Setos (in Seto language: setoq or setokõsõq) is a ethnic group of Estonians whose traditional territories are in southeastern Estonia (Setomaa).
According to Russia’s 2002 census 197 persons identified themselves as Setos. In 2010, this figure had risen to 214. Approximately 2000 Setos live in Estonia’s historical Setomaa, and 15 000 – 20 000 Setos elsewhere in Estonia.
Setos are an ethnic group with a distinctive identity and language. The Seto language can be heard in the eastern part of South Estonia and around the Pechora town (Pskov Oblast) in Russia. They speak the Seto dialect or language that is close to the Võro dialect or language that has many influences of the Russian language. Unlike most Estonians, Setos are Orthodox but have also maintained elements of pre-Christian belief.
Today, the majority of Setos live in Tartu and Tallinn. However, the traditional Seto territory in South-Estonia and Petserimaa (today’s Pechora District of Russia’s Pskov Oblast) is split into two by the Estonian-Russian border. According to the Tartu Peace of 1920, traditional Seto lands were divided between the Estonian SSR and Russian SFSR. After World War II, some Setos ended up on the Russian side of the national border in Pechora District. The border issue has since then been an important part of Seto life, causing many problems and endangering the preservation of traditional Seto culture.
In 2010, Russian government recognized Setos as the 46th small-numbered indigenous people of Russia, thus enabling some additional social benefits and state support for Setos. However, most Estonian Setos consider themselves part of Estonian people. Russian authorities have emphasized that the number of Setos has increased by 8.6% in just 8 years. In reality this means that there has been a net increase of 17 Setos. In Estonia, however, the number of Seto dialect speakers is 12 549 persons.
Estonian state supports Seto culture through various programmes. The Setomaa Development Programme was established in 2006 by the Ministry of Interior. Its objective is to contribute to the sustainability of regional vitality via development of local entrepreneurial environments and human capital, as well as place marketing. The Setomaa Culture Programme by the Ministry of Culture has supported heritage culture, Seto language and education, publishing of Setomaa newspaper and Peko Helü magazine as well as the activities of the Seto Congress Elders’ Board, including the holding of Seto Kingdom Days.
Estonia submitted the Seto polyphonic singing tradition leelo to the UNESCO list of world’s intangible cultural heritage and since 2009 Seto leelo has been included in this list. On the Russian side there is a Seto museum in the Radaja (Sigovo) village where visitors can learn about the local rural culture and taste Seto ethnic cuisine.