III World Congress of the Finno-Ugric Peoples

Helsinki (Finland) December 10–13, 2000

 
   
 

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Consultative Committee
of the Finno-Ugric Peoples

   

SPEECHES OF THE PEOPLES' REPRESENTATIVES

Õie SARV,
delegate of the Setos

Greetings to all the good people who have gathered here!

The Seto are sincerely pleased that you have recognized us, and that we may join you here to discuss our situation.

The Seto live in a border zone, so that their native land lies partly in a comer of Estonia and partly on the edge of Russia. A barbed wire runs right through the heart of Setoland, but it reaches out to cut even into the soul of people. This barbed wire marks the official state border between the Republic of Estonia and the Russian Federation, negotiated by the politicians. The Seto people were separated into two different states against their will, their historical communication and survival routes on their native land were cut off. Roads that used to connect people, disconnect them today, because the roads were likewise cut through. No land could hope to survive in such a divided situation.

In the past, when the Seto still lived in their native land, they were not especially concerned with the others. They themselves knew, who they were. Their existence was not much affected by the opinion of the others, or what names they were called. Now things have changed. There has been a huge jumble of population and today a large number of Setos must live in towns or elsewhere all over Estonia. There people ask: Who are you? You are somewhat different from the rest of us. If you reply that I am a Seto, then they start arguing that no such people, like the Seto, exist' How can those others determine who we are? Does a person have a right to decide herself or himself, who she or he is, or is one constantly obliged to listen to the opinion of other people? In connection with the General Census a piece of paper was printed that declared Seto not to be an ethnicity. Why cannot a Seto person be a Seto officially? If I had told the Census officer that I was Tibetan, there would have been no question: he would have recorded me as a Tibetan and the end of story. Even in Setoland people were denied the right to be Seto. How can they do that?

The Seto want to retain their community. We have convened the Seto Congress for three times by now, and this Congress has elected the Body of Elders who serve the Seto cause. The communes in the district of Setoland also stick together, they have formed the Association of Setoland Communes. We even have our own representatives and a support group in the Estonian parliament Riigikogu.

Our number is small, but we do exist. We would also like to lead our own lives, learn and embrace our own history, teach our children the language and culture of their grandmothers. Do we have the right to remain ourselves, or must we become someone else?

In conclusion, I wish all the best to the bigger nations. May they find wisdom to recognize and remember the smaller ones! Let us try to work together, so that we also might survive.

I wish you good health and many years to come.

Source: III World Congress of the Finno-Ugrian Peoples. Helsinki, 2000 [Joshkar-Ola,2001], pp 64–65.

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I - Syktyvkar, 1992
II - Budapest, 1996
IV - Tallinn, 2004