This article is about the ethnic group called Estonians. For the inhabitants of Estonia, see Demographics of Estonia.
Total population
c. 1.1 million
Regions with significant populations

 Estonia: 905,805[1]

Other significant population centers:
 Finland 50,367[2]
 United States 27,113[3]
 Canada 23,180–50,000[4][5]
 Sweden 25,509[6]
 Russia 17,875[7]
 Australia 7,543[8]
 Germany 6,286[9]
 Norway 5,092[10]
 United Kingdom 3,400[11]
 Ukraine 2,868[12]
 Ireland 2,560[13]
 Belgium 2,000[14]
 Latvia 1,882[15]
 Iceland 111[16]
Estonian, Võro, Seto
Majority irreligious
Historically Protestant Christian (Lutheranism)
Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity minority
Related ethnic groups
Finnic people

Estonians (Estonian: eestlased) are a Finnic ethnic group related to the Finns that mainly inhabit Estonia, a country located south of Finland and the Finnish Gulf. Their national language belongs to Finnic branch and is known as Estonian (Estonian: eesti keel).

Although Estonia is often geopolitically categorized as one of the Baltics, Estonians are linguistically, culturally and historically related to the neighboring Finns—both belonging to the Finnic people —differing from the non-Finnic Indo-European speaking Baltic peoples of Latvia and Lithuania.


Prehistoric roots

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.[17] Living in the same area for more than 5,000 years would put the ancestors of Estonians among the oldest permanent inhabitants in Europe.[18] 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).[19][20]

The oldest known endonym of the Estonians is Maarahvas.[21] Eesti, the modern endonym of 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. Estonians are genetically closest to their neighbouring Tver region Russians and Latvians. However, Estonians are still the nearest genetic relatives of Finns.[22]

National consciousness

Although Estonian national consciousness spread in the course of the 19th century during the Estonian national awakening,[23] some degree of ethnic awareness preceded this development.[24] By the 18th century the self-denomination eestlane spread among Estonians along with the older maarahvas.[21] 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.[24]

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.[25] Indeed, Estonians consider themselves Nordic rather than Baltic,[26][27] 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).[28]


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.[29] 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.[30] 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)[31] which aims to coordinate and promote the return of Estonians who have particular skills needed in Estonia.

Estonians in Canada

The largest permanent Estonian community outside Estonia is in Canada with about 24,000 people[5] (according to some sources up to 50,000 people).[32] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 17,000 arrived in Canada.[33] 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

Notes and references

  1. "Population by ethnic nationality". Statistics Estonia. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  2. "Tilastokeskus - Population". Retrieved 4 May 2015.
  3. "Total ancestry categories tallied for people with one or more ancestry categories reported 2013 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2 September 2014.
  4. "Estonian Embassy in Ottawa".
  5. 1 2 "Canada-Estonia Relations". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  6. "Eestlased Rootsis".
  7. "ВПН-2010". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  8. "2054.0 Australian Census Analytic Program: Australians' Ancestries (2001 (Corrigendum))" (PDF). Australian Bureau of Statistics. 2001. Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  10. "Immigrants and Norwegian-born to immigrant parents, 1 January 2016". Statistics Norway. Accessed 01 May 2016.
  11. "United Kingdom". Ethnologue. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  12. "The distribution of the population by nationality and mother tongue". State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. 2001.
  13. "Persons usually resident and present in the State on Census Night, classified by place of birth and age group". Central Statistics Office Ireland. Archived from the original on 6 August 2011.
  14. "Estemb in Belgium and Luxembourg". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  16. "Dialog".
  17. Virpi Laitinena; et al. (2002). "Y-Chromosomal Diversity Suggests that Baltic Males Share Common Finno-Ugric-Speaking Forefathers" (PDF). Human Heredity. pp. 68–78.
  18. Unrepresented Nations and peoples organization By Mary Kate Simmons; p141 ISBN 978-90-411-0223-2
  19. Petri Kallio 2006: Suomalais-ugrilaisen kantakielen absoluuttisesta kronologiasta. — Virittäjä 2006. (With English summary).
  20. Häkkinen, Jaakko (2009). "Kantauralin ajoitus ja paikannus: perustelut puntarissa. – Suomalais-Ugrilaisen Seuran Aikakauskirja" (PDF). p. 92.
  21. 1 2 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.
  22. Nelis, Mari; et al. (2009). "Genetic Structure of Europeans: A View from the North–East". PLOS ONE. 5(3).
  23. Gellner, Ernest (1996). Do nations have navels? Nations and Nationalism 2.2, 365–70.
  24. 1 2 Raun, Toivo U. (2003). Nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Estonian nationalism revisited. Nations and Nationalism 9.1, 129-147.
  25. 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.
  26. Estonian foreign ministry report, 2004
  27. Estonian foreign ministry report, 2002
  28. "Лоткин И.В. Оптационная кампания и эвакуация граждан прибалтийских государств на историческую родину в начале 1920-х годов" (PDF). (in Russian).
  29. Past, E. (2015). By Land and By Sea.
  30. "The CIA World Factbook Country Comparison of net migration rate".
  31. "Toome talendid Eestimaale tagasi - Talendid Koju!".
  32. "Estonian Embassy in Ottawa". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  33. "The Estonian Presence in Toronto". Retrieved 17 March 2015.

Further reading

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