No. 30




The Nations Who Live and Have Lived in Estonia

15 December 2014


RiTo No. 30, 2014

Besides the Estonians, people of several other nationalities have lived on the territory of Estonia throughout its history. They have come and gone, and often these comings and goings have been violent and bloody, but in spite of everything the native people here, whose number in some periods has dwindled rather low, have preserved their own language and are an independent nation today.

Many nations have perished in hundreds and thousands of years, and many of them have been more numerous than the Estonians. Most probably this is the reason why nationality and native language have throughout history been very important for Estonians. In the course of history, the relations between the Estonians and the representatives of other nations who have lived here have been diverse, the sharpest conflict was between the German landlords and the Estonian countrypeople, which was however solved quite successfully during the first years of the Republic of Estonia. From the minority nations who have lived on the territory of Estonia since the old times, the Coastal Swedes, the Russians who lived near Lake Peipus, Jews and the Gypsies who travelled around here in summer should also be mentioned. As far as it is known, taking into account the printed records and oral recollections of those times, there was no hostility against other nations, and the attitude of Estonians towards the representatives of all other nations could be characterised as Nordic unemotional coolness. The situation changed radically during the World War II and after that. Most of the representatives of minority nations emigrated to their historical homelands at the beginning of the war or evacuated to the rear of the Soviet Union, during the last days of the war many Estonians left for Germany or Sweden. As a result of changing the borderline, most of Setumaa with its population became part of Russia. But from the moment the battles on the territory of Estonia ended, Estonia became an immigration destination and remained so for 45 years. The only year when the net migration rate (the difference between the number of immigrants and the number of emigrants) was negative was 1949, the year of great deportations. Among the immigrants there were also ethnic Estonians who had remained in Russia (Soviet Union) after the revolution of 1917. During the next 45 years the ethnic structure of the population of Estonia changed drastically. The number of immigrants was constantly increasing, most of them were Russians. Among them there were people who had been sent here to fulfil leading positions that were important to the state, and also to work in the mines that were of importance to the Soviet Union, especially in Sillamäe region. There were also those who came on their own free will, especially from the neighbouring regions that were heavily ravaged by the war, like Pskov region and the region around Leningrad. Besides Russians, also a great number of Ukrainians and Belarusians settled here, but in the course of time the range of the countries of origin increased, and the number of immigrants from the republics of Caucasus and Central Asia grew. At the same time it is important to note that the movement was never in one direction only, each year there was also a considerable number of leavers. Among those there were Estonians who went to Russia to study, or who had found attractive challenges in Russia. But still the net migration rate of Estonians was generally positive, and the number of Estonians grew steadily both due to those who returned to their homeland and the positive birth rate; the latter was greatly caused by having children at younger age. The baby boom that took place in most European countries after the war did not happen in Estonia. In the second half of the 1980s, the number of civilian population in Estonia was more than one and a half million. 61% of them were Estonians; among the rest, the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians dominated. The number of Finns (mostly Ingrians) was also relatively large. Altogether there were more than one hundred nationalities represented in Estonia, most of them from the Soviet Union. The number of military personnel is not known, but it was large. Immediately before and after the restoration of independence, a large part of the representatives of other nations left Estonia, so that the percentage of Estonians increased to 68%. Estonia again became an emigration country, Finland became the main destination for Estonians, but there was also emigration to other Member States of the European Union, and to Australia and America. During the last 25 years the population of Estonia has decreased by 240,000. One third of this is due to negative birth rate and two thirds to negative net migration rate.

Full article in Estonian