Have you ever seen a swallow at a close distance? Many people haven’t. Much like its home country – Estonia, the swallow is sometimes hard to spot. But, when one does see a swallow, they cannot help but think – how can something so casual be so beautiful, how could we not see it before? Estonia is, indeed, a beautiful little country! One should really get acquainted with its people’s culture and history. After all, Estonian history spans through an entire millennia. To really understand what shaped the culture and the history of its people, one must go back the very beginning.
In year 1154, there was a man, who was like Christopher Columbus of the ancient times. His name was Al Idrisi. Today, not many people have heard of him, but the world map that he created for his King Roger of Sicily, was the most sophisticated piece of ancient cartography ever released. Although, it was crude and not very accurate, it was by far the most detailed thing that was ever created. He did get a couple of things wrong though. For example the North and the South had no meaning as the Chinese people did not invent the compass during his lifetime. After the world Atlas was released, it was there, that these lands were first mentioned in written history. Even back then, Estonian people enjoyed the advantageous geographical position; after all, Estonia is at the center between Scandinavia, Russia and the rest of Europe. A lot of trade was made back then. Mainly, the wealthy merchants from the North exchanged salt in return for exotic spices from the south of Europe.
Estonian history could be divided into six major periods. The first period started 1219, when the first Danish conquerors invaded these lands and established what was later known as Tallinn. In fact, the word Tallinn is an anagram for the two words – “Taani Linn”, which means literally a Danish city.
The second period started when the control of these lands went on to the German people. The timespan from 13 to 16 century, even today, is considered to be the golden age of Tallinn. Why? At that time, Europe began to unite for the first time in its history. Today, the word Hansa conjures up an image of different international companies. Back then, it was the largest trading union in the entire world. Established and ruled from Lübeck, Germany the union had both influence, militarily, that could rival even that of the church. The city of Tallinn, back then, was called Reval. Thus, the name of the company Reval Tours.
The next period was spent under the Swedish influence. These times were in many ways an extension to the policy of the Hanseatic union. Trade was prospering and life went on. The German aristocracy remained in power in some areas, but it was the Swedish kings that took control after the breakup Teutonic order.
The Swedish Kings had relatively little time to establish their rule as the great Northern War broke out. As a result of this war the lands came into possession of the Russian Empire, led by Peter the Great. That, of course, influenced the architecture of the city and also the culture and the language. Many Russians moved to Estonia as adviser’s, architects and rulers or simply to settle down in a quest to find a better life. Life went on. In 1869 the first national awakening of Estonian people started to happen. During that time, a tradition took root. That same tradition was carried through generations through wars and struggles. But, it is now known as the largest countrywide song festival that the world has ever seen. Held every five years the song festival is now part the UNESCO world intangible heritage. Curiously, it also became instrumental to the fact, that Estonia is now free nation. But something was brewing in Russia closer to the 20th century.
In year 1917, an event took place in Russia that shook not only the country itself but the rest of the world, as well especially the bordering countries. Shortly after the revolution a civil war broke out in Russia. The wall was a bloodied conflict, but it also gave space for the Estonian rebels to maneuver. A manifesto of freedom was released declaring that Estonia would now be free independent nation. The Russians, having their own problems back then, couldn’t maintain this small satellite to the west of the country. Thus Estonia gained its first independence. All went well, until the Second World War when both German and Soviet occupations took place in Estonia. The country became a part of the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact, by which, these lands went into the possession of the new Soviet Union. Prior to that, several occupations took place – both Germans and Russians tried to seize control of the crucial piece of land, which connected Scandinavia, Russia and Baltics. Today, the result of the Second World War is known to everyone. Since the end of the war, Estonia remained a part of the Soviet Union, but, when the Soviet Union broke up, the fact that Estonia broke off from the Russian Empire in year 1917, gave it the international right to become a free independent nation.
Today, Estonia is a modern and progressive country, which embraces everything new. Information technologies really took off in Estonia. Companies like Skype and Taxify are now known by the whole world. The country became the first in the world to adopt electronic voting digital signatures and even electronic residency, which could be extended everyone in the world. Being a small country, that it is, Estonia, only naturally, needs to be a part of some sort of union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Estonia joined the EU and NATO. They say history repeats itself. If that is the case, then what we are going through the period of the old Hanseatic union and a new golden age with it. Only Time will tell…
In many ways Estonia is very similar to its national bird – the swallow. It is small, but nimble; it is humble and elegantly beautiful at the same time. But above all, watching it fly, one can really tell, that it enjoys the good life in the world, where one can only go along with the ever-changing currents of wind.