A little over a month ago at the European Union level, the European citizens’ initiative Minority SafePack, which is one of the most important political initiatives in the last 20 years in the field of ethno-cultural minorities, is successfully completed, informs the newly established portal Storyteller. This initiative was initiated by FUEN, the umbrella organization of autochthonous national minorities and ethnic groups in Europe, which has about 90 member organizations in 33 European countries.
Storyteller presents an interview with Loránt Vincze, president of FUEN and the main initiator of the campaign, about the initiative of Minority SafePack and the current situation and challenges faced by national minorities in the quest for the protection of their ethno-cultural identity.
What does represent Minority SafePack, what are its most important mission and role?
L. V. : “The motto of the European Union is “In varietate concordia – United in diversity”. The purpose of the Minority SafePack Initiative is to encourage the European Union to live up to its motto and to improve the protection of people belonging to national and linguistic minorities and strengthen cultural and linguistic diversity in the Union. The European Union has ignored these requests too often in the past, and has left the minority issues to be dealt with on a Member State level, or by other international organisations. The EU has programs and actions for the dominant cultures and the official languages, while there are more than 50 million EU citizens belonging to historical minorities, and many of them speak lesser used or endangered languages. It is our duty as Europeans to protect at all costs this valuable cultural and linguistic heritage. The Minority SafePack Initiative is a package of law proposals for the safety of the national minorities, a set of EU legal acts that enable the promotion of minority rights, language rights, and the protection of their cultures. In short, it sums up our main objectives: safety for minorities and legislative package for minorities. We want: an EU Recommendation for the protection and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity, funding programmes for small linguistic communities, the creation of a Language Diversity Centre, the objectives of EU’s regional development funds to include the protection of national minorities and the promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity, research about the added value of minorities to our societies and Europe, approximating equality for stateless minorities e.g. Roma, a single European copyright law, so that services and broadcast can be enjoyed in the mother tongue, freedom of service and reception of audio-visual content in the minority regions and block exemption of regional (state) support for minority culture, media and cultural heritage conservation.”
I guess it was a huge challenge to get more than one million signatures / what kind of campaign was it, how it was structured and organized?
L. V. : “Our campaign was not a simple issue-based campaign, as the Initiative itself is quite complex. It is also not a universal problem we were talking about, because the situation of minority groups differs from member state to member state. It was also not easy to reach out to our primal target population, which of course are the ones belonging to minorities. We had to communicate in many languages, some of them lesser used ones, and I think we had messages in almost 50 different languages targeted to different audiences. The messages also had to be different as we tried to explain to each community what are the parts of our initiative that befit them the most, what are the issues that motivate them. We had a central campaign team and local coordinators, more than 20 people worked in this structure. What we have built is a network of many organisations, institutions, groups, persons and communities with a similar mind-set and agenda. This is a network we can and have to build on in the future, not only for the MSPI, but for every issue concerning the rights of autochthonous minorities, nationalities, language groups. The MSPI has shown us that together we are stronger. It also sent a clear message to all the minorities of Europe: you are not alone. Overall, we consider the Minority SafePack campaign to be a big success and a huge win for all the autochthonous minorities, language groups and nationalities without a kin-state of Europe. This is the first time ever that these groups act together as one, and we consider this to be a historic moment. In my point of view the greatest achievement of the campaign is not that we managed to collect more than one million signatures, but the fact that we gave birth to a European movement for minority rights. We largely exceeded our own plans by having more than 1,200,000 signatures and 11 states that reached the national threshold. Of course we had many bumps, we had to realise that some of our original plans were not working, not all of the organisations we were counting on at the beginning were up to the task. But we also got the support of some very strong communities like the Basques and Catalans or the Polish from Lithuania, the Turkish community of Bulgaria and so on.”
Campaign was successful but work isn`t done yet, what are next steps?
L. V. : “First we will present the statements of support to the competent national authorities, and then to the European Commission. The Commission has to organise a public hearing in the European Parliament and has to make his position known before 3 October. We believe that Europe has to hear our voices, and the European Commission has to take our demands seriously. We have strong support from some member states and many regions, and we will continue lobbying for our cause. We are aware that this is probably going to be a long and hard-fought process, but we are ready for it. We will have concrete legislative proposals to be taken into account. All this years the European Commission simply rejected any questions or proposals on minority rights saying it is not in its competences. EU citizens in large numbers say today this attitude has to change. The European values, the linguistic and cultural diversity are a concern for the whole EU.
What is a “position” or “situation” of national minorities in EU and Europe nowadays?
L. V. : “The minorities of Europe face different problems and challenges. Most of the minorities of Western and Northern Europe are in a good situation where the state considers them equal citizens and offers them equal rights with the majority or in other cases in this space the legal framework on minority rights is frozen. Meanwhile many states in Eastern Europe fail to offer even the most basic rights for them. Greece or Bulgaria does not even recognize some of its minorities (strangely enough this also applies for France), and then there are the stateless people who are not even given citizenship in the countries where they live. The rights provided differs much from one country to the other, even respecting the existing legislation is a challenge in many countries. Let us face it, in the region there are many newly created states with young and fragile democracies. Introducing new norms and change the mentality of the majority takes time and many investments from both sides. So, it would be hard to say that all the minorities of Europe are confronted with the same problems. But this doesn`t mean that we have no common goals: we all want to be equal, we all want protection for our language and culture, we all want guarantees that nobody can take away our rights. We want to feel at home in our countries. Unfortunately, history and everyday experiences have both shown us that not all European states are up for this task. This is why we at FUEN think that the European Union should share competencies with the Member States regarding minority issues.”
Why is important to preserve and develop minority rights?
L. V. : “As I said before, cultural and linguistic diversity is valuable and needs to be protected. Also, minority politics are peace politics. The states which have realised that creating the right minority protection framework and treating their citizens who belong to the minority communities as equals have achieved prosperity, development and a loyalty of the minority community towards their state. Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany are good examples in that sense. But when instead of yearning for peaceful coexistence the majority in some member states tries to oppress the minorities, it can lead to conflicts. These situations have to be avoided, and who else could help with this, if not the EU?”
What “role” have minorities communities in modern Europe and world? Are they only a “bridges” between majority population in domicile countries or governments and countries of origin of these minorities, as the politicians likes to say in public speech, or are they much more, like “normal” citizens of some country with all rights and obligations?
L. V. : “Being a bridge between states is important, as it is a plus, a way that minorities can help interstate relations, but it is far from being the only thing they are good at. People belonging to minority communities are no less in any regard than the ones belonging to the majority. Are they taxpayers? Are they contributing to the well-being of the countries and the regions? Are they contributing to the cultural and linguistic diversity? Did they choose to live in a country or were they born there just like the ones from the majority? The answer is obvious to all of the above questions, and it is the reason why they should have the same rights.”