Frisians mark 50 years of cross-border cooperation

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Aug 29 14:48:46 UTC 2005

Frisians mark 50 years of cross-border cooperation

Auerk/Aurich, Monday, 29 August 2005 by Onno P. Falkena

"It's about time we stop referring to ourselves as Dutch Frisians or
German Frisians. We are just Frisians, period. And we happen to live in
the Netherlands or in Germany.'' These words were spoken last Saturday by
Ingwer Nommensen, President of the Inter-Frisian Council (Ynterfryske
Rie), during a gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of the Frisian
Manifesto in Aurich, Germany.

Several hundred Frisians gathered at the Upstalsbeam historic site in
Aurich to mark the anniversary. In the early Middle Ages leaders from the
'seven Frisian sealands' met at the Upstalsbeam, a tradition upheld by
present-day Frisians from North Friesland (Schleswig-Holstein), East
Friesland (Niedersachsen) and Frysln in the Netherlands.

The Frisian Manifesto was issued in 1955 during the first postwar
gathering of Frisians from Germany and Netherlands, which also took place
in Aurich. The manifesto asked for two things: full recognition for the
Frisian language and culture, and a unified Europe. "The Frisians were
well ahead of their time,'' president Helmut Collmann of the
Ostfriesischen Landschaft said in a speech marking the occasion. "The
manifesto was a step towards [postwar] reconciliation. It was the Frisian
Council (Friesenrat) that helped us to start working together across the
border and taught us the value of safeguarding our own language and

Collaboration between Fryslan in the Netherlands and the two Frieslands in
Germany has never been easy due to the very different situation that
prevails in the three regions. In North Friesland in Schleswig-Holstein
only 10.000 people out of a population of 150.000 speak North Frisian.
Danish, German, Low German and South Jutlandish are also spoken in the

When it comes to developments such as multilingual education, teaching
material, Frisian media, Frisian music and bilingual signs, North Frisians
have drawn inspiration from Frysln in the Netherlands, where the language
is stronger (360.000 speakers out of a population of 600.000). Frisian
actually died out in the 19th century in East Friesland (Niedersachsen).
The population now speaks a regional variety of Low German, which they
call East Frisian (Ostfreesk). A few kilometres south of East Friesland is
the community of Saterland, where approximately 1.000 people in three
villages have managed to preserve East Frisian. They call their language
Seelter Frysk.

"With all these differences one can only admire and respect the
Inter-Frisian Council that they have managed to carry on for fifty
years,'' said political scientist Piet Hemminga of the Fryske Akademy in
Ljouwert (Frysln). "Especially because the authorities in both Germany and
the Netherlands have shown little interest in supporting Frisian
collaboration across the border.'' Today the main activity of the
Inter-Frisian Council is the organisation of annual exchanges for young
people, farmers, politicians and teachers.  They organise a conference
every three years, and a reunion on the Frisian island of Helgoland, also
held once every three years.

During the weekend Frisians from north, east and west discussed a new
manifesto, which was prepared by the North Frisians. The new manifesto
calls upon authorities in both countries to support the Frisian language
and common Frisian identity according to European standards. Collaboration
between all Frisians should be strengthened, says the new manifesto. "It
is about time that the Greater Frisian Council becomes a professional
organisation'', said president Ingwer Nommensen. "At present all our work
is being done by volunteers. With only volunteers we can never fulfil our
ambitions.'' Nommensen is hopeful that thanks to recent developments such
as the Frisian language law in Schleswig-Holstein and the European Charter
for Regional and Minority Languages it will be possible to convince the
authorities in both Germany and the Netherlands that the cross-border
collaboration between Frisians deserves more support than it received in
the past.

Near the Upstalsbeam the Greater Frisian Action Group 'Groep fan Auwerk'
handed out official-looking FRL stickers for the visitors to place on
their cars. Dutch authorities had already warned that it is forbidden to
hide the official NL sign on vehicle number plates. "Right now we leave it
up to the people how they want to use the FRL sign. They may get a fine if
they put it over the NL sign, but they can put it elsewhere as well. We
simply demand the right to identify ourselves as Frisians,'' said
spokesman Siwert Reinarda of the Groep fan Auwerk. The group has been
giving stickers to politicians of all parties and asking them for new
number plates which offer space for two signs, NL or D to the left and FRL
to the right.

Earlier this year the same group asked all Frisian senators in the
Netherlands to allow Frisians to declare their nationality as 'Frisian' in
the Dutch passport. The Frisian parliament is expected to discuss the
issue later this year. President Ingwer Nommensen of the Greater Frisian
Council commented, "It's about time we have the right to express ourselves
freely as Frisian, even on our cars.'' (Eurolang  2005)


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