Estonia is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Russia. With a population of 1.3 million, it is one of the least-populous member states of the European Union. Ethnic Estonians are Finnic people, and the official language, Estonian, is a Finno-Ugric language closely related to Finnish. It is a developed country with an advanced, high-income economy and high living standards. The capital and its largest city is Tallinn
Average elevation of Estonia reaches only 50m and the country's highest point is theSuur Munamägi at 318m. There is 3,794km of coastline marked by numerous bays, straits, and inlets. The number of islands and islets is estimated at some 2,355 (including those in lakes). It has also over 1,400 lakes (most of them very small), many rivers (the longest being Võhandu, Pärnu, and Põltsamaa), and numerous fens and bogs. Forests cover 61% of Estonia.
Estonia was settled beginning from around 8500 BC. Before the Germans invaded in the 13th century, proto-Estonians worshipped the spirits of nature. Starting with the Northern Crusades, Estonia became a battleground for centuries where Denmark, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Poland fought to controlling this gateway between East and West. Conquered by Danes and Germans in 1227, Estonia was ruled initially by Denmark in the north, and by the Livonian Order.
Between 1418 and 1562 the whole of Estonia was part of the Livonian Confederation. After the Livonian War (during which the population decreased from about 250-300,000 people to 120-140,000), it became part of Sweden from the 16th century to 1710-1721, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire. Throughout this period the Baltic German nobility enjoyed autonomy, where the language of administration and education was German.
In the 19th century occured the national awakening, and in the aftermath of WWI and the Russian revolutions, Estonia declared its independence in 1918. Ensued the War of Independence on two fronts, with Bolshevist Russia to the east and the Baltic German forces to the south, resulting in recognising Estonian independence. In 1940, the country was annexed by the Soviet Union, then in 1941 was occupied by Nazi Germany, then reoccupied by the S.U. in 1944. It regained independence in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR.
Before WW II, ethnic Estonians constituted 88% of the population, but between 1945 and 1989, the share of them dropped to 61%, caused primarily by the Soviet programme promoting mass immigration of workers from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as by wartime emigration and Joseph Stalin's mass deportations and executions. In the decade following the independence, large-scale emigration by ethnic Russians and the removal of the Russian military bases led to increased of the proportion of ethnic Estonians from 61% to 69%.