After centuries of Danish, Swedish, German, and Russian rule, Estonia attained independence in 1918. Forcibly incorporated into the USSR in 1940 - an action never recognized by the US - it regained its freedom in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with the West. It joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004, formally joined the OECD in late 2010, and adopted the euro as its official currency on 1 January 2011. Source: World Factbook, CIA
Estonia's absorption into the Soviet Union as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic was interrupted in June 1941 by the German invasion. Still, that one year of Soviet rule left a deep mark on the Estonians. In addition to the takeover of their country and the rapid nationalization of their capitalist economy, on June 13-14, 1941, before the German invasion, Estonians also saw the mass deportation of some 10,000 of their countrymen to Siberia. Of those seized during the one-night operation, over 80 percent were women, children, or elderly people. The purpose of this action seemed to be to create terror rather than to neutralize any actual threat to the regime. The 1941-44 German occupation witnessed more repression, especially of Estonia's Jewish population, which numbered about 2,000. In September 1944, as the Red Army again neared Estonia, the memories of Soviet rule resurfaced vividly enough to prompt some 70,000 Estonians to flee the country into exile. These émigrés later formed ethnic communities in Sweden, the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and elsewhere, continuing to lobby for Estonia's rights during the next fifty years. Altogether, from 1939 to 1945 Estonia lost over 20 percent of its population to the turmoil of Soviet and German expansionism.
After the war, the Sovietization of Estonia resumed. The republic's war-ravaged industry was rebuilt as a component of the centrally planned economy. Agricultural collectivization was enforced, climaxing in March 1949 with another, more brutal wave of deportations involving some 25,000 people. The Estonian Communist Party was purged in 1950 of many of its original native leaders; they were replaced by several prominent Russified Estonians who had grown up in Russia. After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita S. Khrushchev's liberalization also touched Estonia. Efforts at economic reform were undertaken, and repression was eased. By the late 1960s, consumerism had taken root, and intellectual life was relatively vibrant. Following the Soviet Union's suppression of Czechoslovakia's "Prague Spring" reform movement in 1968, the trend toward openness suffered a reversal, but Estonia continued to maintain a standard of living well above the Soviet average. In 1980, during the period of stagnation under Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, some 2,000 schoolchildren demonstrated in the streets of Tallinn against a major Russification campaign launched from Moscow. Several dozen Estonian intellectuals later came together to write their own protest letter, but to no avail. Karl Vaino, the Russified Estonian leader of the Estonian Communist Party at the time, was particularly hostile toward dissent of any kind. Source:Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania: Country Studies