Quick facts about cultural similarities between Estonia and other nordic countries.
- Estonians are Finnic people (like Finns and Saami people – both considered Nordic today) and the language is a Finnic language. Latvians and Lithuanians are Balts who speak Baltic languages.
- 15% of the words in Estonian language are loans from Germanic origin (because German was the language of the cultural and political elite since 12th century right up till 1919). Many word loans have also come from Swedish, Old Norse, Baltic-German, Russian, Old-Russian, Finnish and Baltic languages.
- Estonians are included in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas as Víkingr frá Esthland (Vikings from Estonia). Estlanders fought along the side of Swedes against the Danes in the Battle of Bråvalla. Saaremaa (Ösel) has the richest finds of Viking treasures after Gotland in Sweden and often raided both Christians and Pagans, in their ships that had a high prow shaped like a dragon or a snakehead as well as a quadrangular sail.
- Estonia had Swedish minorities living here peacefully in cooperation for 8 centuries (until WW2), they were offered cultural autonomy and self-governance in 1925, something that was exceptional in Europe at the time and earned a great deal of international acclaim, the local Swedes thanked and declined, showing they were okay with how things were. Some islands still have dual language shop and street signs. Estonia’s main largest islands are still named Ösel and Dagö in Swedish.
- Estonians call themselves põhjamaalased (“northern people”, another translation would be literally “nordic people” as põhjala is often translated as nordic), it’s such in many folk songs that are almost equal in importance to the national anthem.
- The familiar Swedish red paint color is also common in Estonia. Especially so on the islands.
- Estonians are historically Protestant Lutherans. Lithuanians are Catholic and Latvians are a mix in-between.
- Estonians used to use the Runic calendars (like everybody else in the Northern Europe). Sirvikalender in Estonian.
- Estonians strongly celebrate the Midsummer Day.
- Estonians eat vastlakukkel/semla.
- Estonians drink mulled wine on Yule time (Christmas).
- Estonians like to cross-country ski
- Estonians go to sauna a lot
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.
The dark red areas indicate original Viking settlements – notice the Estonian islands.
- Estland (Eistland or Esthland) is the historical Germanic language name that refers to the country at the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, and is the origin of the modern national name for Estonia. The largest island of Estonia is called Ösel in Swedish and its inhabitants used to be called Oeselians.
- The Oeselians were known in the Old Norse Icelandic Sagas and in Heimskringla as Víkingr frá Esthland (English: vikings from Estonia).
- The Livonian Chronicle describes the Oeselians as using two kinds of ships, the piratica and the liburna. The former was a warship, the latter mainly a merchant ship. A piratica could carry approximately 30 men and had a high prow shaped like a dragon or a snakehead as well as a quadrangular sail.
- A battle between Oeselian and Icelandic Vikings off Saaremaa is described in Njál’s saga as occurring in 972 AD.
- On the eve of Northern Crusades, the Oeselians were summarized in the Livonian Rhymed Chronicle thus: “The Oeselians, neighbors to the Kurs (Curonians), are surrounded by the sea and never fear strong armies as their strength is in their ships. In summers when they can travel across the sea they oppress the surrounding lands by raiding both Christians and pagans.“
- Saxo Grammaticus describes the Estonians and Curonians as participating in the Battle of Bråvalla on the side of the Swedes against the Danes, who were aided by the Livonians and the Wends of Pomerania.
- From the 12th century, chroniclers’ descriptions of Estonian, Oeselian and Curonian raids along the coasts of Sweden and Denmark become more frequent.
- The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a fleet of sixteen ships and five hundred Oeselians ravaging the area that is now southern Sweden, then belonging to Denmark. In the XIVth book of Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus describes a battle on Öland in 1170 in which the Danish king Valdemar I mobilised his entire fleet to curb the incursions of Couronian and Estonian pirates.
- Perhaps the most renowned raid by Oeselian pirates occurred in 1187, with the attack on the Swedish town of Sigtuna by Finnic raiders from Couronia and Ösel. Among the casualties of this raid was the Swedish archbishop Johannes. The city remained occupied for some time, contributing to the decline as a center of commerce in the 13th century in favor of Uppsala, Visby, Kalmar and Stockholm. [Some have addressed Sigtuna as the then capital of Sweden]
- Viking-age treasures from Estonia mostly contain silver coins and bars. Compared to its close neighbors, Saaremaa has the richest finds of Viking treasures after Gotland in Sweden. This strongly suggests that Estonia was an important transit country during the Viking era.
- Estonia constitutes one of the richest territories in the Baltic for hoards from the 11th and the 12th centuries. The earliest coin hoards found in Estonia are Arabic Dirhams from the 8th century.
The Estonian Swedes or Coastal Swedes (Swedish: estlandssvenskar, Estonian: rannarootslased) are a Swedish-speaking linguistic minority residing in the coastal areas and islands of western and northern Estonia. The beginning of the continuous settlement of Estonian Swedes in these areas (known as Aiboland) dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries.
In 1561, Sweden established the Dominion of Swedish Estonia, which it would formally hold until 1721. Swedish, along with German and Estonian, was one of the official languages.
At the end of the Teutonic period, the total population of Estonian Swedes was roughly 5-7 thousand, some 2-3% of the population of what is now Estonia.
The 1922 census shows Estonian Swedes majority in some places, such as Ruhnu (Swedish: Runö), Vormsi (Swedish: Ormsö), Riguldi (Swedish: Rickull). Towns with large pre-war Swedish populations include Haapsalu (Swedish: Hapsal) and Tallinn (Swedish: Reval).
There was not a unified Estonian-Swedish dialect, but several. The Estonian-Swedish dialects are subdivisions of the Eastern varieties of Standard Swedish. The dialect of Hiiumaa is still spoken by a few in Gammalsvenskby (which is called Gammölsvänskbi in the Hiiumaa/Gammmalsvenskby dialect).
Almost all of Estonia’s Swedish-speaking minority fled to Sweden during World War II, and only the descendants of a few individuals who opted to stay are permanently resident in Estonia today.