6 clichés to avoid when reporting about Estonia


Estonians greatly appreciate when international journalists write about Estonia. Of course, we all prefer to read reports that focus on Estonia as a great place to visit or do business, but there’s understandably an increased focus on Estonia’s security right now as a result of world events.

But too many international reports and online comments about Estonia, even those that report positively, use the same old clichés about our “tiny ex-Soviet state”. Despite what international headline writers might think, Estonia is actually larger than mid-sized European nations like Denmark or Switzerland, which are never described as tiny.

Size isn’t really important though. However, here’s some clichés about Estonia that really should be avoided – with an explanation why.

Save this infographic and share it whenever you see someone reporting these clichés.

Even if you’re not a journalist, you can help improve the accuracy of media coverage about Estonia by sharing this guide with journalists or commentators on social media when you see them repeating one of these lines. And if you see any common cliches that we’ve missed then let us know through Propastop’s Twitter or Facebook pages.

Here’s an extended version below, adding context to each cliché.

“Estonia became independent in 1991”

FACT: Estonia became independent in 1918 when the Republic of Estonia was founded. Two years later, the Estonian War of Independence ended in victory for Estonia and, as part of the Treaty of Tartu – which is considered the birth certificate of the Republic – Russia agreed to recognise Estonia’s territorial integrity in perpetuity. This actually means that Estonia and Russia were the first countries to recognise each other’s sovereignty following the collapse of the Russian Tsarist empire. Estonia has been de jure independent under international law ever since, despite being later occupied illegally by the Soviet Union until 1991.

“Estonia is an ex-Soviet state”

FACT: Estonia is many things. It is European, Finno-Ugric, Nordic, Baltic, forested, digitally advanced, democratic, startup-friendly, and so much more. However, it did not legally join the Soviet Union under international or Estonian law. During the Soviet occupation, the Estonian state continued in exile until it was fully re-established and Soviet ‘membership’ was officially annulled. 

Legal technicalities aside, you should also consider if it is even relevant to refer to an occupation that ended 30 years ago when describing Estonia. European countries occupied by Nazi Germany were not described in relation to their occupations 30 years afterwards. Even ‘post-Soviet’ is a term that describes the aftermath of that period, which no longer applies considering the enormous progress Estonia has made politically and economically.

Bear in mind that many Estonians shaping the country today as a vibrant, modern state weren’t even born during Soviet times.

“Estonia is 25% Russian”

FACT: About a quarter of Estonia’s population speaks Russian as their mother tongue. A large proportion of them are Estonian citizens and also speak Estonian. Despite what Kremlin propagandists hope, language does not determine identity or worldview. 

For comparison, consider that the majority of people in the Republic of Ireland speak English, not Irish, as their mother tongue yet that does not mean they identify as English.

To learn more, we took a deeper dive into the status of Russian speakers in Estonia in this recent article responding to a Greek journalist who made false claims.

“Estonia is home to 2,000 NATO troops”

FACT: Estonia is home to about 230,000 NATO troops – if you remember to include Estonians. Kremlin propaganda seeks to deny the agency of Russia’s neighbouring peoples and disregard the sovereign right of their nations to freely enter defence alliances. By only counting westerners as part of the NATO alliance, you are inadvertently echoing that propaganda. 

But Estonia is a full, contributing member of NATO that spends well above the minimum NATO commitment on defence to defend itself and support its NATO allies. Estonia is not a passive recipient of NATO troops. Estonia is NATO. It has 4,000 troops of its own on permanent readiness, while its defensive strategy based on reserve readiness enables it to call up around 230,000 people in total. There are also 26,000 people in the Estonian Defence League, the volunteer territorial defence organisation (which runs this website). On top of all that, Estonia has very gratefully welcomed an ADDITIONAL 2,000 troops from NATO allies who train alongside Estonian forces as part of Estonia’s Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) NATO battlegroup.

“Estonia is located on Russia’s doorstep / the Russian border”

FACT: Estonia is a proudly independent Northern European EU nation that neighbours Latvia and Russia, just across the gulf from Finland. There is no reason to use language that implies one of these nations has some kind of ownership. It’s not just historically insensitive but also a bit silly. No one refers to Russia as Estonia’s doorstep.

“Estonia is concerned it could be next”

FACT: Estonia is concerned that autocratic regimes can threaten democracies anywhere. This is a global challenge. Yet Estonia’s own security has never been stronger due to its high readiness and strong international alliances that are resolutely unified against potential threats, including through its membership of NATO and the EU.