Why Estonia wants to become Nordic?

Estonia is culturally nordic-like, but it is currently not seen as such internationally. Even if such a branding paradigm shift was achieved, why push the agenda? Why risk angering both other nordic people and also the balts in a quest of “becoming Nordic”? What’s the reason to further increase collaboration with Nordic Council countries and why would Estonia want to change its title in the Nordic Council from “observer” to a full member? Here we’ve listed a few benefits and reasonings for “becoming Nordic”:

  • Nordic Council level of collaboration with other nordic region countries would benefit the economy and culture. Finland and Sweden are already by far Estonia’s biggest trading partners and further ties might speed up the increase in standard of living. There are many organisations that support pan-Nordic cultural events, Estonia’s traditions are very similar but are currently left out of the loop. Joining Nordic Council may benefit such undertakings by increased funding, more connections and know-how.
  • Becoming a new Nordic country would be an international newsworthy development which may increase tourism and foreign investments due to publicity and increased trust in safety and laws, both from other Nordic countries and internationally.
  • The process of becoming a full Nordic Council member requires Estonia to undertake many changes which may be beneficial to progress on the human development index.
  • Being accepted by the Nordic countries would increase Estonia’s independence safety. Estonia is already in EU and NATO, but being on Nordic Council might further deter the only potential threat and non-ally neighbor, Russia, from attacking — or at the very least it might increase Estonia’s international diplomatic support if an attack does happen.

GDP per capita of Estonia before Soviet Union

Our premise – that Estonia would have been a natural part of the Nordic countries, had it not been occupied by the Soviet Union – relies on the cultural similarities between Estland and other nordic region countries.
However, one of the main arguments against counting Estonia as part of the Nordics is the fact that it is less economically developed and therefore has a lower standard of living, so much so that grouping Estonia together with Norway seems like a fool’s errand. But has it always been so? Has Estonia always fared lower than its Nordic neighbors?

Below is a chart of GDP per capita rankings of Europe in 1922, 1929 and 1938, which shows Estonia ranking higher than Finland before it was occupied by the Soviets. Had history gone differently, perhaps today Estonia’s living of standard would be equal to that of other Nordic countries. Given time, hopefully it becomes so once again.

estonia GDP 1922 - 1929 - 1938
Source: The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe: Volume 2, 1870 to the Present


Baltic vs Nordic – Why Estonians are not Baltic

The term Baltic originally included Finland in-between the World Wars after the 4 countries gained independence from Russian Empire under similar circumstances. At the end of WW2 as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by the USSR, Finland was left as the odd one out and started to move towards the Nordics.

The terms Balts and Baltic people are actually very specific and refer to just Latvians and Lithuanians. Now that the 3 countries are independent again Estonia is left as the odd one out because calling Estonia Baltic is accurate only in a geographical sense, not ethnically or linguistically. Estonians and Finns are Finnic people and speak Finnic languages. Finnic people are Uralic, same as Saamis and their language does not belong to the Indo-European language family. This means Swedish and Latvian are more connected to Punjabi than to  Estonian and Finnish.

Furthermore, the original use of the word Balt appears in the 19th century referring only to the Germans living in the region.

Such mix usage of inaccurate terminology can lead to much confusion. In some ways it would be easier if the term “Baltic” referred to just Latvia and Lithuania, but where would that leave Estonia?

So if Estonia is not really Baltic, question arises: what is it? And if Finns and Saamis are both considered culturally Nordic, why aren’t Estonians? Perhaps Estonia and Finland should be grouped as Finnic countries? And Nordic countries would then consist of Scandinavian and Finnic countries.