A Fairytale Kingdom Faces Real-Life Troubles
On the border of Estonia and Russia, the Setos struggle to create a modern identity from ancient beliefs
On two sides of a disputed border lies a kingdom. It is young in age and ancient in beliefs, forged from the chaos of the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The people of this kingdom are the Setos, an indigenous ethnic minority of just a few thousand people from Setomaa, a small region nestled between southeastern Estonia and northwestern Russia.
The Setos have fiercely maintained their traditions for centuries. Those include their ancient polyphonic singing, recently recognized on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
But they’ve also created entirely new traditions, complete with their own royalty, to stave off modern threats to their cultural identity.
The greatest threat today is a border between Russia and Estonia—traditionally more of a suggestion than a demarcation—that divides the Setos. The