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Estonia - Religion

Approximately 14 percent of the population is Evangelical Lutheran, and approximately 15 percent of the population belongs to one of the two Orthodox Churches in the country: the Estonian Orthodox Church, subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP), and the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC). Other Christian groups, including Methodists, Seventh-day Adventists, Roman Catholics, and Pentecostals, together constitute 1.4 percent of the population. The Russian Old Believers, who live primarily along the west bank of Lake Peipsi in the east, constitute another distinctive community. There are also small Jewish and Muslim communities. Thirty-two percent of the population is unspecified or other, approximately 34 percent is unaffiliated, and 6 percent does not identify with a religion. According to the government, as of September 2010, there were more than 500 religious associations registered in the country. Most religious adherents among the Russian-speaking population, who mainly reside in the capital or the northeastern part of the country, are Orthodox.

The dominant religion in Estonia is Evangelical Lutheranism. Estonians were Christianized by the Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century. During the Reformation, Lutheranism spread, and the church was officially established in Estonia in 1686. Still, Estonians generally tend not to be very religious, because religion through the nineteenth century was associated with German feudal rule. In 1992 there were 153 Lutheran congregations in Estonia with an estimated 200,000 members. Active members totaled about 70,000.

Orthodox Christianity is the second largest faith, with eighty congregations and about 15,000 members in 1992. Forty-three Orthodox congregations are Estonian, twenty-five are Russian, and twelve are mixed. There are eleven congregations of Old Believers (see Glossary) and a convent in Kuremäe, in northeastern Estonia. After independence, ethnic divisions among Orthodox Christians resurfaced over the question of their allegiance to Moscow. Many Estonian Orthodox Church leaders favored greater autonomy from Moscow or total allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the situation that existed during Estonia's first period of independence. In 1992 the Estonian Orthodox Church, despite local Russian objections, requested autonomy from Moscow. The issue was a delicate one for Russian Orthodox patriarch Aleksiy II, who had been born in Estonia and had served there as a metropolitan. However, in April 1993 he agreed to grant the Estonian Orthodox Church autonomy.

During World War II, between 1939 and 1945, through both the Nazi and Soviet occupations, Estonia's direct human losses reached 180,000 residents, which amounted to 17% of its total population. During the Nazi occupation from 1941 to 1944, 7,800 citizens of the Republic of Estonia (70% ethnic Estonians, 15% ethnic Russians, 12.8% Estonian Jews, and 2.2% representing other nationalities) were executed in Nazi prison camps. Of the total number executed during the period of Nazi occupation, an estimated 1,000 were Estonian Jews--or roughly 25% of the pre-war Jewish population of Estonia. Additionally, an estimated 10,000 Jews were transported to Estonia from elsewhere in Eastern Europe and killed there.

On 30 July 2011 a memorial event was held in Sinimae to honor veterans who had been part of the 20th Estonian Waffen SS Grenadier Division. This event has been a source of controversy in the past due to the connection between non-Baltic Waffen SS units and Nazi war crimes. There were no reports of anti-Semitic statements or actions associated with the event.

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Page last modified: 06-11-2012 17:15:20 ZULU