Culture of Estonia

Culture of Estonia
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Culture of Estonia
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Estonian culture combines an indigenous heritage, represented by the country's Uralic national language Estonian, with Nordic cultural aspects. Due to its history and geography, Estonia's culture has been influenced by the traditions of the adjacent area's various Finnic, Baltic, Slavic and Germanic peoples as well as the cultural developments in the former dominant powers Sweden and Russia. Traditionally, Estonia has been seen as an area of rivalry between western and eastern Europe on many levels. An example of this geopolitical legacy is an exceptional combination of nationally recognized Christian traditions: a western Protestant and an eastern Orthodox Church. Like the mainstream culture in the other Nordic countries, Estonian culture can be seen to build upon the ascetic environmental realities and traditional livelihoods, a heritage of comparatively widespread egalitarianism out of practical reasons (see e.g.: Everyman's right and universal suffrage), and the ideals of closeness to nature and self-sufficiency.


The arts


Though Estonian written language could be said to exist since Jacob Johann Köhler translated the New Testament into Estonian in the 18th century as a result of the Reformation, few notable works of literature were written until the 19th century, which saw the beginning of an Estonian national romantic movement. This prompted Friedrich Robert Faehlmann to collect Estonian folk poetry and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald to arrange and publish them as Kalevipoeg, the Estonian national epic. The era saw a rise of poets and novelists who wrote in Estonian, notably Lydia Koidula.

After Estonia became independent there was a rise of modernist writers, most famously Jaan Kross. The second World War prompted a repression of national interests. Literature in modern Estonia is in a healthy state, with detective stories enjoying a particular boom of popularity.


Despite its relatively short history of art music, Estonia today is well respected for its musicianship, with a quality education of classical musicians having produced a high proportion of world-class conductors and singers. Estonian art music came to the forefront as a part of the national romantic movement.

Modern Estonian popular music has received attention also in foreign countries, especially on the rock and metal scenes, with such bands as Vanilla Ninja, Metsatöll and composers as Arvo Pärt gaining international acclaim.

Visual arts

The Art Museum of Estonia was founded on November 17, 1919, but it was not until 1921 that it got its first permanent building – the Kadriorg Palace, built in the 18th century. In 1929 the palace was expropriated from the Art Museum in order to rebuild it as the residence of the President of Estonia.

At present there are five active branches of the Art Museum of Estonia: Kadriorg Art Museum (Kadriorg Palace and Mikkel Museum), the Niguliste Museum, Adamson-Eric Museum, Kristjan Raud House Museum and KUMU Art Museum.


Theatre of Estonia dates back to 1784 when August von Kotzebue founded an amatheur theater company in Tallinn. Most of the plays at the time were comedies for the amusement for local Baltic German nobility. In 1809 a professional theater company was established having its own building in Tallinn. The repertoire was mostly in German but also plays in Estonian and Russian were performed.[1]

After centuries of serfdom that was abolished in Estonia in 1816, the position the native Estonian population had fallen to since the Livonian Crusade, the first native Estonian musical society Vanemuine was established in 1865. Lydia Koidula's the Cousin from Saaremaa in 1870 staged by the Vanemuine society marks the birth of Estonian theater.

The Vanemuine society was headed by August Wiera from 1878 to 1903. In 1906 a new building was erected for the society and it theater company became directed by Karl Menning. Plays by Western writers such as Henrik Ibsen, Gerhart Hauptmann, Russian Maksim Gorky and Estonian August Kitzberg, Oskar Luts and Eduard Vilde were staged.

The Estonia Theatre is an opera house and concert hall in Tallinn, Estonia. It was built as a national effort with the leadership of Estonia society in 1913 and was opened to the public on August 24. At the time, it was the largest building in Tallinn.

In 2004 there was 20 theaters in Estonia.[2]

46% of urban population and 40% of rural population visited theaters in 2009.[3]

Cinema and broadcasting

Cinema in Estonia started in 1896 when the first "moving pictures" were screened in Tallinn.[4] The first movie theater was opened in 1908.[5] First local documentary was made in 1908 with the production of a newsreel about Swedish King Gustav V’s visit to Tallinn.[6] The first Estonian documentary was created by Johannes Pääsuke in 1912 that was followed by a short film Karujaht Pärnumaal (Bear Hunt in Pärnumaa) in 1914.

The first full length feature film was made in 1924 Shadow of the Past directed by Konstantin Märska. Theodor Luts Noored kotkad (Young Eagles) (1927) is generally regarded as the cornerstone of Estonian cinema [7]

In the 1960s a story of Prince Gabriel by Estonian writer Eduard Bornhöhe was turned into a movie script by Arvo Valton. Grigori Kromanov was named to be the director of Viimne reliikvia (The Last Relic) , released in 1969 by Tallinnfilm.

In 1997 the Estonian Film Foundation was founded by the Estonian Ministry of Culture. In 2007 about 10 feature films were made in Estonia. Most notable perhaps Sügisball (2007) by Veiko Õunpuu receiving among other awards Best Director at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, International Film Festival Bratislava and Venice Horizons Award at the 64th Venice International Film Festival. Georg (2007) by Peeter Simm is a movie about the life of legendary Estonian singer Georg Ots.

Most successful Estonian animation director has been Priit Pärn[8] the winner of Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1998 for Porgandite öö (Night of the Carrots).

Estonian Television Eesti Televisioon or ETV is the national public television station of Estonia. Its first broadcast was on July 19, 1955, and it celebrated the 50th anniversary on July 19, 2005.


The history of formal education in Estonia dates back to the 13—14th centuries when the first monastic and cathedral schools were founded. The first primer in the Estonian language was published in 1575. The oldest university is the University of Tartu which was established by the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf in 1632. In 1919, university courses were first taught in the Estonian language.

Today's education in Estonia is divided into general, vocational and hobby education. The education system is based on four levels which include the pre-school, basic, secondary and higher education.[9] A wide network of schools and supporting educational institutions has been established. The Estonian educational system consists of state, municipal, public and private educational institutions. There are currently 589 schools in Estonia.[10]

The University of Tartu, a member of the Coimbra Group was established by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in 1632. Bengt Gottfried Forselius (ca 1660-1688) was the founder of public education in Estonia, author of the first Estonian language ABC-book, and creator of a spelling system which made the teaching and learning of Estonian easier.

The way of life

Historical aspects

The area of modern Estonia has historically been inhabited by the same people as today, mostly speakers of Estonian, but some minorities (Russian) have immigrated recently. Before the Great Northern War, Estonia was considered at the periphery of the Swedish empire, then was incorporated into the Russian Empire. So although it was alternatively ruled by Sweden and Russia, and while Baltic Germans who ruled Estonia enjoyed considerable autonomy with the administrative language being German, the indigenous population retained their native language and culture.

The formation of a more defined Estonian cultural identity in the modern sense was accelerated in the 19th century during the period of overall national Romanticism and Nationalism in Europe. Support from the German speaking Estophiles in upper strata of the Estonian society for a separate Estonian identity led to the Estonian Age of Awakening


Today, the Estonian society encourages equality and liberalism, with a popular commitment to the ideals of the welfare state, discouraging disparity of wealth and division into social classes. The Protestant work ethic remains a significant cultural staple, and free education is a highly prized institution.

The traditional occupation of Estonians, like most Europeans, is agriculture. Until the first half of the 20th century, Estonia was an agrarian society, but in modern times Estonians have increasingly embraced an urban lifestyle. Nonetheless many Estonians maintain a fondness for a rural lifestyle close to nature, and it is a very typical practice to visit a summer cottage in the countryside during vacations.

Family structure

Estonian family life is nowadays centered around the nuclear family. Members of an extended family typically live apart, and youths seek independence and typically move from their parents' residence around the age of twenty.

Divorce rate is close to 60%. Estonia has one of the biggest percentage of single parents in Europe. The average percentage of single parents in Europe is 13% (2009).,[11] while in Estonia in year 2000, 19% of families with children under 18 were families with only one parent. In year 2006 the percentage was 16%. The decline may also be affected by the overall decline in birth rate.[12]

Festivities and traditions

Estonian holidays are mostly based on the Western Christian calendar and Protestant traditions.

Notable among these is Jaanipäev, the Estonian Midsummer which involves seeking one's way to non-urban environments and burning large bonfires and [participating in the] drunken revelry of Jaaniõhtu. The midsummer traditions also include different versions of pairing magic, such as collecting a number of different kinds of flowers and putting them under one's pillow, after which one is meant to see the future spouse in one's dreams.

The Estonian Christmas, Jõulud, is generally in line with the North and Middle European traditions of Christmas trees and Advent calendars and traditional meals, involving a number of dishes which are typically only eaten on Christmas. Christmas is the most extensive and appreciated and commercialized holiday in Estonia. Holidays start from the 23rd December and continue through Christmas Eve (24th), Christmas Day (25th). In schools and in many workplaces, the vacation continues until the New Year.

The Estonian independence day is the 24th of February and a national holiday.

Food and drink

Red currant kissel

Historically Estonian Cuisine has been simple peasant food, which today is influenced by many countries. Today it includes many typical international foods. The most typical foods in Estonia are black bread, pork, potatoes and milk-related products. Estonians themselves have considered blood sausage (verivorst) and sauerkraut "typical Estonian foods", but mostly those are eaten only at Christmas.

Notes and references

See also

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