Europe Says: No to Discrimination of the Silesians in Poland

The Council of Europe Criticizes Poland for Not Recognizing Silesian as a Language and the Silesians as an Ethnic Group.

On 6 November 2019 the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (a body of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg) adopted the Fourth Opinion on Poland (See: ACFC/OP/IV(2019)003, https://rm.coe.int/4th-op-poland-en/1680993391)

Summary

‘[…] A set of amendments to the Act on National and Ethnic Minorities and on the Regional Language, aimed at improving a number of gaps was approved by the Sejm in 2015 but ultimately not signed into law by the President. Three further attempts were made for the recognition of Silesians and the Silesian language, but to no avail […].’ (p 1)

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General overview of the current situation

‘5. A set of legal amendments aiming to reform the Act on National and Ethnic Minorities and on the Regional Language after 10 years of existence was developed in close consultation with minority representatives. Several provisions addressed issues raised in previous recommendations of the Advisory Committee. The bill was approved by the Sejm in 2015, but eventually vetoed by the President of the Republic. Several unsuccessful attempts were also made to obtain recognition of Silesians as a national minority[1] and of Silesian as a regional language, including through a citizen’s initiative signed by 140 000 persons, but to no avail.’ (p 5)

‘20. During this monitoring cycle, three attempts were made in the Sejm to include Silesians as an ethnic minority and/or Silesian as a regional language in the Act on National and Ethnic Minorities, but to no avail.[2] According to the 2011 census, 846 700 persons identified as Silesians during the 2011 census, far more than for any of the recognised minorities.[3] In 2012, a group of members of the Sejm proposed a legislative initiative with the aim of declaring Silesian a regional language. The first reading in the Sejm Commission for National and Regional Minorities in August 2012 concluded with the decision to await the presentation of a written statement on this issue by the government and was then not pursued any further. In 2014, a citizens’ proposal[4] for a law recognising Silesians as an ethnic minority and Silesian as a regional language was signed by 140 000 persons. The proposed amendment was not discussed in parliament until 2016 and rejected in October the same year. Finally, a third bill to recognise Silesian as a regional language was introduced to the parliament in 2018: in 2019, the parliament decided not to deal with this proposal.’ (p 8)

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‘21. The Polish authorities consider that the language, culture and tradition of Silesians are not separate from the Polish language, culture and tradition but rather form “an integral part thereof” and that Silesian is a variant of the Polish language.[5] Further arguments used against the above-mentioned civic motion were that the recognition of Silesians may result in similar requests from representatives of “other regional groups wishing to cultivate [their] local folklore and traditions” and the anticipated budgetary consequences of a recognition.[6]’ (pp 8-9)

‘22. Representatives of Silesians, in contrast, argue that their community “significantly distinguishes itself from other citizens in language and culture” and strives to preserve its tradition based on the specific historical and social context of the Silesian region.[7] Interlocutors representing Silesians reported to the Advisory Committee about progress achieved in the standardisation of Silesian, the existence of Silesian computer software, advertising, etc., and the widespread use of Silesian among young people. They expressed frustration about the fact that, despite five attempts over the past 12 years, neither the recognition of Silesians as an ethnic minority nor of Silesian as a regional language has been achieved.’ (p 9)

‘27. In this light, the Advisory Committee strongly regrets that no progress has been made regarding the requests for recognition of the Silesians as an ethnic minority and Silesian as a regional language. It understands that given the large number of persons concerned and the geographic location of Silesia the discussion about this issue is quite politicised in the domestic discourse. However, noting that during the census the majority of persons identifying as Silesians co-identified as Poles, the Advisory Committee considers that the political dimension may be overstated, and a more pragmatic approach is needed.’ (pp 9-10)

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Recommendations

‘29. The Advisory Committee calls on the authorities to take a pragmatic and constructive approach in their dialogue with representatives of Silesians about the recognition as an ethnic minority and/or of Silesian as a regional language.’ (p 10)

 

Population census

‘31. As described in the Advisory Committee’s third opinion, the questionnaire of the 2011 census included optional, open-ended questions on ethnic affiliation, mother tongue, the language used at home and religious denomination. For the first time, respondents could indicate two ethnic affiliations, which is strongly welcomed. Of the respondents, 3.9% made use of this possibility, most of them choosing to combine Polish/Silesian and Polish/Kashubian affiliations. The methodology used combined the use of existing registers and the direct extraction of data from the population. For the latter, data on a sample of 20% of households were collected through an online questionnaire or – if this was not possible – telephone and face-to-face interviews. In the 86 municipalities inhabited by over 10% of persons who in 2002 indicated ethnic affiliation other than Polish, data was collected through interviews with the entire population, not only a 20% sample.[8]

 

Participation of persons belonging to national minorities in public affairs

‘165. The legal framework on the representation of national minorities in elected bodies remains unchanged […]. In addition, a number of members of the Sejm declare themselves representatives of Silesians […].’ (pp 40-41)

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Further recommendations

Take a pragmatic and constructive approach in the dialogue with groups having expressed an interest in the protection afforded by the Framework Convention, including the Silesians, and consider the application of the Framework Convention on an article-by-article basis.’ (p 47)

 

NB: some phrases emboldened, underlined or italicized by the Wachtyrz Editor.

[1] Following the language used in the Act on National and Ethnic Minorities and on the Regional Language, Silesians requested recognition as an “ethnic minority”.

[2] Two earlier attempts took place in 2007 and 2010. See second opinion of the Advisory Committee on Poland, para. 32 and third opinion of the Advisory Committee on Poland, para. 28.

[3] The census giving the possibility to indicate two ethnic affiliations, 375 600 persons claimed solely Silesian identity, 430 800 declared Polish-Silesian identity, and 38 700 declared German-Silesian identity. See Statistics Poland (2015), National-ethnic, linguistic and religious structure of the Polish population. National Population and Housing Census 2011 (in Polish) pp. 31 and 79.

[4] Sejm of the Republic of Poland (27 August 2014), Civic motion on amending the act on national and ethnic minorities and on the regional language, as well as some other acts (in Polish).

[5] Council of Ministers (16 February 2016), Position adopted by the Council of Ministers towards the citizens’ bill on amending the act on national and ethnic minorities and on the regional language, as well as some other acts (in Polish).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sejm of the Republic of Poland (27 August 2014), Civic motion on amending the act on national and ethnic minorities and on the regional language, as well as some other acts (in Polish).

[8] Third opinion of the Advisory Committee on Poland, paras. 33-35.

 

Foto główne: Budynek Rady Europy, fot. Filip Maljković

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