Minorities in the Western Balkans: opportunities and perspectives03.06.2023
In the past decade, the Federal Union of European Nationalities worked together with the member organisations in such a manner that wherever there was a request for events, we found a solution and accommodated their request and had the events. Be it the Congress, the Europeada, the working group meetings, the Conference of European Minority Regions, or the Minorities in the Western Balkans conference, which started on Friday, 2 June in in Kopačevo·Kopács, near Osijek·Essegg·Eszék, Croatia.
Many of FUEN’s member organisations were asking for a conference in the Western Balkans, and we have heard their call. There is no alternative to the protection of autochthonous minorities and the promotion of minority languages, and the FUEN has to be at the forefront of these efforts with such projects, as the organisation’s president, Member of the European Parliament Loránt Vincze pointed out in his opening speech. “The main task of FUEN remains and has to remain to maintain and strengthen relations with minority organisations, we must continue to work for the protection of minorities in Europe, using all instruments at our disposal”, he said, adding: “We need to speak about coexistence based on mutual respect, bringing the majority and the minority closer together, appreciating and protecting the value of linguistic and cultural diversity of autochthonous minorities. This requires a lot of effort, and in this effort member organisations can count on the support and mediation role of FUEN.”
As the host of the conference, Róbert Jankovics, President of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Croatia welcomed the participants, saying that the presence of representatives of 13 minorities from the Western Balkans is a very important message, a message of encouragement that these minorities are willing to work together to create better rights for all of them. He presented his umbrella organisation and the Hungarian community: two thirds of the community’s members live in the Baranya region where they have schools, media, sport and cultural associations, so here they have the luxury that they can significantly contribute to the lives of the community. Thanks to the great relationship established with the Croatian government in recent years, they now have a historical opportunity to make the Hungarians a community that others respect, that has found its peace. „Our community has a future, and despite everything that had taken place, we still have a chance to prosper and have an optimistic look on our future. I hope we can contribute to the improvement of rights of minorities in other countries as well”, he concluded.
Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi welcomed the initiative to organise a conference on the rights of minority communities in the Western Balkans and to discuss this issue in the framework of EU integration. In his video message, he explained that national minorities represent a fundamental asset for their whole societies, they can be a bridge between countries, and enrich the community and the region’s economy. The EU is fully committed to eliminating discrimination based on national, ethnic or religious background, fighting against discrimination is an integral part of the EUs acquis, and the respect for the rights of minorities is part of the Copenhagen criteria driving the EU accession process, he emphasized. „You can count on my full support to protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and continue monitoring them closely in the enlargement process. In today’s geopolitical challenges, a Europe that is united in diversity is more important than ever. (…) We are dedicated to respect and protect Europe’s diversity”, said the Commissioner.
Member of the Croatian Parliament and president of the Serb National Council in Croatia Milorad Pupovac highlighted the role of FUEN: “FUEN is an extremely important organisation, and I would like to thank all who lead and particularly the ones leading it now for focusing on and advocating for the values of minorities. This part of Europe needs these kinds of discussions and the minorities in the neighbouring countries can benefit from it.” He added that it was within the framework of FUEN that they got in touch and started cooperating with the Croatian community in Serbia, with which they even share funds now.
Croatian Member of the European Parliament Karlo Ressler said that the homeland war is behind them for a long time, but there is still something that keeps the wounds from closing and there are still some issues that need not to be swept under the rug, but need to be discussed. He explained that Croatia is trying to create a legislative and social framework that they would like to see implemented for the Croatian minorities in the neighbouring countries as well, but they are doing it firstly because they are convinced that this is the right thing to do.
Tomislav Žigmanov, Minister of Human and Minority Rights and Social Dialogue of the Republic of Serbia explained that the main foreign policy of Serbia is their path to the EU, and they are taking the protection and promotion of minority rights accordingly. He said that democratic participation is a key prerequisite to become part of the decision-making processes, and political representation is first on the list of challenges for minority communities. Equal distribution in public administration and public services is also key, as well as the fight against hate speech, in which Serbia has also made steps forward. He congratulated the FUEN for organising a conference at which they offer the minorities a chance to speak from their own perspectives.
And this is what the next panels of the Minorities in the Western Balkans are going to be about: minorities will discuss the role of sustainable minority institutions, issues in education, political representation and ways to fight antigypsyism, hate speech and discrimination.
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