Setos on edge over pennies offered for border land

Nils Niitra
, reporter
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Photo: Margus Ansu / Postimees

Kuldar Laanelind, a Seto, is not about to hand his 1,550 square metres of border strip to the state for €90: «I'd have my Dad turn over in his grave for just giving it up like that!»

Mr Laanelind says it were his ancestors who bought the land in the in their time and paid a dear price. «Now, the state wants to get it from me for nothing,» said Mr Laanelind, having calculated the offer to be 5.8 cents for square metre.

For the transfer of the forest on the land, the state pays separately and regarding that they do have an agreement. According to Mr Laanelind, there the state gave him an option: you either have the forest cut and get the wood, or sell the logs to the state or give it to the state for free. But he will not have the trees cut before land price under it meets his expectations.

«They say the cheap price is because this is border land and I cannot use it anyway,» added Mr Laanelind. «Well I did take some trees from there which were about to dry up, but of course I could not care for it till the edge of the border – which will not mean the land has no price. This land is my land and I price it above €90.»

Mr Laanelind has counted 26 people not satisfied with compensation offered by the state. «I have made my own price offer to the state,» he added. «All they have answered is that why don’t I agree with what they offer.» As last resort, Mr Laanelind is prepared to go to court. «What else can I do? I have nothing to lose but the €90.»

Mr Laanelind is no exception, as the compensation proposed angers lion’s share of the Setos. Helju Mikitalo isn’t likely to fight the state, but she’s definitely not satisfied. «One must give the border up or else they will expropriate,» she said. «They are offering me eight cents for square metre, but look at what price people buy land from the state at auctions! This is ridiculous!»

A dozen euro or so

Interior ministry border guard policy counsellor Tõnu Hunt says the state is transferring the area ten metres inland from border line. «In certain places we are interested in more than the ten metres, it depends on the terrain and the nature; also, we will need access paths to maintain the border structures,» he explained. «We are negotiating with owners of the land, whether to favour servitude (a notary approved right to use land – N. N.) or we buy the land if possible.»

The smallest lots to be transferred are just some two dozen square metres while the largest are 10,000 square metres. For a couple of dozen plots with bad land, people might get €10 perhaps, said Mr Hunt. «That’s what the prices are, nothing doing,» he says.

The state had Domus Real Estate to assess the land, based on regional market value. Mr Hunt said the value has no emotional coefficient attached. «The only thing the assessor went by was local situation and real estate transactions nearby,» said Mr Hunt.

The plots being small, the compensations are small also. A ten metre strip has operation restrictions applied anyway and he says the owners don’t have much use for it. All that can be dome on these plots is maintain border area, erect structures or guard the border.

If people do not voluntarily agree to transfer of the land, expropriation follows. But the courts are slow so such disputes may drag on and hinder the completion of the border. «But we still take owners as partners to begin with – we do not want to just go and get it done. Thus far people have shown understanding and I have not spotted any who would just sink the deal,» said Mr Hunt.

Postimees took a glance at Land Board statistics regarding transactions with profit yielding land in South-East Estonia since beginning of last year. Turns out that, depending on local government, a square metre averaged 25–33 cents. Domus Real Estate’s professional assessor Kristjan Gross assured us that, at the request of the state, they did not consider the border-edge limitation of use effect. Thus, one might think the state has actually done them a kid of a service.

«Pursuant to law, these lands cannot be used according to intended purpose or land use type – for instance, a arable land owner may not use the border strip as arable land, ploughing it up,» explained Mr Gross. «Nevertheless, the state wished to find a compensation as close as possible to market value.»

Mr Gross added that a large part of the cuts were of low value – ditch slopes, felled areas, damp places and swamps. «We could not base our assessments on quality arable land and forest transactions as the cuts were not that. For felled areas or low value natural grasslands in border parishes in Põlva and Võru Counties, the transactions are mostly €500–€800 for hectare i.e. five to eight cents a square metre.»

As assured by Mr Hunt, the state covers to people all costs related to the transfer. «We try to arrange so that even of an individual has to go see a notary far away, we will cover these costs as well.»

By now, says Mr Hunt, there remain some 15–20 land owners who differ with the state about the price offered.

All in all, the state transfers 103 plots. With some having co-owners, the people number 130. Lion’s share has agreed with the conditions. «People do understand with what we have to do,» added Mr Hunt. «This is no profit making, this is marking the Estonian state border.»

Right against the border

The farm of Monika and Indrek Tenno in Perdaku Village, Värska Parish borders on Russia. The house is but 40 metres from the line. For them, negotiations with the state went smooth and the land transferred being residential, for 700 square metres they get a whopping couple of thousand euros i.e. way above what folks get for ordinary profit yielding land.

Earlier, the Tennos were caring for the forest stand on the border strip, but the trees were now felled. But Monika Tenno does not really mind.

But residential lands are scarce along the border and Ms Tenno says that those who are angry are the owners of forest or other kinds of land along the line. «But what do you do anyway, on that ten meter strip,» agrees Ms Tenno. «Even the trees could not be felled without permission – thus they were the owners’ only rather notionally.»

A Seto cultural figure, Aare Hõrn says the locals are generally positive about the completion of the border though this will further confirm a large part of Seto lands remaining in Russia. «Due to security policeman Eston Kohver kidnapped and the migration crisis, they rather think the border ought to be guardable,» he said.

Tõnu Hunt says the first transfer proposals were only posted in November last year. No plot has been transferred yet, but the first notary appointments are being scheduled. Mr Hunt thinks it will take the whole years to get the transfers over with. Completion of the border will cost €71m and the work should be finished in 2018.