Nordic countries formed the Nordic Council due to shared history and culture. While this was happening Estonia was unfortunately occupied by the USSR.
Had Estonia (aka Estland) not lost its independence in WW2 it may have been a natural, undisputed part the Nordic countries just like Finland. Iron Curtain caused much of Estonia’s nordic-like history to become unknown in the West, this blog tries to provide a collection of facts telling that story.
Looking past the 50 years of Soviet occupation one can see thousand+ years of shared history between the Finnic people (Estonians & Finns) and the Germanic. Sea is often seen as a physical divider, but instead it’s a connector, culture has always thrived on coastal areas and sea-routes have been the main way how culture and traditions spread.
As time passes Soviet occupation scars will fade and natural allegiances will prevail.
Sweden’s 4th 2nd oldest university from 1632 is located in Estonia, the Tartu University. Gustav Adolf II set up multiple schools and re-organized the societal and administrational structures such that they left a big impact.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia probably got its name from taani linn, literally “Danish city”.
The term Nordic is sometimes defined as “the social-democratic countries in the north with a high standard of living”. We see nordic-ness as something cultural, rather than purely polito-economical. If Swedish economy crashed tomorrow would they seize to be Nordic? Of course not. Or was Finland not Nordic in the 1990s when their GDP per capita was similar to Estonia’s today? Of course it was. So it’s not really only about money, it’s about the shared history, similar traditions, familiar behaviours, etc.
What does the country feel like when you’re visiting? How do the people sound like if you don’t know their language? How do they interact and how do they behave? This is what plays into how one categorises a country and its people.
In this light we feel that the terms post-Soviet and also Eastern-European do not accurately describe Estonia, because post-Soviet is still often equated to “Russian-sounding language” and Slavic culture, which is technically incorrect for Estonians who are Finnic people and speak a Finnic language. Post-Soviet is a term that is very loaded, because Estonia was occupied against its will. We don’t call France or Norway a post-Nazi country even though they were also occupied. Arguably Estonia was occupied for much longer and more recently, so such past plays a bigger role than in the case of Norway and France, but at what point is it time to let go? In harsher terms: it’s as if a victim is being labeled by the name of their previous rapist.
In short, Estonia is a little country way up in the north of Europe where people are historically mostly blonde with blue eyes, love cross country skiing, don’t say much, go to sauna, drink mulled wines at the Yule time, make bonfires on summer solstice, and they used to go on viking trips in ancient times.
“What’s wrong with Baltic? Why Estonia wants to be Nordic? Why aren’t you happy being Baltic?”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being considered Baltic. Estonia is a Baltic country, but Estonians are not Balts. Estonians are Finnic peoples, like Finns. Only Latvians and Lithuanians are Balts aka “Baltic peoples”. This can create some confusion because all three are considered “Baltic countries” whereas only two are actually Balts. It might make more sense to leave the term Baltic to the actual Balt countries and group Estonia with Finland as Finnic countries. Or maybe Estonia could be considered both, a Baltic, Finnic and perhaps eventually also a Nordic country.
While the term “Eastern-Europe” has many negative connotations, this website is not about what kind of brand is good or bad. Equally it is not about what Estonians want. If you stopped one on a street and asked if he felt Nordic he probably couldn’t care less. It is about what is factually correct and what simplymakes sense. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being Baltic — but does categorising Estonia as Baltic or Eastern-European make sense? Lets take a look:
Folk festivals and organizations that are “Nordic” in nature will promote Finnish culture, but not Estonian culture, even though they are heavily related. There’s many cultural events happening all over the Northern European region and it would help keep the traditions alive if similar cultures could celebrate together in unison.
Estonia is often left out of categories that include Finland, for no apparent reason other than such categories having been drawn up during time when Soviet Union was still around.
Finnish language is often lumped in with “Scandinavian studies” in universities, while Estonian is found in the Eastern-European. This makes very little sense, since Finnish and Estonian languages are very related. The genetic proximity of the Estonian and Finnish languages is 16.2. That similar to Spanish and Italian at 16.1 and quite close to Swedish and Danish at 15.7.
The American-Scandinavian Foundation will support scholars that want to study in Turku, but not in Tartu.
Despite its Nordic themes and similarities, Estonian poetry will not be included in books of “Nordic poetry”.
And Estonian folk music, though it is obviously closely related to Karelian, Sami, and Finnish folk music, won’t be included on Nordic music compilations among its relatives.
Estonian contemporary art and design, though visually identical to the Nordic in its simplicity, minimalism and functionality, is more often found next to Balkan than Scandinavian.
Finns and Estonians share the national anthem. The only difference between the two anthems is the key signature they are in.
Origin of Finnish and Estonian anthem
In 1848 the Finnish poet Johan Runeberg published a poem in Swedish named „Our land”. On the same year Fredrik Pacius, a German living in Finland, wrote a melody to it.
The original poem, written in 1846 but not printed until 1848, had 11 stanzas and formed the prologue to the verse cycle The Tales of Ensign Stål (“Fänrik Ståhls Sägner”), a classic example of Romantic nationalism. Originally the poem was written for the 500th anniversary of Porvoo, Finland, and for that specific occasion it was Runeberg himself who wrote the music. The poem has been influenced by the “Szózat” (Appeal) of Mihály Vörösmarty, both in style and content. The Tales of Ensign Stål were much appreciated throughout all of Northern Europe.
The song made its way to Estonia through visitor choirs. Johann Voldemar Jannsen wrote the Estonian lyrics “My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy” in 1869 and it was first sang in this form on the first national song festival in Tartu on the same year, which resulted in it becoming an instant national symbol.
The current Finnish text is usually attributed to the 1889 translation of Ensign Stål by Paavo Cajander, but in fact originates from the 1867 translation by Julius Krohn.
Back then nobody could predict it would become the song national movements cling on to. It is said that Pacius composed the tune in four days. It was popular throughout the 19th century, but established as national anthem only after Pacius’ death. The melody has similarities with the German drinking song “Papst und Sultan”. Many believe that Fredrik Pacius intentionally or unintentionally copied parts of the tune. Another Finnish patriotic song, “Sotilaspoika”, composed by Pacius, also includes similarities with “Papst und Sultan”.
Fast forward 50 years and the song had simultaneously become an important part of national movements for both the Finns and Estonians. The people felt strong brotherhood ties and using the same song for inspiration gave strength to go against the Russian Empire in 1917-1918.
Up until Finnish and Estonian independence, Pacius’s tune and Runeberg’s text were often also sung in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In the original Swedish text there is no reference to Finland (except for in verses 4 and 10, which are rarely sung), only to a country in the north, but the Finnish text explicitly refers to Finland. The poem’s theme is, furthermore, remarkably similar to that of the national anthems of Sweden (“Du gamla, Du fria“) and Norway (“Ja, vi elsker dette landet“).
Addition to Finland and Estonia, it is also considered to be the ethnic anthem for the Livonians , known by title “Min izāmō, min sindimō” (English: “My Fatherland, my native land”).
Who copied whom?
The melody was already popular by the time it became a national symbol in both countries during the awakening period. Finns created it first, but it can also be said that Estonians have used it for longer time as specifically a national symbol. However, it has never really been an issue and there is no animosity what-so-ever. Perhaps it can be considered a sign of how closely related Finns and Estonians really are if they both picked the same anthem collectively by circumstance. Either way, both nations are happy to enjoy their anthem twice during Olympics and other sports.
Estonia adopted it as an official national anthem in 1920. Finland hasn’t made it into an official anthem but it’s been traditionally used as such.
During Soviet occupation
In 1944, the Soviet Union invaded and illegally occupied Estonia, and “Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm” ended up being banned by the Soviet regime. During the Soviets’ occupation of Estonia from 1945 to 1990, the Soviet puppet regime for Estonia, known as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, had its own regional anthem. Yet the people of Estonia could often hear their former national anthem as Finland’s state broadcaster Yleisradio, whose radio and television broadcasts were received in northern Estonia, played an instrumental version of the Finnish national anthem, identical to this song (except for an additional repetition of the last verse in the Finnish version), at the conclusion of its broadcast every night. Similarly, Estonians enjoyed hearing the shared anthem being played on sporting events when Finns won a podium place.
This acted as a beacon of hope during dark times.