Like its neighboring Baltic states, Estonia is a land between powers, alternately occupied and dominated by Scandinavian, European and Russian rulers. Also like its neighbors, Estonia endured 50 years of Soviet rule before emerging as an independent state in the early 1990s. Since that time it has developed and joined the European Union in the 21st century.
Estonia is known for its quiet natural beauty. Approximately 1,500 islands and islets off the Estonian coast invite exploration and challenge sailors. Two of these islands are large enough to constitute their own counties. Several islets together form the Hiiumaa Islets Landscape Reserve, a breeding place for some 110 bird species and a migration halt for numerous others. More than 600 plant species grow here, as well.
Although Estonia has a Lutheran religious heritage, recent polls have declared it the least-religious country in the European Union. The majority of the population declares no church or religious affiliation at all. Many members of the Estonian diaspora, particularly in North America, have retained more spiritual community and religious connections. Estonian Christians are primarily Lutheran or Orthodox.
The Estonian language belongs to the Finnic branch of the Finno-Ugric group of languages. It is not therefore related to the neighbouring Indo-European languages such as Russian, Latvian and Swedish. Finnish, Hungarian and Estonian are the best known of the Finno-Ugric languages.
Until the mid-18th century, two language versions competed to achieve the status of standard Estonian: the Northern (Tallinn) and the Southern (Tartu) languages. The New Testament was published in the Tartu dialect of South Estonian in 1686. The first edition of the complete Bible was produced in the northern language in 1739. Anton Thor Helle (1683-1748), a clergyman, writer, and the developer of the Estonian written language, was the main translator. The translation of the Bible into the North-Estonian language strengthened its position to become the common written language in Estonia. In recent times, the southern language has seen some revival as a literary language.
There have been numerous updated Bible translations over the years, the most recent being done by the Estonian Bible Society in the 1990s.