How well do you know Estonia? Do you even know where it is located? The Republic of Estonia is one of the three Baltic States, the Northernmost one. It is a small country of Northern Europe, a former Soviet Republic and now a member of the European Union and NATO, since 2004. Estonia adopted the Euro as its official currency in 2011. Its largest and capital city is Tallinn. There are around 1.3 million people living in Estonia, making it one of the least populous countries of the EU. Estonian is the official language but Russian is still widely spoken. After these few straightforward facts, here are twelve more that will probably surprise you! Estonia is more interesting than you would think!
#1 Estonia is one of the least religious countries in the world.
According to a 2010 poll, around 18% of the population expressed their belief in a god. The rest declared themselves agnostic or atheist. However, the prevailing religion is Christianity, and some religious traditions do remain, like pagan rituals which are considered secular cultural traditions. Religion, or rather beliefs, in Estonia, are mostly based on folklore traditions and nature, rather than on an institutional church.
#2 Almost half of Estonia’s territory is covered by forests.
With its low density of population and simply its very low population, the country is about half urbanized. Forests cover more than 48% of the territory, making Estonia one of the cleanest places on Earth to breathe! How nice, right? Furthermore, with such a vast natural environment, Estonia is still home to wild animals, like the wolf, the lynx and brown bears. Most of these species have become very rare in the rest of Europe, because of fast-growing and developing urbanized areas. Wild animals in Europe had massively disappeared, but more recently, their populations have risen again, thanks to re-introduction programs.
#3 Estonians are incredibly tech-savvy!
Most Estonians are familiar with everything there is to know in terms of current and future technologies. They have introduced technology in many fields of their society. When Estonia got its independence in 1991, the country was very late in its technological developments and in its economy. The “after-Soviet-Union” situation has not been easy for anyone. And, just two decades later, Estonia is a leading “tech-nation”. It is now possible to pay for parking spaces with your phone, your health files are stored in a cloud and paying annual taxes online only takes about 5 minutes. Education has not been spared the advancements, just the contrary. Education in Estonia highly focuses on technology and kids are taught all necessary basics at a very young age. In 1998, the government decided that all classrooms should be equipped with computers (which they did). Today, young kids as young as seven are taught coding and how to program computers!
#4 Estonia was the first country in the world to introduce online political voting.
This does not come as a surprise following the previous idea. Estonia puts technology at the heart of every action. And by using online political voting, Estonia has shown some cutting-edge progress that could possibly be the indispensable alternative in the future. The system has been used in the country since 2005.
#5 You know Skype, right? It originated in Estonia.
Who does not know Skype? You might have never used it but you certainly know it. Founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, Skype came as a technological revolution to communicate between time zones and continents for free. You can use it like a regular phone or face-time your friends using only wifi. Nowadays, this maybe does not seem as revolutionary as it once was, but still. Well, this nice invention comes from Estonia. I bet you had no idea! And Skype is not the only successful start-up from Estonia (you probably know Kazaa or TransferWise), the country holds the record for the most start-ups per capita!
#6 Wi-Fi is everywhere, like, literally everywhere!
In Estonia you will find Wi-Fi everywhere! In parks, in streets, in public transports, etc. And, for the sake of a good education focused on technology, in all schools too. In 2000, the government declared internet access as a human right, Wi-Fi has thus become available anywhere in the country.
#7 Tallinn is the most well-preserved medieval city in Europe.
If you thought you would find perfectly preserved medieval cities in Europe in France or, maybe Germany, Austria or Czech Republic, well, you’re right but don’t forget Estonia! And Tallinn has even been voted the most well-protected medieval city in all of Europe. The Old Town sector is under the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage Center. The fortress in the center of the capital is unique and looks very authentic! And everywhere in the city you will find remains of its medieval past. The Old Town is so nicely preserved that you can completely immerse yourself in another timeline!
#8 In Tallinn, public transportation is completely free!
If you are a registered citizen of Tallinn, public transportation is free for you! This is a smart solution to traffic jams and pollution inside cities. Plus, it benefits the government, as more people living in Tallinn will voluntarily register. This convenient system allows poorer people to also use public transportation and helps removing cars from the center of the city, making it more pleasant to walk in and to breathe in!
#9 Estonia ranks second in literacy.
With a literacy rate of 99.8%, Estonia ranks second for the highest literacy rate in the world, right after Latvia. The literacy score is also equal for both men and women. Its position might however sometimes vary because some more countries also stand at the same percentage, but it is commonly accepted that Estonia holds the second place.
#10 Estonia ranked third in press freedom.
Estonia is one of the few countries of the world that respect press freedom the most. In 2007 it ranked third in terms of press freedom, but today, in 2017, it dropped to the 12th position, which is still in some of the best scores of the world. The three first spots are occupied by the Nordic European States: Norway, Sweden and Finland, in order.
#11 Estonia does have some serious (maybe unusual) laws that you have to respect.
Do not drink and drive. Estonia follows a zero tolerance policy in terms of drunk driving. The maximum amount of alcohol in blood permissible is at 0,019%. In shops, alcoholic beverages can only be sold until 10pm.
Wear safety reflectors at night. As Estonia spends many months of the year in the darkness, the government worried about pedestrians getting hit by cars. Therefore, in order to keep the streets safe, during the night, whether you are walking or biking, you should always wear safety reflectors pinned on your coat, where it is easily visible. The fine for the violation of this law can amount to 400 EUR.
Being a mom will not affect your finances. Estonia has got some great legislations in case of pregnancy. In some countries, taking a maternity leave creates a deep hole in your savings. But in Estonia, new mothers are offered 100% of their former salary for 18 months. Other services and child support are also covered.
#12 Estonia celebrates its independence twice a year.
The first one is celebrated on the 24th of February, which links back to 1918, when they obtained their independence from the Russian Empire. However a few years later, Estonia was annexed into the Soviet Union. Then, the second day of independence is celebrated on the 20th of August, in reference to August 20, 1991, when they got their full independence from the Soviet Union.
This small democracy starts to sound like a new paradise, right? Worried about the environment and the education, the Estonian government presents good values and a real interest for the welfare of its people. And on top of everything else, Estonians are told to be generally attractive! Estonia has got the highest rate of supermodels per capita in the world! This small sauna-loving country seems like it has a lot to offer. But not everything is perfect either. Their childbirth is fastly decreasing, the unemployment rate reaches 19% and other factors certainly add to the list. Not all negative aspects of a country can be found online either! Stay curious and go visit it by yourself!
Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you think we missed something important about Estonia or if something got you thinking!