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Phosphorite War

The Phosphorite War ( Estonian : Fosforiidisõda ) is the name given to a late-1980s environmental campaign in the then- Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic , against the opening of large phosphorite mines in the Virumaa region. The movement, peaking in 1987, was successful in achieving its immediate goals, but also in encouraging and strengthening the nationalist movement to the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991. [1] [2] In Estonia it is considered as a catalyst to the destabilization and dissolution of the Soviet regime. [3]

The campaign focused on two major issues. The broad-scale environmental degradation that the new mines would cause was most common in the public discussion. The other, more covert issue of the new mines’ need for a workforce would start a wave of migration, bringing together the Soviet Union to Estonia. In the view of Estonians, it is believed that this is a fragile demographic balance [2] (the share of Estonians in Estonia dropped from about 97% immediately after World War II to 61.5% in 1989 [4] ).

Background and early developments

Phosphorite deposits ( Obolus sandstone at the Lower Cambrian / Lower Ordovician boundary) are found in several places in Northern Estonia. [5] The Rakvere deposit, lying mostly in Lääne-Viru County , is the largest phosphorite deposit in Europe. [5] Phosphorite mining in Estonia started in 1924 near Maardu . In 1940 a new large mine was opened, which together with a low-grade phosphorus fertilizer production factory operated until late 1991, causing several environmental problems in the area. [5] Currently no phosphorite is mined in Estonia and is not considered economically viable.

The central government of the Soviet Union in Moscow brought about the exploitation of phosphorus deposits in Lääne-Viru County in the early 1970s. [6] The first proposals suggested mining the Toolse deposit (north of Rakvere ), but in the early 1980s, plans for the Toolse mine were cast aside and instead mined at the Rakvere. The plans were not made public, but among Estonian scientists and environmentalists involved in the decision making had been considerable opposition to the plans since the early stages. Notably, there were people in the Estonian Academy of Sciences , like Endel Lippmaa , who were aware of and opposed to the plans. [3]

Major events

The phosphorite is now known to the general public on 25 February 1987, which is often used to mark the beginning of the Phosphorite War. [3] On this day Moscow’s plans to expand phosphorite mining in northern Estonia were revealed on Estonian TV . [2] Although the Estonian Communist Party held a position that the decision had been made by Estonians, it had been finalized. [3]

Numerous protests broke out and petitions were signed against the new mines. [1] The question came to a head in spring 1987 in an unprecedented public debate. [7] In April, Tartu Universityheld a meeting in the main hall of the university and unanimously condemned the actions of the leadership of the Estonian SSR. [1] At traditional May Day demonstrations, Phosphorite mining and wore yellow with Phosphorite – no thanks, which becomes extremely popular. [1]

On May 8 by Priit Pärn was published in the newspaper Sirp ja Vasar (Hammer and Sickle). Entitled Just shit ( Estonian : Sitta kah! ), The cartoon showed a peasant shoveling on his field a piece of manure shaped like Estonia. The most famous cartoon ever published in Estonia. [8] [9] Following these and other occurrences and facing the general opposition to the mines, in September 1987 the Soviet authorities had to back down from their plans. [6] The end of the Phosphorite War is hard to define, but the movement mostly calmed down during 1988. [10]


Regarding the Estonian Independence Movement, the unintended consequences of the campaign are of similar importance to the immediate outcome. [3] The Phosphorite War activated the Estonian masses, [7] gave rise to the belief in the power of collective action [3] and was an important factor in the disappearance of fear of the regime. [2] Overall, it acted as a catalyst for the destabilization of the Soviet government in Estonia. [3]


  1. ^ Jump up to:d Subrenat, Jean-Jacques , ed. (2004). Estonia: identity and independence . New York: Rodopi. ISBN  90-420-0890-3 .
  2. ^ Jump up to:d Vogt, Henri (2005). Between Utopia and disillusionment: a narrative of the political transformation in Eastern Europe . New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books. p. 333. ISBN  1-57181-895-2 .
  3. ^ Jump up to:g Miljan, Toivo (2004). Historical dictionary of Estonia . Oxford: Scarecrow Press. p. 558.
  4. Jump up^ “Eesti rahvastik rahvaloenduste andmetel (Population of Estonia by population censuses)” (in Estonian and English). 2 . Eesti Statistikaamet (Statistical Office of Estonia). 1996. ISBN  9985-826-44-2 . Retrieved 2009-10-22 .
  5. ^ Jump up to:c Raukas, Anto ; Teedumäe, Aada, eds. (1997). Geology and Mineral Resources of Estonia . Tallinn: Estonian Academy Publishers. p. 436. ISBN  9985-50-185-3 .
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Laurisaar, Riho (2007-05-26). “Fosforiidisõda päästis Kirde-Eesti looduse pöördumatust hävingust” . Eesti Päevaleht (in Estonian) . Retrieved 2009-10-22 .
  7. ^ Jump up to:b Raun, Toivo U. (2001). Estonia and the Estonians . Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University. ISBN  0-8179-2852-9 .
  8. Jump up^ Kolk, Tiina (2007-04-27). “Priit Pärn – Botaanik kunstimaailmas” . Äripäev(in Estonian) . Retrieved 2009-10-22 .
  9. Jump up^ Lõhmus, Maarja (2004). “An effect of meaning-breaker: Analysis of the cartoon ‘Just shit ‘ ” . Semiotica . 150 (1): 257-282.
  10. Jump up^ Raudsep, Rein (1997). “Kümme aastat fosforiidisõjast” . Eesti Loodus (in Estonian) (7).

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