Setos (setoq) are an autochthonous ethnic and linguistic minority in south-eastern Estonia and north-western Russia. Setos are mostly Seto-speaking Orthodox Christians of Estonian nationality. Their language Seto (like Finnish, Estonian and Võro) belongs to the Balto-Finnic group of the Finno-Ugric languages. Seto is a regional language of Estonia (in search of more recognition). Along with Orthodox Christianity, vernacular traditional folk religion is also widely known and supported among Setos.

There are approximately 10,000 Setos all around the world. The bulk of Setos, however, are found in the Seto region (Setomaa), which is divided between south-eastern Estonia (Põlva and Võro counties) and north-western Russian Federation (Pskov Oblast). Setos are an officially protected ethnic minority of Pskov Oblast.

The culture of Setos blossomed in early 20th century when many national societies of Setos were working. In 1905 number of Setos reached maximum. After the proclamation of independence of Estonia its authorities adopted policy of Estonification of its population which eventually lead to virtual disapperance of Setos as distinct linguistic entity of Estonia. In Russia due to influence of Estonian language schools, high rate of mixed marriages, and emigration to Estonia the number of Setos drastically decreased as well.

The border question

Prior to A.D. 600 the whole of Setomaa was within the vast northern Finnic lands of the indigenous Finno-Ugric peoples. After A.D. 600 Slavic tribes migrated northeast, into Finno-Uralic and Finno-Ugric lands: These lands included portions of Greater Livonia-Estonia that are now Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Kaliningrad (former Samland), and far northeastern Germany. During this migration north the Slavic tribes interbred with several Finnic and Finno-Uralic tribes in the southern habitation areas of the indigenous Finnics and Finno-Uralics. The first significant event that separated Setos from Estonians was forced conversion of the latter into Catholicism in the 13th century, while Setos who lived in Novgorod Land remained pagans. In the 15th century Setos were converted into Orthodox Christianity but kept vernacular beliefs. Later elements of Catholic culture were brought to Setos by Estonian colonists, while in Estonia itself they eventually nearly disappeared after the Lutherification of Estonia. With the peace treaty of Tartu, the area Setomaa (Setoland) was ceded to the newly created Republic of Estonia and it was included into Petseri County (Petserimaa). As a result of World War II, the Republic of Estonia was forcefully annexed to the Soviet Union. And in the years after the war, the border between the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic was revised by Moscow authorities to what it is now. The issue became topical as the Republic of Estonia was restored in the borders of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1991 and a national border was established soon afterwards. The establishment of the border brought about the division of Setomaa between two countries for the first time in history.

Representative organisations

The Seto Congress, a body comprising representatives of Seto villages and organisations, is regularly convened every three years and elects a permanent Council of Elders. The Society for Seto Congress is a member of the Estonian Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. The Setomaa federation of municipalities in Estonia (Setomaa Valdade Liit, comprising the communes of Mikitämäe, Verska, Meremäe and Misso) publishes the newspaper Setomaa, partly in the Seto, partly in Estonian.

See also

External links


  • Eichenbaum, K.; Pajusalu, K. (2001): Setode ja võrokeste keelehoiakutest ja identiteedist. - Keel ja Kirjandus nr 7, lk. 483-489.
  • Eller, K. (1999): Võro-Seto language. Võro Instituut'. Võro.

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