On Monday 17 July 2023, in Geneva, Switzerland, at the 16th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) under item 7 international decade of indigenous languages, Mr. Jeroen Zandberg delivered the following speech.
I wish to highlight the precarious situation of the Frisian indigenous language in Germany.
Frisian is a national minority language that is spoken in the northwest of the country and is recognized and supported by the German government. Germany recognizes four national minorities of which three have a distinct language; Danish, Sorbian and Frisian.
This recognition comes with organisational and financial support. For example, the Danish language community received 104 million euros in 2021, while the Sorbian community received 24 million euros. These funds were mostly allocated to the promotion of these languages in schools, and in the media. The Danish minority finances 46 secondary schools and 57 primary schools in which their own cultural identity is central.
The Frisian community is of similar size to the Danish and Sorbian community, with approximately 50-thousand speakers. However, the support provided by the German government is not 104 nor 24 million, but only 1.3 million euros. This money is used to support schools with voluntary language lessons and a three-minute program on the German public broadcaster NDR. As a result of this difference, the Danish and Sorbian language communities have schools, while the Frisians have voluntary language lessons.
Earlier this year, we submitted a report to the Universal Periodic Review for Germany, explaining the historical background and the consequences of the difference in support of Frisian, as compared to Danish and Sorbian.
The lack of governmental support for Frisian leads to less opportunities and a degradation in the status of the language. It is therefore a continuation of the centuries’ long German policy of ‘de-freezing’, whereby areas along the German North-sea coast, which were previously Frisian speaking, are now monolingual German.
The only honest language policy would be to provide the Frisians at least the same financial and organisational opportunities that the other recognized national minorities receive.
Global Diplomatic Council
17 July 2023
Item 7: International decade of indigenous languages