How fair are minorities treated in London?

Fabritius: "The minority is always in need of protection, not the majority"

DW: Dr. Fabritius, the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo is also about the respective ethnic minorities. What does a successful agreement on minority rights involve?

Bernd Fabritius: In Europe we already have the legal basis for the protection of minorities, which in my opinion is particularly important in the Serbian-Kosovar dialogue. It is the two sets of rules of the Council of Europe that Serbia has already ratified and is also implementing.

I can say that from my own experience with the German minority in Serbia. On the one hand, there is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which Serbia ratified in September 2001 and which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of belonging to a national minority and their assimilation against their will. It thus protects the freedoms that are of essential importance for members of minorities.

The second set of rules of the Council of Europe is the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. Serbia ratified it in 2006.

And this charter ties in with the inalienable right of people to use their own regional and minority language in private and public life. Serbia protects the German minority living there. We have 4,000 people there who are part of the German minority. Most of them live in Vojvodina. They primarily speak the national language and are patriotic members of the Serbian state, but speak the German language. Serbia can therefore implement a positive minority policy. We can see that in the treatment of the German minority there.

Distrust and fear

A lot sounds very good in theory and in the formulation of laws or agreements. Nevertheless, there is often a discourse characterized by distrust and fear. Which mechanisms do you recommend in order to then follow what has been theoretically guaranteed in practice in the implementation?

Fear within a society is a phenomenon that I experience relatively often in the field of minority politics. It is an essential task of governments to ensure an inclusive approach through information and education in society and to make it clear that a national minority is an absolute asset to a society in a country.

Ethnic-nationalistic manifestations are the enemy of any protection of minorities. It is always the tightrope walk between the pressure to assimilate and the maintenance of the cultural uniqueness of the minority. To put it simply, you can be a good patriot, even if you belong to a national minority. I have just seen in the European minority work that national minorities are particularly good patriots. And every government is well advised to use this as a positive aspect.

You spoke about minority rights. However, if you look at the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, there are also some obligations. What do you recommend so that a minority also integrates positively?

The mentioned fear within a society as a negative aspect, as the enemy of all good minority politics, arises precisely when the minority in the majority society gives the impression that they do not really belong there and that they are pursuing divisive approaches. That is not conducive to a positive minority policy.

A minority is always well advised if it provides constructive support for belonging to the area in which it is traditionally based - and that is precisely what makes it a national minority at all.

So if a Serb minority lives in Kosovo, this minority is certainly well advised if it sees itself as part of Kosovo and lives there with the majority society in a spirit of trust.

And it is mutually responsible to ensure that the respective partner in the same country is not afraid of the other and sees him as a foreign body. That is, if the Kosovar majority society gives the Serb minority living there credibly the impression that the minority rights of the Serbs are being preserved in Kosovo, that it is not only accepted but promoted by the Kosovar state when the Serbs use Serbian as their own language, then the fear argument is no longer there. Then it does not lead to alienation and division, but rather it leads to improved integration of this minority without speaking of assimilation. The reverse is also true.

Reduction of mutual reservations

You mentioned the keyword language and emphasized the protection of the actual mother tongue. But there are also tendencies, not only in Kosovo but also in other surrounding regions, that ethnic minorities do not learn the majority language and reject it. What do you recommend there?

I can only recommend in principle, and this does not only apply to the minorities, that everyone should learn the national language, the colloquial language of other people in the country, especially if it is the majority. So every member of the national minority will be well advised if he not only teaches himself but also his children the knowledge of the national language as an investment in the future; and if there are reservations about the majority society that they will be dismantled as best as possible and as quickly as possible, because ultimately you want to live in the country. From my point of view, this is the basis of any intelligent positioning of an ethnic minority. Everything else I would understand here under the term separatism tendency. And that is incompatible with a wise minority position.

Separatism is exactly what the majority society is afraid of. How can it be possible to prevent separatism in the area of ​​tension between the granting of cultural identity and respect for the identity of the other?

I think, regardless of whether you belong to the majority society or a minority, you have to be confident enough to let the other be different.

The majority society must not give the impression that it wants to forcibly assimilate members of the minority into the majority society. And the minority should give the majority society the impression that the majority society as such is being left behind. The minority is always in need of protection, not the majority.

If I now apply that to Kosovo, then the Kosovars are not in need of protection in that they cannot use Kosovar. It's their country! The Serbs are in need of protection there. Conversely, the Kosovar (Albanian) minority in Serbia is in need of protection. There she is a minority.

Of course, the protection of minorities presupposes that the questions of territorial affiliation have been clarified and that this is not questioned! I am only in a minority if I live in another state where there is a different majority society. If I haven't even accepted that, then I don't see myself as a national minority.

And that is why the idea of ​​minority protection only works if those who claim it also assume for themselves that they are a minority. If the territorial demarcation is called into question, then we are not yet in the debate on the protection of minorities.

Inclusion and Political Participation

Political participation is an important aspect of minority rights. In the Balkans, ethnic minorities vote for ethnic parties. Often there are quorums that make participation easier. At the same time, the political discourse is ethnicized as a result ...

I consider the need for and promotion of political participation of ethnic minorities to be very important, so that national minorities experience what is known as positive discrimination. Because otherwise they would not even get the opportunity to participate politically, because the majority society could, so to speak, repeatedly vote them up against the wall ...

In Romania a representative of the ethnic minority is the president, in North Macedonia an ethnic Albanian prime minister is to become prime minister at the end of the legislative period. Results of this positive discrimination?

I think it is very, very important that minority politics are seen as important in society as a whole ... through an inclusive "let everyone be what they are" ... Then ethnicity no longer matters. And then of course the member of an ethnic minority, such as the German Klaus Johannis, can be elected President of all Romanians by the Romanian majority society with an overwhelming result.

And it would be exactly the same, let me paint this future model on the wall if Kosovo succeeds in establishing an inclusive minority policy in such a way that the majority society is no longer afraid of a member of the Serbian minority. Then why shouldn't a member of the Serbian minority be the Kosovar president of all Kosovars and, conversely, an ethnic Albanian president in Serbia?

Unfortunately, we are currently seeing the opposite trend in Europe: nationalism is increasing ...

The protection of minorities is incredibly important in a Europe of re-nationalization of mutual relations. I think that minorities are an opportunity for peace in Europe. They are the glue for mutual understanding.

In this sense, I would call on all states in Europe to view the protection of minorities as an opportunity for their own prosperous advancement.

Dr. Bernd Fabritius is the Federal Government Commissioner for questions relating to repatriates and national minorities

The interview was conducted by Adelheid Feilcke, Head of DW Europe