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AGDM annual conference: a signal to German federal politicians

The 32nd Annual Conference of FUEN's Working Group of German Minorities (AGDM), which took place in Berlin from 12 to 15 November 2023, sent a clear signal to federal policymakers. With participants from 17 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the event provided a platform for dialogue on key topics in the context of German minorities in Central Eastern Europe and Central Asia. From cultural and linguistic aspects to political challenges, a wide range of perspectives were highlighted. The intensive meetings with political decision-makers at federal level emphasised the importance of the conference as a bridge between the minorities and the political institutions.

This year's AGDM annual conference focused on a wide range of topics. However, the support of the German minorities by the Federal Republic of Germany was central in many respects. The German minorities act as bridge builders to Germany in their countries and are part of the FRG's peace and foreign policy. Unfortunately, this support is hampered by a shortage of funds and cutbacks, which pose a challenge to the activities of the German minorities. On the one hand, the problem of the status of ethnic German repatriates and, on the other, the discrimination against the children of German minorities in Poland were raised. The discussion about the latter intensified against the backdrop of the recent elections and raised questions about how to proceed.

Despite the challenges, it was emphasised at the annual conference that the AGDM is not just a recipient of German support. Rather, it actively contributes to realising the goals of German foreign policy - such as peace policy and European integration - in the societies concerned.

The start of the conference on Sunday began with a warm reunion, as it was the second face-to-face meeting since the end of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting proved to be a welcome opportunity to strengthen relationships and constructively discuss common issues that were on the agenda for the conference.

The AGDM annual conference was officially opened by Natalie Pawlik, Member of the German Bundestag and Federal Commissioner for Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities. She shared the conviction that minority policy leads to peace, as supporting diversity, multilingualism and cultural richness promotes peace for the future. She emphasised the parliamentary breakfast, which had taken place in October at the invitation of the AGDM and MP Stefan Seidler (SSW), as a useful format for making the goals of German minorities heard by decision-makers in federal politics. The opening of the conference was followed by a political discussion with the Parliamentary State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland, Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, MP. She emphasised the confirmation of the historical responsibility for the German minorities despite a tight budget. At the same time, she encouraged the AGDM to remain a loud voice in Berlin and emphasised the importance of networking, joint learning and the open exchange of concerns and successes.

The rest of the conference was followed by an expert discussion with Division HI7 of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland, represented by Head of Division Dr Alexander Schumacher, as well as with the Stiftung Verbundenheit mit den Deutschen im Ausland, represented by Managing Director Sebastian Machnitzke and Team Leader Erika Erhardt. The topic of the funding guidelines for the coming year was on the agenda.

In the afternoon, the finissage of the exhibition "In Motion" took place in the Collegium Hungaricum. The exhibition, presented by the Association of German Authors and Artists in Hungary (VUdAK), provided insights into contemporary German identity constructions in Hungary in the visual arts. Poems by German writers from Hungary were also recited as part of the finissage.

The day concluded with an expert discussion organised by the AGDM with Christoph de Vries, Member of the German Bundestag and Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group on expellees, ethnic German repatriates and German minorities. The discussion made it clear that issues affecting minorities and ethnic German repatriates are not only of interest to the CDU/CSU, but are also of interest to other parliamentary groups. It was emphasised that the AGDM gladly accepts invitations from other political groups, for example to parliamentary group meetings, not only to talk about existing problems but also to highlight the added value of German minorities for the Federal Republic of Germany. During the discussion, the AGDM emphasised how important it is to provide information about minorities not in a stereotypical way, but in their current reality.

Tuesday began with expert discussions on the Federal Foreign Office's foreign cultural and educational policy with the Federal Foreign Office Commissioner, Anna Bartels, and the head of the department responsible for promoting German minorities abroad, Sylvia Groneick. AGDM spokesperson Bernard Gaida emphasised that minority work is an integral part of human rights work and that the German minorities are not clichés, but ambassadors on the ground. The solidarity and support of the German minorities towards Ukraine was also mentioned. Above all, the issues of the immense cuts in funding for German minorities abroad from the budget of the Federal Foreign Office were addressed. The AGDM once again jointly appealed to the Federal Foreign Office not to cut the sometimes very modest, but for some minorities abroad vital funds in the middle of the current year, but to ensure planning security. To ensure this, it would be good to reintroduce a planning meeting format with the intermediary organisations and the Office, as Bernard Gaida suggested.

In the afternoon, there was an exchange in a world café format with partner and intermediary organisations. The representatives of the German minorities engaged in dialogue with

  • Bernd Fabritius, Marc-Pawel Halatsch and Jan Hini, Association of Expellees (BdV)
  • Thomas Konhäuser and Vitalij Brodhauer, Cultural Foundation of the German Expellees
  • Urban Beckmann and Karoline Gil, Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa)
  • Harald Roth and Dr Ingeborg Szöllösi, Director of the German Cultural Forum for Eastern Europe
  • Rudolf de Baey, Goethe Institute.

Meanwhile, the AGDM youth took part in a discussion with Robert Werner, Managing Director of djo - German Youth in Europe, to exchange joint projects and ideas, especially with regard to the jointly organised Juleica training for AGDM youth representatives.

Afterwards, the participants had the opportunity to present their country reports at an internal AGDM meeting. The fears of German minorities abroad relate primarily to the cuts in funding, which could pose a threat to some minorities.

The conference ended with a political networking event in cooperation with the parliamentary group "Minorities". Over dinner, there was the opportunity for direct exchange and a cosy get-together to further strengthen cooperation for the future. The event was attended by Natalie Pawlik, Federal Commissioner for Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities (SPD), Stephan Mayer, MP (CDU), Gyde Jensen, MP (FDP), Sven Oole (Managing Director of the CDU/CSU Group of Expellees, Ethnic German Resettlers and German Minorities), Stefan Seidler, MP (SSW), Dr Bernd Fabritius, President of the BdV, Sylvia Stiersdorfer and Peter Aumer, MP (CDU).

The AGDM can look back on a successful and insightful annual conference, which not only facilitated an intensive exchange between German minorities and political decision-makers, but also emphasised the importance of minority work as an integral part of German foreign policy. The discussions on current challenges, particularly with regard to supporting minorities despite budget cuts and political developments in the countries of origin, will serve as a basis for future joint efforts. The AGDM remains determined to further strengthen its role as a mouthpiece and bridge-builder for German minorities and looks forward to continuing its constructive cooperation in the coming years.