Speech by Dr. Christoph Bergner

Dear Dr. Knud LARSEN, Chairman of the ECMI Board;
Peter Harry CARSTENSEN, Minister-President (of Schleswig-Holstein Land);
Uffe TOUDAL PEDERSEN, State Secretary, Danish Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation;
Ms. Alyson BAILES, Director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, member of the Board of Trustees of the ECMI Foundation;
Dr. Marc WELLER, Director of ECMI;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Today ten years ago, on the occasion of ECMI's inaugural ceremony, Professor Dr. Kurt Schelter State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior also emphasized the following point in his address of welcome:

"Most countries do not have an ethnically homogeneous population. In addition to the majority population, their national community includes national minorities and ethnic groups. Their shared life in their country's society can develop fully and harmoniously only if the state grants the freedom to preserve the respective heritage, to citizens speaking a different language and having their own history and their own culture."

"Moreover, it is necessary that the ethnic majority, parliaments, governments and public administration, rather than just tolerating a minority, should fully accept that minority."

"We are aware that so far, this ideal state of affairs has not or not sufficiently been achieved in many places. Many European countries are still experiencing ethnical tension and have to cope with conflicts, smouldering for a long time, between nationalities and national groups conflicts which after the collapse of the old power structures in Eastern and South Eastern Europe flared up again and which are being pursued with violence, civil war, expulsion of people and mutual terror; also, some countries have to cope with religious conflicts and nationality quarrels already existing for quite some time and for which it has not yet been possible for decades to achieve a peaceful settlement. In addition, new clashes originate from the fact that as perceived by members of minorities they and their particular ethnic identity are not sufficiently respected and taken notice of within their country, and that their ancestral culture and language, as compared with the official (national) language, increasingly are falling into oblivion."

"Against this tension-laden background, the idea of creating a European Centre for Minority Issues was born. If we actually want to help to solve these problems, we must know much more about the ethnic situation and interrelations and the causes of conflict. Research has already been carried out on many of these aspects, but often the relevant findings are only available to that colleague who is responsible for the respective field of expertise. Therefore, the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany actively supports the aim pursued by the European Centre for Minority Issues, namely to deal as an independent institution with a European perspective with majority and minority issues through research activities and the provision of information and advice, and to look into the problems which can arise from the respective, and often differing, interests of these two segments of the population."

This description applies also to today's situation and work requirements as well; indeed, the number of minorities, especially as a result of the partition of states, has increased over the past ten years. The most recent example is provided by Serbia and Montenegro: as a result of the dissolution of this state union, minorities have come to exist in each of the two new republics; moreover, the other ethnic groups are now living in two independent states with their respective own specific features and conditions.

The number of "foreign" minorities within a country as well as the number of a nation's own minorities living in other countries where they are supported by their country of origin on account of their common history and language, differ widely. For Denmark this is a simple matter: at home, it has the German ethnic group in North Slesvig (Sønderjylland); and abroad, it supports one group the Danish minority in Schleswig-Holstein. For Germany, on the other hand, the situation is more complicated: this country has four autochthonous groups, and German minorities are present throughout Europe, in more than twenty countries - from Denmark to Kazakhstan. Thus, together with the Roma and Russians, Germans are one of the three minorities most frequently represented in Europe. Even though they are not involved in violence-prone conflicts, I recommend that they be given particular attention in the context of ECMI's research and advisory activities: on account of the possibility to resettle in Germany, not only the numbers and thus the minority population density of German groups in their traditional settlement areas, but also their sociological structure have changed; as a result, new challenges have arisen: what conditions must be met in order to ensure that, despite decreasing numbers and shifts in social structure, a minority will have the chance of survival? what supporting measures must be taken at the government level?

Ladies and Gentlemen,

a good many outsiders will wonder why ECMI is "domiciled" in Flensburg, since the majority of the issues to be dealt with are encountered much farther to the south and the east. The offer made at that time by the city of Flensburg to make the Kompanie-Tor building available for this purpose is only one of the reasons. Another reason concerns the subject matter itself: this border regions harbours quite a lot of material illustrating the emergence and successful overcoming of conflicts concerning national minorities. Also, the minorities in this region can serve as an example of self-organization, with a practised democratic interior structure and a self-assured and successful manner shown in their dealings with government authorities and the general public.

Consequently, Flensburg unlike Copenhagen or Berlin makes it possible for ECMI to avoid reliance on an artificial nutrient fluid for its capability-building and, instead, to base its activities on fertile, actually existing humus which ECMI should this is what I wish for rely on more often than it has done so far.

This brings me to our future expectations. Looking at the present range of subjects covered by ECMI's activities, one cannot help but note that the Institute's present work is liable to turn away from the idea underlying its establishment. Some kind of agency acting as a "jack of all trades" for minority issues, without being integrated into European institutional structures, cannot be the aim of future development. Therefore, my wish for ECMI is that it may find its way back to the roots of its establishment, that it will accentuate the role model provided by the minority-related policies in the German-Danish border region, and that it will no longer deliberately refuse to deal with the issues arising in connection with the situation of German minorities in Europe and in the successor States of the former Soviet Union. By extending "good luck" wishes to ECMI's representatives on the day of the institution's tenth anniversary, I place my expectations on the Institute's future development along these lines.

ECMI founders:

The German Federal GovernmentThe German
Federal Government
The Danish GovernmentThe Danish
The Federal State Schleswig-HolsteinThe Federal State