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Coin Reflects Estonia Border Dispute
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
February 14, 2011

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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You can’t please everyone. The Estonian government says the borders of its country are politically as well as artistically correct as they appear on the new 2011 euro coins. Russia cautiously agrees – maybe. The ethnic Setos don’t agree.

Estonia and Russia have been discussing where to draw the line (literally) between the two nations. The border as it appears on the national side of the new 2011 euro coins didn’t appear to be a problem until a lawyer and the ethnic Setos got involved.

The Setos are an Orthodox Christian ethnic minority of perhaps 10,000 people primarily living in southeastern Estonia (Polva and Voro) and what is now northwestern Russia (The Pskov Oblast), speaking a Finnish-Estonian dialect.

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Setomaa has been divided between the two countries since 1991 at the time of modern Estonian independence from the former Soviet Union.

According to the Jan. 9 issue of The Baltic Course, “The most recent scandal concerning Estonia’s borders with Russia started from a letter lawyer Sergei Seredenko, who calls himself [the] Russian ombudsman in Estonia, sent recently to Russian ambassador in Tallinn Juri Merzlyakov. Seredenko claimed in his letter that reached the media that the Estonian outline on the euro coins may include some Russian territories.”

This border has been fluid throughout the 20th and into the early 21st century. The border as it appeared in 1920 was recognized “forever” in the Tartu Peace Treaty, however the word forever in politics may be a very short time period. Soviet dictator Josef Stalin annexed southeastern Estonia to the Soviet Union during the 1940s during World War II. Today this territory remains part of modern Russia.

The Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was signed February 2, 1920 at the end of the Estonian War of Independence. The Communists had just seized power in what had been Imperial Russia and Estonia had fought successfully for independence from this entity.

Within the agreement were arrangements for Estonia to receive 15 million gold rubles from the gold reserves of former Imperial Russia. Reciprocal agreements within the treaty included arrangements for Russia to build a free port at Tallinn and a power station on the Narva River. The most important part of the treaty for Estonia was recognition of its independence, while Soviet Russia saw the treaty as an opportunity to break international diplomatic isolation. The treaty had been opposed by some members of the Entente trying to isolate the new Communist regime.

Seto spokesman Ahto Raudoja was quoted in the Jan. 4 issue of The Baltic Course as saying of the map on the coin, “It does not show the areas on the other side of the Narva River, [and] most of the Seto region is missing.”

Raudoja continued, “This is the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic border. If currency is a symbol that should introduce culture or history, it is currently incomplete.”

There is a new treaty defining the current border, however it has not yet been ratified by Russia.

Estonian ambassador to Russia Simmu Tiik was interviewed Jan. 7 on Echo Moskvy radio. During this interview Tiik stated accusations the coin depicts regions at Narva and Petchory as being part of Estonia, when in fact today they are part of Russia, are false. He did acknowledge the draft design sketches for the coin made during 2007 did show Estonia at its former borders, but this was corrected before the coins were issued.

The following day LETA/National Broadcasting reported the Russian embassy in Estonia released a statement on its homepage reading, “It is characteristic that in the first draft design, like the Estonian side admitted, the contours of the state differed from the reality and the author of the drawing had to correct it. This proves that unfortunately the repeated attempts of revising the valid borders continue, that became the reason for us withdrawing our signature from the border agreement in 2005.”

This already existing tension was inflamed by Seredenko when he sent a letter to Russian ambassador in Tallinn Juri Merzlyakov in which Seredenko claimed the Estonian outline on the euro coins may include some Russian territories.

The map design that has caused all these problems was the creation of Lembit Lõhmus. According to the Jan. 4 The Baltic Course, “… he [Lõhmus] altered the initial design slightly, but that his intention was never to draw the post-Tartu peace treaty borders.”

As one blogger put it, “The moral of the story is that you should not draw maps on coins!”

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