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A small and heavily forested country, Estonia is the most northerly of the three former Soviet Baltic republics.
Not much more than a decade after it regained its independence following the collapse of the USSR, the republic was welcomed as a Nato member in late March 2004.
The move came just weeks before a second historic shift for Estonia in establishing its place in the Western family of nations, as it joined the EU in May 2004. These developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times.
Estonia was part of the Russian empire until 1918 when it proclaimed its independence. Russia recognised it as an independent state under the 1920 Treaty of Tartu.
During the two decades that followed it tried to assert its identity as a nation squeezed between the rise of Nazism in Germany and the dominion of Stalin in the USSR.
After a pact between Hitler and Stalin, Soviet troops arrived in 1940 and Estonia was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed the Soviets out in 1941 but the Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century.
The legacy of the Soviet years has left a mark which the country carries with it into its EU era: a large number of the Russian-speaking industrial workers brought in decades ago have ended up without Estonian citizenship for which they are required to pass an Estonian-language test. About a fifth of the population has no citizenship of any kind.
The Estonian language is closely related to Finnish but not to the languages of either of the other Baltic republics, Latvia and Lithuania, or to Russian. The country has unique traditions in folk song and verse, traditions which have had to be strong to survive the many centuries of domination by foreign countries.
Population: 1.3 million (UN, 2003)
Major languages: Estonian, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 66 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 kroon = 100 sents
Main exports: Machinery, textiles, wood products
GNI per capita: US $4,190 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .ee
International dialling code: + 372
The post-independence years of the early 1990s saw a proliferation of newspapers. This subsequently turned into a fight for survival for a smaller number of surviving titles.
Broadcasting witnessed spectacular growth after 1991. The industry has attracted a number of foreign players; the two main commercial TV stations are owned by Swedish and Norwegian concerns.
Public radio and TV services are run by Eesti Televisioon (ETV) and Eesti Raadio (ER).
Take-up of cable TV is extensive. The service offers channels in Finnish, Swedish, Russian and Latvian.