Poland signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1995 and ratified it in 2000. Every few years the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention visits the country and meets representatives of its minorities. Silesian representatives, Marta Bainka and Grzegorz Kulik, met the delegates in Gliwice on the 17th of July.
Marta Bainka reported on what Pro Loquela Silesiana has accomplished since the Committee’s last visit to Poland, and Grzegorz Kulik described what Silesians have done during the recent years and how the Republic of Poland treats us. Each member of the delegation was also given a copy of both reports. Below one can read the report by Grzegorz Kulik. The report by Marta Bainka is available here.
4th visit of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention
on the Protection of National Minorities to Poland
Silesians, 17th of July 2019
Silesians’ work to protect the Silesian language
We have adopted the standard Silesian alphabet (ślabikŏrz) in 2009 and more and more writers switch to it. In the last ten years we have published at least forty four books in it. Twenty seven of them have been published since we last met with the Advisory Committee in 2013.
We have not been publishing our own works only. There are Silesian translations of the world’s top literature, like “Prometheus Bound”, “A Christmas Carol”, or “The Little Prince”. We have also published the New Testament in Silesian. The New Testament was not published in the standard orthography, unfortunately. The author asked us if we could transliterate it to ślabikŏrz but the requested due date was too short, so he decided to publish it in a half-phonetic Polish orthography that he used originally. However, we cannot eliminate the possibility that it will be republished in the standard orthography in the future.
We have created a two-million-word Silesian Language Corpus. A part of it, around 1.1 million words, is freely available online. We have developed a Polish-Silesian machine translator as well.
We have built a spell checker that works with LibreOffice, OpenOffice and all major web browsers. We have also developed Silesian keyboards with word suggestions for Android and iOS. The next version of LibreOffice will be available in Silesian. It is going to be released in three weeks, on the 5th of August. The next version of Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distribution, will be available in Silesian. It will be released in October. We are still working on creating Silesian versions of the most popular web browsers, I am thinking about Firefox and Chrome here.1
Apart from that we are working on a minimal dictionary of Silesian that will list 1500 most used words of the language along with examples of their use, declension, synonyms, antonyms and other information. The 1500 words cover the vocabulary necessary to learn the language on the A1 and A2 levels according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The dictionary will be made available online in December and it will be completely free. Obviously later it will be gradually expanded so that it lists all vocabulary found in the Silesian Language Corpus.
Silesian is also experiencing a rapid progress in its presence in commerce. International companies, such as Samsung and Facebook, have decided to provide their products in Silesian, while Coca-Cola, Carrefour and others use Silesian in their marketing campaigns. Tens, if not hundreds of smaller companies, use Silesian in one way or another.
All those projects were created and are being created in the standard orthography. What has to be noted here is that all those undertakings are private. None of them are supported by the State.
Events after the Third Opinion on Poland was adopted
Just a week after that the Supreme Court decided that the case of the Association of Persons of Silesian Nationality should be re-examined by the Regional Court in Opole. The Association was not even informed of the court sitting, and the verdict cannot be described by any other words than farcical or grotesque. We were told that creating an association with the words “Silesian nationality” can misguide certain persons into the belief that there is a Silesian nation. We were also told that we could be trying to gain a preferred position in elections, because national minorities, and only those, do not have to pass the 5% threshold. The Polish law clearly distinguishes an ethnic minority from a national minority. A national minority identifies with its own country, so we can only be an ethnic minority because there is no Silesian state. Our name choice does not change the law.
All the later verdicts have been unfavourable and we went to Strasbourg. We have been waiting for our case to be examined for two years.
A curious thing happened after the delegalisation of the Association. The president sent an email to the members with information that despite everything we can still unofficially do our things. He was called to his regional police headquarters, and was questioned for five hours why he does not respect the verdict of the court. The printed email was shown to him.
We organised a social protest and we collected 140 thousand signatures under the citizen project to change the Minorities Act of 2005. In Poland, citizen projects to change an act have to be signed by a hundred thousand persons in three months. We collected many more signatures. Nobody has ever done it, only Silesians. The Parliament did not even debate it, it was outright rejected. The project was kept frozen by the Civic Platform until they lost power and then it was thrown away by Law and Justice. So it is not even the case of some nationalist party that does not like minorities. They are the same, the Civic Platform only has better marketing.
The Upper Silesian Council assembled from representatives of thirteen Silesian organisations reached out to the Joint Commision of the Government and National and Ethnic Minorities to discuss possibilities how the State could help us in preserving our language and culture. The Commision responded that they would not meet Silesians because they are not a recognised minority. It is a vicious circle: because the State will not talk with us, we will not be recognised, and because we are not recognised, the State will not talk with us.
There were also two or three projects of changing the Minorities Act to include the Silesian language in it. They were proposed by MPs but they were rejected as well.
We have exhausted each and every democratic, legal and peaceful method to make the Polish State talk to us. On the internet there is a visible increase of radical voices about the Polish-Silesian relations. Thankfully so far those voices do not come from the Silesian activists. But if Poland keeps treating us like this, we cannot guarantee it does not change.
In two years there will be a new national census in Poland. In the light of what Law and Justice were saying during the last one (they claimed that declaring Silesian identity was unlawful) we are afraid that it will not be possible to declare Silesian identity at all.
In the last census over 800,000 persons declared full or partial Silesian identity. It is more than the population of Iceland, Luxembourg, or Malta which are full members of the Council of Europe. Our people cannot even register a simple cultural organisation, and despite paying taxes to Poland, we have to work on our language and culture by ourselves.
Comments on the Third Opinion
The parliamentary Panel for the Preservation of the Silesian Spoken Language ceased to exist in 2015, however it never was an active group. And what I have to mention: “Silesian Spoken Language” is not the right translation here. The Silesian term “godka” used in the name of the panel means just “language”, and not only its spoken part. The designation “Spoken Language” is used throughout the entire Third Opinion and I believe it is because the term might be confusing to a Polish translator. And that is quite bizarre because Polish can be called a “mowa” in Polish and theoretically it also means “spoken language”.
In the Third Opinion the Advisory Committee wrote “The authorities support Silesian culture, traditions and heritage. The Silesian Institute in Opole and the Silesian Museum in Katowice actively promote research and awareness of Silesian heritage”. Just six months before the adoption of the Third Opinion the director of the Silesian Museum was terminated exactly because he wanted to show the history of Silesia from the Silesian point of view. The right-leaning media and politicians protested because apparently German and regional themes were pronounced at the cost of the Polish traditions. One cannot agree with the Advisory Committee on that point.
The Silesian Institute in Opole is not as active as one might think. For example, they have been publishing a Silesian-Polish dictionary since 2001. Each volume is printed in around three hundred copies and the last one was published in 2017. It covered the letter L. They will reach the end of the alphabet in 2040. Furthermore, that dictionary is only from Silesian to Polish, which means it can help understand a Silesian text but it will not help write a new one. That is the essence of the Polish attitude towards anything Silesian. It is a thing from the past but it is not something that could be useful in the future.
Comments on the Government’s Comments on the Third Opinion
Regarding the sentence “Persons wishing to cultivate and develop dialects and local dialects of Polish used by them, including the Silesian dialect of the language, also have every right to do this.” In the Polish version Silesian is not even identified as a dialect. The term used there is “gwara”, and it means subdialect, vernacular or jargon and it is a deeply pejorative word for us because for generations we were told by Poles that we must stop speaking “gwara” and start speaking Polish instead. The word “gwara” has two meanings in Polish. It can mean a vernacular of several villages, and it can mean a vernacular of an environment, eg.: “gwara więzienna” means prison jargon.
The Government wrote “[T]he dialect of native inhabitants of Silesia is considered by linguists to be a dialect of Polish”. This is half true because there is no consensus between scholars about that. Older scholars, educated entirely in the Polish environment, tend to classify Silesian as a dialect of Polish, but younger ones have a different point of view and classify it as a language.2 Others suggest that language and dialect are not linguistic categories, but linguo-political, so the classification of a language depends on a socio-legal agreement.3
The Government wrote “The authorities of the Republic of Poland are open to a dialogue with people interested in cultivating, within the existing legal order (including decisions of the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights), [their] own regional identity to enable them fuller use of the legal regulations existing in this field.” That sentence is an utter lie considering the fact that the State does not talk to us at all and we work within the existing legal order. If Silesian is a dialect of Polish then it should be actively protected by the Polish Language Act of 1999. The designation does not matter here, because both, in the case of Silesian as a dialect of Polish, and Silesian as a language on its own, the Polish State has an obligation to protect the language and it does not do it.
The Government wrote “[S]upport for actions aimed at imposed standardization of the Silesian dialect would be an artificial and unjustified process, since it could threaten the richness and diversity of the Silesian local dialects, towards which the authorities are obliged to take measures to counteract their disappearance.” This statement does not consider the fact that right now Silesian exists under the umbrella of the heavily monocentric Polish. A two-hour lecture could be given about how the Silesian grammar is being overtaken by the Polish one. Silesian is being dissolved in Polish, so the claim that the State is trying to counteract the disappearance of the Silesian dialects is another lie. The State is not doing anything, so soon in the future that “richness and diversity” will turn into standard Polish.
Moreover, Silesians are aware of the diversity of their language. In Polish there is just one standard dialect and any deviation from it means lack of education. Because of that Silesian has been stigmatized for many years and even now we receive reports that children in schools are told not to speak “gwara”. There is not a single Silesian activist who would claim that any dialect is better than others. The environment we could create for ourselves would be much more inclusive than the Polish one.
The Government also claims that because Silesian is a dialect of Polish, it is not covered by the Framework Convention. Using own definitions is a very convenient method of avoiding responsibility.
The Government wrote “[T]here is no need to artificially support the […] standardization of the Silesian dialect. It would be an artificial and unjustified process, threatening the richness of the Silesian dialects of Polish. That matter should be left to the users.” The users have done a lot to standardise their language. Prof. Henryk Jaroszewicz from the Wrocław University has compared grammatical and spelling features of the top sixteen Silesian writers and the uniformity of the texts is at 78%. Most of the differences are solvable by voting because they come from different interpretations of how to write certain phonemes.
Comments on the Fourth State Report
The report does not mention Silesians at all.
The Annex 5 shows numbers of Polish citizens declaring belonging to the national/ethnic minorities in voivodships and the number of persons declaring using of the Kashubian language at home according to the data of the National Census of Population and Housing 2011. Silesians are again not mentioned at all despite the fact that Statistics Poland explicitly calls our identification and declarations as national/ethnic in the official Census report. The Advisory Committee is being deliberately misguided by the Republic of Poland.
The Polish attitude towards Silesians, their culture, and the Silesian language was very well summarised in 1990 by Mirosława Błaszczak-Wacławik in the publication Upper Silesia. A special cultural case4:
The pejorative attitude towards the plebeian forms of culture correlated with a certain feeling of a „mission” towards the „people”. That feeling was an ingredient of the Polish aristocratic culture, which, after meeting a well organised and highly educated community led to many clashes and conflicts. A group convinced of its political and social independence was treated as an „entirely immature nation”. Upper Silesians, who did not experience the paternalistic forms of behaviour of the Polish „enlightened classes”, were particularly sensitive to that type of behaviour.
That attitude never changed and that is the reason why the Polish State refuses to acknowledge our existence. According to the Republic of Poland we have to be assimilated because we are people who do not know we are Polish, and our language has to be improved so that it becomes standard Polish. The Polish authorities consider our language and culture worthless.
2Namely Tomasz Wicherkiewicz of the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Henryk Jaroszewicz of the University of Wrocław, Artur Czesak of the Jagiellonian University, Tomasz Kamusella of the University of St Andrews.
3For example Jolanta Tambor of the Silesian University, Ewa Michna of the Jagiellonian University, Maria Szmeja of the AGH University of Science and Technology, Elżbieta Anna Sekuła of the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities.
4Mirosława Błaszczak-Wacławik, Wojciech Błasiak, Tomasz Nawrocki „Górny Śląsk. Szczególny przypadek kulturowy”, Warsaw University, 1990.