Border treaty could benefit Seto

  • 2005-06-08
  • By Ksenia Repson
TALLINN - An expert commission has worked out a 10-step program to improve living standards in the impoverished southeastern part of the country, which includes representatives of the Seto, a tiny Finno-Ugric people on the brink of extinction.

The commission, headed by Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu, was set to present its program to the government as part of a number of parties' concerns about the border treaty with Russia. Several parties have attached significant importance to the program, saying they would only ratify a border agreement if the government first approves a system of regional development.

According to the draft program, a copy of which was obtained by The Baltic Times, the 10 steps for developing the region 's which includes the Voru and Polva counties 's include 5 million kroons (324,000 euros) from the state budget for cultural support. Another 2 million kroons are earmarked for Seto cultural preservation.

The project's main focus is regional development. The commission is recommending that 5 million kroons be set aside for stimulating local enterprises and creating jobs. The development of local broadcasting, along with the establishment of cultural centers, railway and other means of communication are also to receive funding. Aid for local school tranportation will be increased by 5 percent.

As visas are considered essential for many local residents who frequently travel to Russia, the commission has also suggested allotting 180,000 kroons to assist visa coordinators.

Meanwhile, a deadline of Dec. 1 has been set for ministries to analyze the legal aspects of border treaty consequences for the Seto, orthodox Estonians who retain a dialect that is remarkably different from standard Estonian. The ministries of Environment and Justice will study the legal ramifications of land property reforms, ownership rights and amortization indemnity in the Pechory and Narva river regions.

Siim Mannik, head of the Res Publica press department, said that the party, which is in opposition, is concerned about the fate of Estonian citizens who live in the region and the borderlands.

The population on the Estonian side numbers 8,000 people and is decreasing year to year, reported government communication officers. Nearly 600-700 Seto will be cut off from their motherland after the border treaty, which was signed by Estonia and Russia's foreign ministers last month, is ratified.

Meanwhile, on June 7, Parliament's foreign affairs committee voted to add an explanatory preamble to the border treaty, which says that the legislature is endorsing agreements that proceed from the legal continuity of the Republic of Estonia as proclaimed on Feb. 24, 1918.

Parliament also noted that the border agreement, while slightly veering from Article 122 of the constitution, which sets the state boundary as according to the Tartu Peace Treaty of 1920, does not affect the rest of the peace treaty nor does it predetermine the handling of unrelated bilateral issues.

The head of the committee, Center Party member Enn Eesmaa, told the Baltic News Service that the panel had considered adding an even more extensive preamble but after discussion unanimously approved the proposed text.

This has boosted optimism that the border treaty might be passed in a second committee reading, Eesmaa added.

The first parliamentary reading of the amended bill was scheduled for this week, with the second next week.

Prime Minister Andrus Ansip is hoping that the treaty can be ratified in the near future. Sixty-eight votes out of 101 are needed. The coalition 's consisting of the Reform Party, the Centrists and the People's Union 's has enough votes to get the treaty approved.