonians became the majority ethnic group in the country after regaining independence, and founded a nation state that due to the small numbers of the population has been wary of embracing multinational identity and has followed strict rules when it comes to acquiring citizenship. Dual citizenship is not allowed in Estonia, and individuals who relinquish their status as an Estonian citizen have no right to regain citizenship.


During World War II, when Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Army in 1944, large numbers of Estonians fled their homeland on ships or smaller boats over the Baltic Sea. Many refugees who survived the risky sea voyage to Sweden or Germany later moved from there to Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States or Australia. Some of these refugees and their descendants returned to Estonia after the nation regained its independence in 1991.

Over the years of independence, increasing numbers of Estonians have chosen to work abroad, primarily in Finland, but also in other European countries, making Estonia the country with the highest emigration rate in Europe.[25] This is at least partly due to the easy access to oscillating migration to Finland.

Recognising the problems arising from both low birth rate and high emigration, the country has launched various measures to both increase the birth rate and to lure migrant Estonians back to Estonia. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has lent his support to the campaign Talendid koju! (Bringing talents home)[26] which aims to coordinate and promote the return of Estonians who have particular skills needed in Estonia.

Estonians in Canada[edit]

The largest permanent Estonian community outside Estonia is in Canada with about 24,000 people[4] (according to some sources up to 50,000 people).[27] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 17,000 arrived in Canada.[28] Toronto is the city with the largest population of Estonians outside of Estonia. The first Estonian World Festival was held in Toronto in 1972. Some famous Estonian Canadians include Endel Tulving and Elmar Tampõld.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Population by ethnic nationality". Statistics Estonia. 30 March 2012. Retrieved 30 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "Tilastokeskus - Population". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Canada-Estonia Relations". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "ВПН-2010". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "United Kingdom". Ethnologue. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "2054.0 Australian Census Analytic Program: Australians' Ancestries (2001 (Corrigendum))". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2001. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  8. ^ "Population, by Norwegian/foreign citizenship and country background". Statistics Norway. 1 January 2011. Retrieved 17 September 2011. 
  9. ^ "The distribution of the population by nationality and mother tongue". State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. 2001. 
  10. ^ CSO - Statistics: Persons usually resident or present in the State on Census Night, classified by place of birth and age group
  11. ^ "On key provisional results of Population and Housing Census 2011". Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. 2012. 
  12. ^ "Estemb in Belgium and Luxembourg". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  13. ^ Virpi Laitinena et al. (2002), Y-Chromosomal Diversity Suggests that Baltic Males Share Common Finno-Ugric-Speaking Forefathers, Human Heredity, pages 68-78, [1]
  14. ^ Unrepresented Nations and peoples organization By Mary Kate Simmons; p141 ISBN 978-90-411-0223-2
  15. ^ Petri Kallio 2006: Suomalais-ugrilaisen kantakielen absoluuttisesta kronologiasta. — Virittäjä 2006. (With English summary).
  16. ^ Häkkinen, Jaakko 2009: Kantauralin ajoitus ja paikannus: perustelut puntarissa. – Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja 92.
  17. ^ "Study: Estonians Genetically Closer to Russians Than to Finns". News - ERR. Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  18. ^ Gellner, Ernest (1996). Do nations have navels? Nations and Nationalism 2.2, 365–70.
  19. ^ a b Raun, Toivo U. (2003). Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Estonian nationalism revisited. Nations and Nationalism 9.1, 129-147.
  20. ^ Ariste, Paul (1956). Maakeel ja eesti keel. Eesti NSV Teaduste Akadeemia Toimetised 5: 117–24; Beyer, Jürgen (2007). Ist maarahvas (‚Landvolk‘), die alte Selbstbezeichnung der Esten, eine Lehnübersetzung? Eine Studie zur Begriffsgeschichte des Ostseeraums. Zeitschrift für Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 56: 566-593.
  21. ^ Piirimäe, Helmut. Historical heritage: the relations between Estonia and her Nordic neighbors. In M. Lauristin et al. (eds.), Return to the Western world: Cultural and political perspectives on the Estonian post-communist transition. Tartu: Tartu University Press, 1997.
  22. ^ Estonian foreign ministry report, 2004
  23. ^ Estonian foreign ministry report, 2002
  24. ^ Лоткин И.В. Оптационная кампания и эвакуация граждан прибалтийских государств на историческую родину в начале 1920-х годов. Available at
  25. ^ The CIA World Factbook Country Comparison of net migration rate
  26. ^ Talendid koju!
  27. ^ "Estonian Embassy in Ottawa". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  28. ^ "The Estonian Presence in Toronto". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]