Protection of European minorities’ rights must remain a priority, says Secretary General at a conference in Strasbourg

19-06-2018, 13:23 | Comments: 0
“Minorities and Minority Languages in a Changing Europe” is the title of a conference held in Strasbourg on 18-19 June on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the two key treaties of the Council of Europe in this area.

“Today, around one in seven Europeans self-identifies as part of a national or linguistic minority,” said Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland in his opening address. “Many of these are located in political hot spots where old hostilities or new disagreements can stir up tension. In these situations there is always the potential for the abuse of minorities’ rights.”

“In light of the range of recent challenges that Europe has faced, and the rise of extreme nationalism and xenophobia that we have witnessed, the protection of European minorities’ rights must remain a priority today,” he stressed.

Jagland warned of the “new and damaging trend” of states viewing national minorities’ protection more as a bilateral, rather than a multilateral issue, and seeking to redefine their identity at the expense of cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity, which may push national minorities to identify more closely with their kin state. ”This is a vicious circle in which, ultimately, everyone loses,” Jagland warned.

“Just twenty five years ago wars in the former Yugoslavia resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people. National minorities were abused, targeted and scapegoated during unspeakable violence. Yugoslavia and its immediate successor states were outside the Council of Europe and the two legal instruments that we are celebrating today were not yet in force. We should not fool ourselves that a return to the violence of those years is impossible in Europe. The threat looms, perhaps now more than ever. But we have the means to counter it.”

The event is held under the Croatian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe; it takes stock of the evolution of the protection of national minorities’ rights and their languages over the past twenty years. Special focus is on the current developments shaping the situation of national minorities and languages, the role of language and education policies in the interplay between minority and official languages, as well as the opportunities offered by technological innovations to persons belonging to minorities.

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