Impact of the Soviet occupation

It should be mentioned, as a comparison, that Estonians as the principal nation made up 88.1% of the total population before the Second World War. Among the rest of the population, there were five minority groups which numbered more than 3000. The number of Russians was the greatest (8.2% or approx. 92 000), followed by Germans (1.5% or 16 300), Swedes (0.7% or 7600), Latvians and Jews (less than 0.5%). As a result of World War II and the political reformations, Estonia lost four of its five largest national minority groups. Thus, at the end of the war, Estonians made up 97.3% of the total population living within the new borders, although the total number of Estonians had of course sharply declined. The war and subsequent repressions meant that Estonians lost about 17.5% of their entire population.

The demographic processes characteristic of the foreign-borns, i.e. population coming to Estonia mainly during the postwar period, as a rule followed the trends of the country of origin. So — although depopulation has been characteristic of the Estonian indigenous population since the 1970s, the natural decrease became a representative feature for the whole population as late as the early 1990s.

During the years 1970–1990, the population of Estonia grew notably fast compared to other states at the same level of demographic development. Cumulative growth has been around 17% of the total population. Urban population grew even faster, amounting to 30%, although one would have expected the spread of deurbanisation tendencies. The growth of the total, and especially the urban, population at such a speed during the period in question is due almost entirely to the direct and indirect consequences of external migration. The decline in rural population, on the other hand, was mostly caused by the natural decrease resulting from the age composition of the population. By the beginning of the eighties, the age composition of the Estonian rural population became balanced, as the decrease in rural population slowed down or stopped.

A study of the postwar development of the Estonian population must take into account the fact that in the course of political changes, Estonia lost about one quarter of its indigenous population. At the same time, Estonia was united with a demographically less developed country — the development gap between Estonia and Russia was half a century.

One of the results of the unbalanced demographic development described above is, in the European context, the markedly large share of the foreign-born population in Estonia, exceeding 26% of the total population (last census 1989). If we add to this the second generation of the foreign-born population, the total share of the population of foreign origin in Estonia amounts to 36%. According to international definition, only 39 000 out of the 602 000 non-Estonians can be classified as belonging to a national minority; with certain reservations the figure can be supplemented by 29 000 Ingrians on the basis of their regionally indigenous status. The rest are people of foreign origin: the foreign-born population and their offspring.

The wars wreaked havoc on most European states but the impact on the Estonian population was, compared to several other countries, especially devastating, as Estonia was a demographically well-developed area. In other words, by the middle of the century, Estonia had become a state characterised by slow generation replacement where it took considerably longer for the wounds to heal, or the wounds may even turn out to be untreatable. From the point of view of future development, it is crucial to understand that the Estonian population may never be able to recover from the losses sustained in the wars and repressions of the 20th century since the age composition will maintain the depopulation characteristics of the present-day society for decades to come, even if the fertility rate increases enough to reach the European average.

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