Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Estonia's 2011 coins cause border controversy

When discussing the problems undefined borders can cause, we usually talk about the problems that arise when making maps. But what about when making coins?

A dispute arose in early January 2011 over how the Estonian government has depicted the borders of its country on its new 2011 euro coins. Estonia's government has said that the borders on the coins are politically and artistically correct. Russia has cautiously agreed.

Estonia and Russia have yet to fully determine their land border, however, and this has led to parties on both sides protesting against the coin. A Russian lawyer living in Estonia has said the coin depicts part of Russia as being in Estonia, while the Seto community has said the opposite.

The Setos are an Orthodox Christian ethnic minority of around 10,000 people living primarily in southeastern Estonia and northwestern Russia, speaking a Finnish-Estonian dialect. Setomaa has been divided between the two countries since 1991 at the time of modern Estonian independence from the former Soviet Union.

This border has been fluid throughout the last century. A firm border was established in the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, with Setomaa in Estonia, however the Soviet Union annexed part of southeastern Estonia during the 1940s and the territory has remained part of Russia since.

Seto spokesman Ahto Raudoja was quoted in the 4th January 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.” In other words, the Setos believe the true borders of Estonia are those outlined by the Tartu treaty, rather than those established during the Soviet period.

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

The Estonian ambassador to Russia, Simmu Tiik was interviewed on 7th January on Echo Moskvy radio. During the interview, Tiik said that accusations that the coins depict regions at Narva and Petchory as being part of Estonia, when in fact they are today part of Russia, are false.

He acknowledged that draft design sketches for the coin made in 2007 did show Estonia at its former borders, but this was corrected before the coins were issued.

The following day the Estonian National Broadcasting agency reported that the Russian embassy in Estonia had 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 Russia lawyer Sergei Seredenko when he sent a letter to the Russian ambassador in Tallinn, Juri Merzlyakov claiming the Estonian outline on the euro coins included some Russian territories.

The outcome of the situation is still to be determined, but shows the implications uncertain borders can have on unrelated issues like currency.

Source: World Coin News

For more information, see the Menas Borders website, here.


  1. There is a mistake in the second paragraph. It should say Estonian goverment, not Ethiopia's goverment.

    And the coin design is artist vision, at least that was/is one of the arguments in defence. But I would have been happier if there would have been our coat of arms on the coin. Then there wouldn't have been this argument either.

  2. Absolutely right - thanks for pointing that error out Sander.

    The problem with the coin design 'artistic vision' argument is that when it comes to territoriality, its not about aesthetics. Given that the border issue is pending, perhaps the government should have used, as you say, the coat of arms or another representative image.