Setu people at centre of Estonian-Russian border debate

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jul 8 13:55:41 UTC 2005

Setu people at centre of Estonian-Russian border debate

Tallinn 7/4/2005 , by Alexander Shegedin

The Setu people have been caught in the middle of the ongoing controversy
over the Estonian- Russian border. Last week Russia decided to revoke its
signature to the agreements signed in Moscow in May. Now, the Setu issue
has provoked a conflict between acting President of Estonia, Arnold
Ruutel, and his predecessor Lennart Meri.

At present the Setu people are divided by the existing Estonian-Russian
border, which exists de facto and has to be confirmed de jure by a new
border treaty. However, Russia has voided the new treaty because of the
Estonian reference to the Tartu peace treaty (1920) according to the news
agency Itar Tass. In that treaty all Setu territory is included in
Estonia. Subsequently Estonia lost 5 percent of its territory to Russia
when authorities delineated the Estonian Soviet Republic from the Russian
Soviet Republic in 1945.

The issue has also caused contoversy in Estonian domestic politics with
President Ruutel accusing Lennart Meri, who was President in 1992, of a
failed opportunity to conclude a more favourable treaty with Russia.
Ruutel claims that he met with the then Russian President Yeltsin and
obtained an agreement that the border could lie more to the east leaving
almost all Setu villages under Estonian rule. But, according Ruutel, the
former Estonian President Meri, and prime-minister Mart Laar, declined to

Ruutel claims that 13-14 Setu villages, which are now part of Russian
Pskov region, should be in Estonia. In response Trivimi Velliste, the
Estonian foreign minister in 1992, said that the Ruutel-Yeltsin agreement
was concluded over a glass of vodka and lacks any substance.

Meanwhile from June 27th to 28th a conference the Finno-Ugric world in a
context of Russian-European cultural dialogue took place in St Petersburg,
where Ilmar Vananurm, leader of Setu Congress, had a meeting with Modest
Kolerov, Head of President Putins Directorate for Interregional Relations
and Cultural Contacts with Foreign Countries. They discussed the Setu
issue. Kolerov sees the Setu as a single national group, while Vananurm
sees the Setu as Pskov Estonians whose natural cultural tradition is
Estonian. Vananurm said that many Setu left their homes in 1944 when most
Setu territory went from Soviet Estonia to the Russian Pskov region
following the set up of new administrative divisions inside the Soviet
Union. At this time Estonian-medium schools were closed.

The Setu Congress, founded in Estonia, is against the recent border
treaty. In May and June the Setu held several protests in Tallinn and
handed over to Estonian parliament speaker Ene Ergma a 12,000 signature
petition against treaty ratification. It is an unnatural, wrong and unfair
border stated Vananurm.

In 2007 a special project on Setu territory will be launched under the
aegis of UNESCO. Modest Kolerov said that the Russian Federation supports
the cultural-linguistic identity of the Setu people. A Setu-medium school,
in Pechori (Pskov region), will be set up in September and there are
Orthodox Setu-medium churches and a private museum of Setu culture.
Kolerov underlined that the cultural and linguistic rights of the Setu
must be guaranteed in Estonia as well as in Russia.

The Setu language is part of the Finno-Ugric group along with Finnish and
Estonian. (Eurolang  2005)


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