[lg policy] Language, Identity & Power- What Future for Minority Languages in Europe?

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Feb 26 16:18:50 UTC 2015

Language, Identity & Power- What Future for Minority Languages in Europe?

 *On 24 February 2015, Csaba Sógor MEP organized a conference entitled
“Language, Identity & Power: What Future for Minority Languages in Europe”,
with Herbert Dorfmann (EPP) and Jill Evans (EFA/Greens) MEPs, in
cooperation with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO),
the European Free Alliance (EFA) and the Centre Maurits Coppieters (CMC).*

*The International Mother Tongue Day, observed annually on 21 February,
provided a symbolic backdrop for the discussions. With around 60
participants, from various European minority groups, EU institutions,
Council of Europe, and human rights NGOs, the conference was a definite
success, shining a light on Europe’s unrecognized, unprotected and even
endangered languages. The conference was also well-attended by MEPs across
different political groups, including Tatjana Ždanoka (EFA/Greens), Mark
Demesmaeker (ECR), József Nagy (EPP), Pál Csáky (EPP), Iuliu Winkler (EPP),
Josu Juaristi Abaunz (GUE/NGL), Krisztina Morvai (NI), as well as former
MEP François Alfonsi. *

In their opening remarks, *MEPs **Csaba Sógor, Herbert Dorfmann and Jill
Evans reminded the audience about the significance of multilinguism as an
engine for the European Union to engage with its citizens, stressing that
linguistic diversity in Europe cannot be underestimated, but should instead
remain a question of fundamental rights, equality and democracy. *While the
importance of linguistic diversity is widely recognized, a lot more needs
to be done in order for minority and regional languages to survive and

"We have seen a shift in recent years, including in my own European
political party, the EPP, to increase attention to the issues traditional
minorities are facing today. However, national governments are still
responsible for the preservation and promotion of minority and regional
languages. More can and should be done on a European level to incentivize
this" stated Csaba Sógor.

An introductory speech was given by *Mr* *Vicent Climent-Ferrando (NPLD)*,
focusing on the legal landscape for minority language protection in Europe.
He demonstrated the vast array of attitudes, approaches and recognitions of
languages across Europe. In his speech, he noted that while the European
institutions do recognize minority languages, he conceded that many
minority and migrant languages are excluded from regional protection
mechanisms, such as the European Charter for Regional and Minority

The conference looked into the use (and misuse) of language as a political
tool, both as a cause and a possible solution to intercultural conflicts
and tensions. *Mr* *Zolt**á**n K**á**ntor* *(Research Institute for
Hungarian Minorities Abroad)* took the floor and questioned, why does
protecting mother tongues matter? He explained that States tend to follow a
policy of linguistic and cultural homogenization, while minorities tend to
resist assimilation. This analysis raised the question, who has the power
to decide and implement language policy?

*Mr Sebahattin Abdurrahman (Federation of Western Thrace Turks in
Europe) *talked
about the particular case of the Turkish community in Western Thrace,
providing the audience with examples of linguistic discrimination in
education, health care, and public spaces.  He stressed the importance of
dialogue between State actors and minority groups in order to determine the
needs and concerns of under-represented and under-recognized communities.

*Mr Rudi Janssens (Free University of Brussels - BRIO) *provided an account
of linguistic protection and promotion in the Belgian context with a
particular focus on the bilingual case of Brussels, concluding that
multilingualism is cementing Brussels society through the instrumental use
of language, and with it, diminishing confrontations between linguistic

*Mr Paul Videsott (Free University of Bolzano) *opened the second panel by
introducing the audience with the case of the Ladin community in South
Tyrol - one of Europe’s smallest and most endangered ethnic and linguistic
minorities. He discussed how education in Ladin is crucial for the survival
of the community, since language is an essential element of cultural
identity. He concluded that the protection of linguistic minority rights is
a human rights obligation in areas of such as education and social dialogue.

Similarly, *Mr Hannes Wilhelm-Kell (Lausatian Alliance)* shared his own
personal experience of learning Wendish, calling for more State funding and
support in education, since school subjects exclude any mention of Wendish
history, literature, and art.

The conference came to a close with the speech by *Mr Johan Häggman
(multilinguism expert)*, who dissected stipulations of the Charter of
Fundamental Rights of the EU, noting that its scope is very limited and
does not establish any new powers. “Language policy is a competence of
Member States and there is no legal basis for a European competence yet”,
he said. He also explained that funding tools are very limited, and
accessing financial support has become increasingly difficult for language

The conference explored the different possible arrangements for linguistic
minorities in Europe, evaluating how the European Union and the Council of
Europe could strengthen minority and regional language protection and
promotion within their legal framework. Many speakers agreed that the
European Parliament has the right to initiate legislation, but it doesn’t
use it sufficiently in terms of linguistic minority protection and

The high turnout to the conference showed the importance of implementing
legal frameworks and concrete measures aimed at protecting and promoting
regional and minority languages in Europe. Future activities on this topic
are planned in order to raise more awareness and develop concrete
strategies to reach these goals. Furthermore, the EPP Group is organizing a
hearing on national minorities in Europe on the 22nd of April.

A report on the conference, including transcripts of all speeches, will be
available soon.

To look at the conference programme, please click here

To read the speakers' biographies, please click here

To read the conference briefing note, please click here

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