Estonian culture is that of a nation of a little more than one million people. Along with the language, this culture is the main vehicle for Estonian identity, hence the respect that Estonians feel for it. The culture of Estonia incorporates indigenous heritage. Due to its history and geography, Estonia’s culture has been influenced by the traditions of the adjacent area’s various Finnish, Baltic, Slavic and Germanic peoples as well as the cultural developments in the former dominant powers Sweden and Russia.
The most striking example of the culture of ancient Estonians is their regivärss, i.e. rhythmic verse, as well as the aural tradition of folk song where each line is repeated several times with variations on a theme. Estonians have one of the biggest collections of folk songs in the world, with written records of about 133,000 folk songs.
Since Estonia regained independence (1991), Estonian cultural life has evolved rapidly, largely in a similar way to that of the rest of Europe. The new media and virtual art have made their breakthrough.
The ticket to the outside world is, however, music, on account of the lack of language barriers. World-famous conductors include Neeme Järvi and Tõnu Kaljuste, while composers Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and Erkki-Sven Tüür are well known abroad.
At an institutional level, there are many private initiatives such as small theatres, dance groups and especially publishing houses. Estonians like theatre and go to see a play at least twice a year.
A large number of cultural institutions such as theatres, museums and libraries are financed by the state, as are cultural periodicals, whose editions are very large, given the size of the population. Cultural efforts are supported financially by the Kultuurkapital fund, which derives its revenue from duty on the sale of alcohol and on gambling.