After establishing independence, Estonia was admitted to the League of Nations in 1921. Having been occupied by Czarist Russia for nearly two centuries, Estonia was initially poor compared to other Western nations, but the country quickly adapted. Estonia’s first constitution was roughly based on Switzerland’s. A six-day, forty-eight-hour work week became the norm. Unemployment never rose above 2% (1% being the average) during these years, and Estonia’s literacy rates ranked among the highest in the world, as they still do. Estonia exported goods around the world. Free speech and religious liberty were guaranteed by law.
Political stability was occasionally challenged by the Soviet Union. In 1924, a Moscow-instigated team of Communist “revolutionaries” attacked various government installations. Estonian government troops repelled the attacks in one day.
Estonia modernized quickly, emerging from two hundred years of Czarist rule to become a Western European–style democracy. By 1938, the Baltic countries were importing goods valued at $293 million, with the value of exports being $292 million. In the same year, Soviet Russia’s imports totaled $261 million and exports totaled $250 million.
In just twenty years, Estonia had worked economic and political miracles. Its economy was roughly equivalent to that of its northern neighbor, Finland. In 1939, growth and prosperity seemed right around the corner for Estonia.