Conclusion of the two-day online conference "Minority Protection and Ethnic Groups Rights in Central and Central Eastern Europe”28.10.2020
The concluding day of the two-day online conference "Minority Protection and Ethnic Groups Rights in Central and Central Eastern Europe " organised by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) and the Cultural Foundation of German Expellees for Science and Research compared legal regulations in Germany, Poland, Romania and Slovenia and their practical implementation in these countries. From the perspective of science, practice and politics, the conference aimed to gain an overview of the extent to which the existing Council of Europe agreements on the one hand and possible new legal protection elements within the framework of the EU on the other can contribute to improving the level of minority protection in the European context.
The first day of the conference had already emphasised the fact that the exclusion and discrimination of minorities are sources of conflict which must be resolved through concrete legal regulations, explained Thomas Konhäuser, managing director of the Cultural Foundation of German Expellees.
Johannes Callsen, Commissioner of the Minister President in matters of national minorities and ethnic groups, borderland work and lower German, addressed the conference participants with a video greeting message. He emphasised the need for preventive and joint action to protect minorities rather than simply reacting to problems as they arise. The state has to signal: "We listen, we want positive changes, we go the way together".
Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. mult. Gilbert H. Gornig from the Philipps University of Marburg, who moderated the second day of the conference, mentioned in his introductory remarks that international law only sets a minimum standard and that it is up to the countries themselves to what extent they exceed this legal system in their regulations.
In his video contribution, Prof. Dr. Bernd Fabritius, Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Related to Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities, addressed the implementation of the legal situation in Germany. Fabritius emphasised that much had already been achieved in this area. For example, the establishment of advisory committees of recognised minorities has created an opportunity for participation which puts important issues such as identity-creating minority languages on the agenda.
Dr. Beate Sibylle Pfeil, German representative in the Expert Committee on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages at the Council of Europe and Member of the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI), added that the overall situation for minorities in Germany is relatively satisfactory. Nevertheless, gaps could still be identified, for example in education and access to the media. Since many areas are covered by state law, the willingness to include minority protection in the Grundgesetz, for example, is rather low at federal level.
Dr. Magdalena Lemańczyk, junior professor at the Institute for Political Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences, described the legal provisions in Poland. Although free and equal participation in public life for minorities has been enshrined in law here since 1989, the implementation of these regulations has its limits, explained Dr. Lemańczyk. There is the possibility of using minority languages as so-called auxiliary languages in municipalities, but this is only possible without questioning all residents if the minority share of the population reaches 20%.
Bernard Gaida, spokesman for the Working Group of German Minorities in the FUEN (AGDM) and chairman of the Association of German Social-Cultural Societies in Poland (VdG), also mentioned this threshold in his contribution. From practical experience, he described the concerns of the majority population, for example with regard to the installation of bilingual place-name signs, where it is feared that society will be divided. Good minority policy therefore promotes tolerance, understanding and acceptance among the majority of the population. To this end, improvements in media and education policy were necessary in Poland.
Enikő Katalin Laczikó, Secretary of State at the Department for Interethnic Relations of the Romanian Government, then described the legal situation in Romania. Although the minorities have historically worked together on the laws affecting them, newer legislative procedures have not been sufficiently consulted with them. Now it was important to close these gaps, promote education and combat phenomena such as hate speech. It was up to the competent authorities to provide minorities with the information they needed to safeguard their rights. "Stronger minorities strengthen the state", said State Secretary Laczikó.
From the point of view of the German minority in Romania, Dr. Paul-Jürgen Porr, Chairman of the Democratic Forum of Germans in Romania (DFDS), presented the state of protection of ethnic groups. Although there is no minority protection law per se in Romania, the country's 18 minorities in total receive above-average support from the state, according to Mr. Porr. Their representation in parliament is guaranteed and financial support for cultural work is also assured.
Prof. Dr. Mitja Žagar, professor at the Universities of Ljubljana, Primorska/Litorale and Nova Univerza in Slovenia and a long-standing member of the Institute for Ethnic Studies, described the legal regulations in Slovenia. He said that Slovenia had already enshrined the protection of minorities in its constitution since its independence. The autochthonous minorities of Hungarians and Italians thus enjoy extensive language rights in their settlement areas. Scattered minorities, such as Roma or Germans, are protected by individual rights. In addition, the dynamic process of minority rights was always in motion. He also noted, however, that the relatively good rules should be supported by greater financial assistance from the state.
Lara Sorgo, research assistant at the Institute for Ethnic Studies, talked about the implementation of Slovenian law regarding minority rights. The teaching of the language was a particularly important point here. Bilingualism had to be promoted, since at present the indigenous minorities had a legal right to use their language, but this often failed because of local circumstances. The Roma minority also had a special representation in the country, but its composition was not undisputed and its influence was limited. The German minority in Slovenia is supported by Austria in its efforts to obtain recognition by the Slovene State, but negotiations, which have been under way since 1992, are still dragging on.
At the end of the conference Prof. Gilbert Gornig, Managing Director Thomas Konhäuser and Éva Pénzes, Secretary General of FUEN, thanked the speakers for their interesting contributions. The support of the 100 million Europeans belonging to minorities is still a major task, despite the already pleasing successes in minority protection and ethnic group rights, stated Prof. Gornig. After two intensive conference days it became clear that there is still much left to be discussed, thus the exchange have to be continued in the upcoming year.
The footage of the conference is available on the YouTube channel of FUEN and the Cultural Foundation:
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