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Vabamu Museum in Estonia showcases country’s rise from Soviet satellite to digital republic

Why Estonia? 30 Years from the USSR to e-Estonia explores the country’s development to become a digital society

The Vabamu Museum of Occupations and Freedom in Estonia’s capital Tallinn has launched Why Estonia? 30 Years from the USSR to e-Estonia an exhibition that visualises the birth of a digital nation, its achievements and its future prospects.

Through what the museum says is a playful layout combined with engaging stories, the exhibition aims to answer the questions of how and why Estonia, once a nation of farmers, became a world-leading digital society and what new challenges lie ahead.

World’s most digitally advanced societies

The inspiration for the exhibition has been Estonia’s remarkable development into the world’s most digitally advanced society, which has helped the country, with a population of 1.3m, survive financially and stand out on the world stage.

The Vabamu Museum says the exhibition is attractive and informative

After 50 years of Soviet domination, Estonia regained its independence in 1991 and with limited technology and resources policy makers realised that starting from scratch presented a rare opportunity to build a new technology infrastructure.

They did this by creating low-cost, cutting-edge systems based around accessibility and efficiency. By 1996 99% of the population was using the internet regularly and Estonia was ranked first on the Digital Development Index.

Story of e-state becomes a hands-on world

By 1996 99% of the population was using the internet regularly and Estonia was ranked first on the Digital Development Index

“A country as small as ours enjoys few opportunities to do that, after all. But why us in particular, and how?” said museum board member, Karen Jogodin, who came up with the idea for the exhibition. “There is something in Estonians that simply will not allow us to remain invisible. Something that makes us dig in our heels when faced with a challenge that at first glance seems impossible.

“At Vabamu the story of our e-state becomes a hands-on world in which old computers, mobile phones, video games and current and future e-state solutions all have their place. In order for what the exhibition showcases to be better understood and remembered, its displays are attractive, text is limited and there is plenty to see, hear and touch.”

The exhibition showcases the conditions that enabled Estonia to become a world-leading digital state and looks at how digital society has changed the nation, its people and the entrepreneurs.

Being ranked first in the Digital Development Index for its development of high-quality e-banking services, which encouraged people to get online, embrace e-governance and, later, e-ID, was just the start. By 2005 many civic activities were being completed over the internet including online voting.

First country in the cloud

And by 2015 Estonia became the first country in the cloud, its critical databases and services being backed up in a high-security data centre in Luxembourg, creating the world’s first data embassy.

In 2019 the government set out a detailed strategic plan for promoting implementation of AI solutions in the public and private sectors and in 2021 it introduced a driverless hydrogen vehicle Liisu as an environmentally friendly alternative to personal cars.

Dogged determination

“The success story of our digital state is proof of our dogged determination, the fruits of which we are able to enjoy ourselves and proudly show to others,” said journalist and curator, Henrik Roonemaa.

“The exhibition will be of interest to anyone keen to obtain an overview of the e-success story of our little nation, of its past, present and future.”

As well as the great technological advances the exhibition will also examine the darker side of being an e-state with the constant threat from cybercrime as well as where the Estonian state’s new vision will lead its digital society in the future.

The Vabamu Museum was established in 2003 and recounts the story of Estonian people from occupation to independence with an aim to inspire people to maintain and stand up for their freedom. It also manages former KGB prison cells as a museum in a separate site, which documents the crimes against humanity committed there under occupation.

Why Estonia? 30 Years from the USSR to e-Estonia runs until 23 October 2022.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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