FUEN Congress 2023 - Pécs - Fünfkirchen - Pečuh
The 67th Congress of the FUEN (Federal Union of European Nationalities) took place in Pécs, from 7-10 September 2023. Fifteen years after the 2008 congress, the city hosted for the second time the largest meeting of European national minorities and linguistic communities. This year the event's Hungarian organising partner and host was the National Self-Government of the Germans in Hungary.
At the opening ceremony held in the Kodály Centre, in addition to the Minority Ombudsman, Ibolya Englenderné Hock, President of the LdU, Loránt Vincze MEP, President of FUEN, Attila Péterffy, Mayor of Pécs, János Árpád Potápi, State secretary in charge of policies for Hungarian communities abroad and Imre Ritter, Chairman of the Parliament Committee of the Nationalities welcomed the participants.
In their opening speeches, the speakers unanimously stressed the importance of the active social involvement of nationalities, for which the creation of an appropriate legal environment and the support of various cultural identity preservation efforts by institutions and society are indispensable. In the current challenging period, it is important for communities to engage in committed cooperation and joint thinking at local, regional and European level. One example is FUEN, the largest umbrella organisation for minorities in Europe, with 100 member organisations from 36 countries. Cultural and educational rights of minorities, good practices and examples to be followed in the member states, as well as setting priorities for the next period were also addressed.
In her speech, the Minority Ombudsman stressed that the specific individual and community rights of national and ethnic minorities are fundamental freedoms. The totality of these rights is not a gift of the majority and not a privilege of the minority, and their source is not the number of national and ethnic minorities, but the right to diversity, which is based on respect for individual freedom and social peace. She recalled that 2023 is a special year for minority rights: we can celebrate the round anniversary of two highly important international treaties and a piece of Hungarian legislation. These are the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, the 25th anniversary of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, and the 30th anniversary of the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities. All three documents seem to exist independently of each other in time and space, but they can only have the legal effect intended by their authors in relation to each other, and can only guarantee the general human and specific nationality rights of the communities and their members covered by them in a complementary way. Only the application of the law in good faith can build a bridge between them.
The Minority Ombudsman, who is also a member of the Consultative Committee of the Council of Europe's Framework Convention on National Minorities, made a special analysis of the work of the body over the past 25 years and the challenges that the Consultative Committee's experience has shown that the communities concerned have faced in particular in recent times. After analysing current issues, she underlined: "To achieve social inclusion, we must all learn to adapt and truly accept national minorities as an integral and valuable part of our societies - this is the message the Advisory Committee has sent to the States and this is the message it sends to you. All national minorities and their people are part of our societies, but we must recognise and deal with diversity not only in the society but also inside communities."
The ceremony also included the presentation of the 2023 FUEN Prize, which was awarded to Renate Schnack, a politician and former minority representative from the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, for her dedicated and committed work on behalf of Europe's indigenous national minorities and linguistic groups. Since 2019, the FUEN Prize has been awarded once a year to individuals who are active in the field of minority protection and who have shown dedication and commitment to the development and recognition of indigenous and national minorities and language groups.
In the late afternoon, two panel discussions took place on the topics "Minority Protection in the EU Neighbourhood - Perspectives, Opportunities and Challenges" and "Participation of Minorities in Democratic Processes".
At the first panel discussion, there was a professional debate with Tomislav Žigmanov, Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of the Republic of Serbia, Valentin Inzko, former High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Elvira Kovács, Vice President of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, and Róbert Jankovics, President of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Croatia. The discussion was moderated by Adrian Zeqiri, Executive Director of the European Centre for Minority Issues in Kosovo. The experts discussed the situation of minorities in the Western Balkans, outlining good practices in their countries and the most pressing problems. The discussion led to the conclusion that, although the legal framework is often in place, its understanding and proper application in practice is lacking. Their experience shows that, although in some regions communities of different ethnicities or religions live in harmony, many problems arise at the political level. A central theme of the discussion was the problem of hate speech, which is not unique to the Balkan states and to which the Roma community is most exposed in many Balkan states.
In the second panel discussion, the Minority Ombudsman was joined by Paul Videsott, Professor of Romance Philology at the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano; Scientific Director of the South Tyrolean Institute of Ethnic Groups, Balázs Vizi, Research Professor, TK Centre for Social Sciences - Institute for Minority Studies, Associate Professor, Ludovika University of Public Service and Thomas Hieber, lawyer. The participants discussed the topic from the point of view of their own field of expertise and their experiences in their work.
On the second day of the congress, senior officials of national minority self-governments discussed the current situation and future vision of national minority communities and the 30 years of experience in applying the Nationality Law.
The discussion covered the circumstances surrounding the creation of the 1993 Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities, the new provisions of the 2011 Act on the Rights of Nationalities and the details of the Act that need to be further adjusted, the values of the nationality institutional system, the preparation and expected results of the latest census, and the situation of nationality education and culture. Participants also specifically highlighted the role of efforts to combat assimilation and the importance of taking responsibility for future generations. The discussion was moderated by Olivia Schubert, Vice President of LdU and Vice-President of FUEN.