MINELRES: Paul Goble: Co-operation of ethnic communities

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Sep 5 21:03:59 2005

Original sender: Jaak Prozes <jprozes@eki.ee>

Dear cultural workers, human rights activists and politicians of ethnic

May we worward to you an article by Prof. Paul Goble on the co-operation
between indigenous peoples and ethnic communities.
Courtesy to its author, you are free to distribute and publish it
without limitations.

Yours sincerely,
Jaak Prozes
Estonian Union of National Minorities
Tallinn, Estonia
phone/fax + 372 644 0234
e-mail: jprozes@eki.ee


Window on Eurasia: A New and Unexpected Champion for Russia's Ethnic

Paul Goble

Tartu, August 29 -- Russia's ethnic minorities traditionally have a hard
time getting their story out to the world. Most of the time, they are
forced to depend on the occasional visits of a Moscow or foreign
journalist, on the attention of human rights activists in the Russian
capital or the West, or on the activities of co-ethnic groups abroad. 

But on Friday, a new champion emerged for these all too frequently
neglected peoples: the Sorbs, a 60,000-strong Slavic nationality in
Germany. Its major community group, the Union of Lusatian Sorbs
"Domowina," dispatched a letter to Udmurtia, a Finno-Ugric republic in
the Middle Volga region of the Russian Federation. 

The letter, a copy of which was made available to the Information Centre
of Finno-Ugric Peoples in Tallinn, said that the Sorbs supported the
efforts of Udmurt parents to reverse a decision by the Russian
authorities in their republic to close the only school in their capital
Izhkar (Izhevsk) with instruction in the Udmurt language. 

The Sorbs said that they understand how important it is to preserve the
mother tongue of a community, pointing out that "the smaller the nation,
the more important the education of children in the mother tongue
becomes," but adding that regardless of a nation's size, "every person
has the right to education in his mother tongue." 

The Sorb group noted that it had learned about the situation in Udmurtia
when the Udmurt folk ensemble Aykay performed at a folklore festival in
the German city of Lausits (Luzhica in Sorbian) earlier this summer. 

Few people have heard of the Udmurts or the Sorbs. The former, who
number 637,000, live in and around the Udmurt Republic, about 1200
kilometers east of Moscow. According to the 2002 Russian Federation
census, two-thirds of them continue to speak their native Udmurt despite
what the Russian authorities are doing. 

And the latter are perhaps even less well known. A surviving remnant of
a Slavic community, the Sorbs of today live in the former East German
lander of Brandenburg and Sachsen and with the fall of communism now
have kindergartens, primary school and one secondary school entirely in
their own language. 

Consequently, many people are likely to dismiss as unimportant the
Sorbs' intervention on behalf of the Udmurts and the efforts of the
latter to keep at least one school in their capital city in their own
language, but there are three compelling reasons why they should not. 

First, the issue of native language instruction is an especially
important one in the European Union now. The Sorbs, who were officially
recognized by the German government as a distinct nationality only in
1997after Berlin signed the EU's Framework Agreement, are thus in a
particularly good position to raise this issue. 

Second, this is an all-too-rare instance of one ethnic group speaking
out on behalf of another with whom it does not have any common ethnic or
linguistic ties. This letter thus suggests that other minorities in
Europe may now be ready to do the same thing, something that could help
to focus the world's attention on neglected groups. 

And third, because the Sorbs are a Slavic group and are speaking out on
behalf of a non-Slavic group under pressure from a majority Slav
country, they cannot be accused of doing so out of a narrow ethnic
interest as Moscow has done in recent weeks against Estonian, Finnish
and Hungarian intervention on behalf of Finno-Ugric groups in the Middle
Volga region.  

That will both attract more attention to the cause of both and possibly
serve as a model for other smaller ethnic communities to speak out not
just for themselves but for other oppressed communities as well. 

To the extent that happens, the Russian authorities may come under
increasing pressure to respond more positively to such demands, and
Western governments may become more willing to speak out against such
abuses as well. 

Consequently, what one small and largely unknown group has done for
another may lead others to speak out as well, something that could help
change what has been in recent years an unfortunate silence about the
problems of many of the smaller ethnic communities of the Russian


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