Foreigners interested in Estonia for either professional or personal reasons are led to ask themselves several questions: what are the various hypotheses concerning the origins of Estonian identity, how have its inhabitants preserved their identity throughout the vicissitudes of history, how has that identity evolved, and under what influences; in which circumstances was independence declared, denied and recovered within the space of just seventy years? Observation of contemporary Estonian reality certainly leads one to ask questions to which answers are not readily available, at least not in the form of an accessible synthesis.
There are history books that examine the acquisition of independence, and also the period following the implosion of the Soviet Union, which permitted Estonia to proclaim its independence once again (for example Mart Laar, Urmas Ott and Sirje Endre, Teine Eesti: Eesti iseseisvuse taassünd, 19861991, 2nd edition, Tallinn: SE&JS, 2000). As concerns Estonian identity however, the pronouncements of historians, linguists, geneticists or ethnologists have not yet given rise to public debate, apart from an occasional exchange in the press.
In 2001, Estonia celebrated the first decade since regaining its independence: who could have imagined, in 1980 for instance, that the course of events would make this country the master of its own destiny? A reflection on the identity and independence of Estonia is one way of marking this important milestone.
This book does not presume to offer a specialist's view of Estonian history, be it of the geneticist, the archaeologist or the palaeographer, nor is it a history textbook. It decisively avoids proposing an authorised interpretation, a sort of official catalogue of the facts, nor does it seek to impose an unremarkable portrait of the truth consisting of commonplaces.
The idea of this book is above all to contribute to debate. From the beginning, three editions were envisaged: in Estonian, since the Estonians themselves undoubtedly feel some curiosity regarding an evolution in which they are the prime actors; in Russian, since for Russian-speakers — who make up roughly one-third of the population — it is important to integrate themselves into this country; and finally in French, for the Francophones who may ask themselves questions about Estonia, a country that since 1998 has been involved in negotiations over accession to the European Union.