July 1941. Victims of Red terror in Saaremaa. EFA
Estonia, a Northern European country on the shores of the Baltic Sea and on the border of Eastern and Western civilizations, has a complex history. Despite centuries of foreign rule, Estonians maintained national identity and managed to found an independent state in 1918. Promising development was cut short in 1940 by a secret pact between Stalin and Hitler that led to the occupation and incorporation of Estonia into the Soviet Union. Independence was terminated and Estonia subjected to Communist terror regime that soon evolved to genocide. More than 300.000 citizens of the Republic of Estonia - almost a third of its then population - were affected by arrests, mass murder, deportation and other acts of repression. As a result of Communist occupation, Estonia permanently lost at least 200.000 people or 20% of its population to repressions, exodus and war. Even today, there are less Estonians in Estonia than before WWII. In addition to immediate persecution, hundreds of thousands suffered from indirect repressions and discrimination. Estonian culture was hit heavily; hundreds of cultural monuments were destroyed along with millions of books. Church members were persecuted. By 1989, russification and colonization had reduced the percentage of Estonians in the population to 61%. When Soviet occupation ended in 1991, Estonia had fallen far behind the free world in terms of economic and social development. Since then, extensive reforms and effort have led the country to recovery.