The European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), which is overseen by Director Professor Tove Malloy, held its Summer School on National Minorities and Border Regions at the beginning of August 2015 in Flensburg, Germany. The course took place in order to review the current situation in Europe and the impact of the situation on national minorities. The title of the session, which was a well-organized and most useful event, was “The changing order and new insecurities: impact on minorities in Europe”.
Founded in 1996 by the governments of Denmark, Germany and Schleswig-Holstein, ECMI conducts practice and policy-orientated research, provides information and documentation, and offers advisory services concerning minority-majority relations in Europe. It serves European governments and regional intergovernmental organizations as well as other groups. The centre co-operates with the academic community, the media and the general public through the provision of information and analysis.
The aims and objectives of the Summer School, which has been running since 2011, are to take an interdisciplinary approach to evaluate the current situation in Europe, exploring the impact on national minorities. The school seeks to critically examine the mechanisms of national and EU institutions to confront new challenges. It aims to build upon existing knowledge and open discussions to yield innovative approaches and new ideas, using case studies from academic sources as well as the perspectives of practitioners.
This year the key themes and topics were approached using a historical timeline, by analyzing the relevant historical background, discussing the present state and envisioning the future patterns as an outcome of the discussions and workshops during the course. Special attention was placed on the experience of the Danish-German border region.
Participants including the European Foundation of Human Rights (EFHR) representative and expert on minority rights Łukasz Wardyn PhD were especially interested in problems associated with the Polish minority in Lithuania – the biggest minority group in Lithuania. To discuss the matter a special workshop was set-up which aimed to propose solutions for such problems in an informal way. All the participants were divided into two groups – one group represented the Poles and another group represented Lithuanians. Both groups shared the same aim: to create a declaration that would satisfy both sides through a process of negotiation. This activity was intended to elaborate on a joint declaration of the Polish and Lithuania delegation (composed of the school participants). This was designed to be based on the experience of the joint German-Danish 60th anniversary event to mark the Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations.
The Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations served as the foundation of a successful and active policy on minorities and today it enjoys worldwide recognition for its forward-thinking nature and commitment to maintaining peaceful and prosperous relations between minority and majority group members on both sides of the border.
The summer school declaration was meant to safeguard and promote each and every facet of the European Union’s cultural and linguistic heritage as enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty and to promote peaceful relations between the populations and thus development of friendly relations between the Republic of Poland and the Republic of Lithuania. The declaration was subsequently read in the City Hall of Flensburg.
The workshop proved a success and as a result of the negotiations the team representing Lithuania agreed with the demands of the group representing the Poles. The declaration produced by both teams demonstrates that there is a solution that could solve the problems related to national minorities in Lithuania. However, it is necessary to note that such solutions appear only through a process of negotiation and cooperation from both sides. This is a message that it is vital to emphasize to the Lithuanian authorities.
Guest speakers at the summer school included Henrik Villadsen, Director of the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), David Galbreath, Professor of International Security at the University of Bath and Boriss Cilevics, the Deputy of the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia.
Titles of the talks included: “Competing Dimensions of Space, Salience and Security: National Minorities and Border Regions” and “How are we going to deal with un-adjustable citizens? – Processes of Ghettoization and Creation of no-go-areas in Central and Eastern Europe”.
EFHR representative Łukasz Wardyn also had the possibility to present a report titled “Observance of Human Rights in Lithuania for the years 2012-2013”. The multimedia presentation reviewed the situation in terms of the rights of minorities in Lithuania for 2012-2013 and proposed possible changes and adoptions of law that would guarantee protection for the rights of minorities and improve the general situation related to this issue. He mentioned the regression in terms of human rights in Lithuania since joining the EU, the lack of legal solutions to guarantee protection for the rights of minorities and the importance of the establishment and implementation of this protection. Also discussed was the acceptance of laws protecting national minorities as a necessary step to becoming a modern and democratic state that takes into account the issue of discrimination and seeks to eliminate this from society. Łukasz Wardyn also put forward a number of recommendations for strengthening the protection of human rights in Lithuania. However, he mentioned the uselessness of his proposals until we see a radical change in the attitude of Lithuanian authorities when it comes to this important issue.