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.

Why Finland and Estonia have the same anthem

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.