EU citizens’ initiative demands protection for minority communities

Bilingual Polish-German signs at the railway station in Suchy Bor village, south-west Poland. The three villages of Suchy Bor, Debska Kuznia and Chrzastowice are inhabited by a German minority and now benefit from bilingual signs as required by law affecting national minorities. [EPA/KRZYSZTOF SWIDERSKI]

There is still one week left to collect signatures for the European Citizen’s Initiative, which aims to introduce common EU standards to protect national minority groups. EURACTIV Poland’s media partner “Gazeta Wyborcza” reports.

Citizen’s Initiatives allow EU citizens to draw the attention of the Commission and the Parliament to an important matter. To achieve this, one million signatures across the EU are needed.

The initiative, called the “Minority SafePack” (protection package for national minorities), was initiated by the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN).

The international NGO, established in 1949 in conjunction with the Council of Europe, brings together 99 national minorities from across the continent. In Poland’s case, these include the German, Kashubian and Lemko communities.

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It is seeking to convince EU countries to introduce legislation protecting minority identity, culture and language. FUEN also wants the EU to create a Center for Linguistic Diversity which would promote regional and minority languages, such as the Kashub, Gaelic, Scottish and Lusatian languages, protecting them from disappearing.

The case is not trivial, because linguistic minority groups often have difficulties when calling an ambulance or the police, when there is no one who speaks their language. So far, this problem has only been resolved in the UK, which has Welsh speakers during every shift.

There are similar complaints about access to schools in which children of minority groups can be educated. Minority communities also complain that it is difficult for them to get public support for their local initiatives because the majority usually gets the priority when it comes to the distribution of public money.

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Another problem is geoblocking, the limitation of access to internet content in a certain language. As a result, German-speaking residents of the Italian-speaking region of South Tyrol cannot watch German or Austrian television programs on the internet, whereas Ukrainians living in Poland or Poles in Lithuania have difficulties with receiving broadcasts in their native language. FUEN is seeking the abolition of these restrictions.

In Poland, the Association of German Socio-Cultural Societies, the Kashubian-Pomeranian Association and the Kashubian Institute in Gdańsk as well as the Kaszëbsko Jednota (the Association of Kashubian People), the Union of Ukrainians and the Russian Cultural and Educational Association have been involved in collecting signatures. The initiative is also supported by the Belarussian minority as well as the Karaites and Roma community.

So far, almost 980,000 people across the EU have backed the initiative. 20.000 signatures short of the threshold. If the action is successful, the European Parliament will organise a special public hearing, after which the Commission will have to respond in writing.

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