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Setos (Seto: setokõsõ, Estonian: setud) are an autochthonous ethnic and linguistic minority in south-eastern Estonia and north-western Russia. Setos are mostly Seto-speaking Orthodox Christians of Estonian nationality. Their dialect, that some consider an independent language - the Seto language (like Finnish and Estonian) belongs to the Finnic group of the Uralic languages. The Setos seek greater recognition, rather than having their language considered a dialect of Estonian. Along with Orthodox Christianity, vernacular traditional folk religion is widely practiced and supported by Setos.

There are approximately 10,000 Setos all around the world. The bulk of Setos, however, are found in the Seto region (Seto:Setomaa), which is divided between south-eastern Estonia (Põlva and Võro counties) and north-western Russian Federation (Pskov Oblast). Setos are an officially protected ethnic minority of Pskov Oblast.

The culture of Setos blossomed in early 20th century when many national societies of Setos were organized. In 1905 the number of Setos reached its maximum. After the proclamation of independence of Estonia its authorities adopted a policy of Estonification of its population which eventually led to virtual disappearance of Setos as distinct linguistic entity of Estonia. In Russia, due to influence of Estonian language schools, high rates of mixed marriages, and emigration to Estonia, the number of Setos drastically decreased as well.

Ethnic history

Prior to A.D. 600 the whole of Setomaa was within the vast northern Finnic lands of the indigenous Uralic peoples. After A.D. 600 Slavic tribes migrated northeast, into Uralic lands. During this migration north the Slavic tribes interbred with several Finnic tribes in the southern habitation areas of the indigenous Finnics.

The first significant event that separated Setos from Estonians was forced conversion of the latter into Catholicism in the 13th century, while Setos who lived in Novgorod Land remained pagans. In the 15th century Setos were converted into Orthodox Christianity but kept their vernacular beliefs. Later elements of Catholic culture were brought to the Setos by Estonian colonists, while in Estonia itself they eventually nearly disappeared after the Lutherification of Estonia.