Intern Julius Silbernagel at the FUEN in Flensburg

- Press releases

The FUEN office in Flensburg temporarily had a new face in its ranks. Julius Silbernagel (23), a student at University College London, joined the FUEN team for a few weeks as part of an internship. After the rather quiet summer break, politics is now slowly moving again, which also leads to a much more lively activity at the FUEN. Every helping hand is therefore warmly welcome. Julius is a great enrichment with his wideranging course of studies, which includes politics, philosophy as well as economics. Despite the limited internship period, he is able to significantly reduce the workload of the permanent staff by organising seminars, writing reports and applications and translating.

Even before his studies in London, Julius spent some time in French-speaking countries, in French-speaking Switzerland and in Belgium. This enables him to easily switch between English, French and his mother tongue German. He has already gained practical experience in the Ministry of the Interior of Schleswig-Holstein, the administrative board of the city of Flensburg and the Association of German North Schleswig-Holstein (BDN) in Denmark.

Multilingualism is a core element of FUEN's work and therefore Julius Trilingualism is very welcome here, but his professional experience also fits well with the profile of FUEN's tasks. Both the state government and the city of Flensburg often work together with the FUEN as sponsors, which makes the experience gained from the work of these authorities extremely valuable. In addition, Julius was already familiar with minority issues during his time with the German minority in Denmark.

Our FUEN employees in Flensburg sat down with Julius and talked about where his interest in minorities comes from.

"Although I grew up in Schleswig, where many institutions and organisations of the Danish minority are based, the topic only affected me peripherally in my youth. Only when I went abroad and lived in Switzerland and Belgium in two societies in which linguistic diversity is the norm, but at the same time also brings with it many political and social challenges, did I become aware of the question of what national belonging actually means. Complemented by a theoretical examination of nationalism, nation states and transnationalism within the framework of my studies, I really became aware of how incredibly complex the subject is and that in my home region there is an incredibly exciting microcosm that reflects precisely this complexity." 

As part of the majority population, how do you perceive the minorities?

"I take a somewhat critical view of these two categories because they seem so slightly antagonistic. Therefore, I don't really see myself as a member of either party who would now be able to make a representative statement on behalf of the majority population. But in my personal perception, those who grow up and live with a minority background are particularly qualified to take on a consultative expert role in the process of advancing European integration and globalisation, especially regarding the question of which institutions, organisations and measures can help by preserving cultural and linguistic diversity. And all this without being dependent on the institution of the nation state, which tries to preserve a fictitious national culture by means of guiding cultures and demarcation. For me, minorities do indeed fulfil the function of bridge-builders who soften the social significance of national borders and who are a living example of the compatibility of multi-layered national and European identities".

Does this apparently very positive perception also have its downsides?

"When I talk to acquaintances about minority issues, the question often arises whether I don't find it strange, for example, that in the German-Danish border region, even a hundred years after the border was drawn, some people still hold each other's nationality so high as if they had still not come to terms with the political circumstances. Some are sceptical as to whether this might not be an unhealthy form of patriotism with a hidden striving for border revisionism. I then usually reply that the linguistic and cultural can be partly separated from the political. It would be highly controversial to demand that an Native American no longer cultivate his traditional roots simply because the society around him has changed fundamentally. And the long-established borderland family should also have the right to maintain its language, regardless of whether the national borders are shifting. On the basis of this foundation, it becomes a challenge for society as a whole and for politics that this right to cultivate one's own culture does not necessarily lead to parallel societies. A challenge that, in my opinion, was very well met in the German-Danish border region, so that today both minorities are well integrated into the respective democratic structures of the country."

Do you have any suggestions for improving how the minorities and especially the FUEN should appear as their representatives in public?

"The target group in the "majority population" from which the minorities could hope for solidarity and support is the one who can do something with a multicultural European idea; the one who regards diversity as something worth protecting and supporting. But this target group is also often the one that reacts extremely sceptically to everything that has to do with 'national' and poses exactly the critical questions I described earlier. The FUEN must be able to find answers to these very critical questions in order to dispel the concerns. Perhaps it might even be necessary to think about whether the choice of words "Federalist Union of European NATIONALITIES" and "NATIONAL Minorities" can have a deterrent effect on some."

What do you take with you from your internship?

"I have taken a lot with me: from the valuable insights into the working methods of an internationally active NGO to numerous interesting facts and figures about cultural diversity in Europe. Above all, however, I learned that Frisian is something completely different from Low German and that "Eastern European" is a much more controversial and complex term than one would think. And  I've learned that three weeks pass incredibly fast if you have a good time!"

Key Topics

  • Political Participation
  • Fundamental Rights
  • Linguistic Diversity
  • Solidarity with the Roma
  • European Citizens' Initiative
  • European Network
  • Forum of the European Minorities / House of Minorities


More photos at Flickr