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ECMI - Coppieters Summer School


Here bellow you have the opening speech I delivered in the 9th edition of the ECMI – Coppieters Summer School in Berlin. 'The Legacy of ’89: 30 years of redrawing borders and rethinking minorities' was the title of this edition.

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It is for me a pleasure to have the opportunity to address to you in the opening of this edition of the Summer school organized by the European Centre for Minority Issues and Coppieters Foundation. Looking at the program, we have an exciting week ahead to learn on the issues affecting currently to European national minorities.

As Basque, it is for me an honour to talk at the Humboldt University, which was established by the initiative of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the German philosopher, linguist and diplomatic who had a close relationship with my country. He visited the Basque Country twice in the late XVIIIth and early XIXth centuries and, as a linguist, he devoted to study our language publishing in 1821ean the pioneering work Prüfung der Untersuchungen über die Urbewohnner Hispaniens vermittelst der Vaskischen Sprache in which he established the Iberian hypothesis on the origin of the Basque Language.

I represent in this event the Coppieters foundation. I am member of its Bureau and director of Ezkerraberri Fundazioa, one of the member organizations of Coppieters, which is based in the Basque Country. I am, as well, former member of the European Parliament attached to Greens-EFA group.

Let me introduce Coppieters before I make some reflections on some aspects of issues affecting European national minorities.

Coppieters foundation is a think tank focusing on European affairs. It develops new ideas and produces knowledge on the management of cultural and linguistic diversity, collective and minority rights, multi-level governance, decentralization, state and constitutional reform, statehood processes, self-determination, migration, peace studies and the protection of human rights in Europe.

Coppieters aims to drive the EU towards an alternative institutional structure that is more democratic, more respectful of collective rights of unrecognized European peoples/minorities. Coppieters tries through the publication of monographs and case studies and the organization of conferences, seminars and workshops to transform scientific knowledge into usable concepts for political action to help well informed decision making; and to feed the European Free Alliance European political party with politically relevant concepts, ideas, data and knowledge.

Some examples of the job done by Coppieters could be the conferences organized in collaboration with Ezkerraberri on migrations and minority languages (Bilbao, 2016), on lesser used languages and media (Brussels, 2017), on impact of tourism in national minorities (Donostia, 2018) or on the new forms of consuming audiovisual media and minority languages (Bilbao, 2019).

If one had to define the purpose of Coppieters with a single concept, I would choose the defence of the right to self-determination of peoples and nations; it is the core issue of Coppieters and all others topics of our interest hang somehow from it. We that believe the real recognition of the right to self-determination is the touchstone of any advanced and modern democracy. For us, the right to self-determination in only about establishing or not new borders, becoming or not independent, it goes further away. Self-determination for us means the right to decide on all the issues concerning future of the society, including, of course, the right to secession.

We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Yesterday, 80 years ago Germany invaded Poland signalling the beginning of the II World War. But, also 8 decades ago the Spanish Civil War ended leading to longest lasting dictatorship in Western Europe; war that could be consider as a test of II WW for the Axis Powers. The fall of the Iron Curtain opened 30 years ago a new horizon for political developments in Europe. New borders appeared, some disappeared; some conflicts settled while other exploded. Most of these changes affected directly to national minorities.

  • The cases of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are well known, as well as the split of Czechoslovakia. I’m not going to talk about them, but there are important open questions that need to be addressed like the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh or the recognition of Kosovo by several EU members states, for instance.
  • In Western Europe we should remark the situation in both Scotland and Catalonia where an important part of their citizens want the independence of their nation. What should be the role of the European Union in these cases? Coppieters proposes that the development of mechanism for the inner enlargement of the Union could help to deal properly with those situations.
  • These last 30 years marked the end of political violence or terrorism in Western Europe, which was directly related with borders and minorities. The Good Friday Agreement paved the path to the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998. ETA ceased its violent actions in 2011 and dissolved in 2018. In Corsica, the FNLC followed the way signalled by ETA and ceased with violence in 2014. Anyway, all these 3 processes have to confront hard challenges: Brexit in the case of Northern Ireland, the release of political prisoners in the Basque Country and the lack of real commitment of France to give real powers to Corsican regional authorities.
  • There is in the program a lecture on ‘new minorities’ that I assume deals with the new comers, those escaping from war, hunger and poverty that search shelter in Europe. I really think that the arrival of those new Europeans could be an opportunity to European old/traditional minorities if the situation is managed properly. Catalonia could give some remarkable clues to develop policies of integration of those new comers through the culture and language of the minority. I’m not naïve and I have very clear that some majorities could be tempted to use these new comers and a dissolvent to dilute the culture and language of the traditional minorities.
  • Don’t forget, anyway, that the creation on new borders had the consequence that some former majorities are now minorities, as slaves in the Baltic states, or that exacerbation of state nationalism is affecting deeply the situation of some traditional minorities, Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria are good example of that.

I have to confess that the current European Union has become a deception for me. We, Basques, are very pro-European and we always have thought that Europe could help us to fulfil our national dream. But the reality is otherwise. The European Union is more and more a club of states that fight for their own particular interests. I dream of a Europe of nations and peoples, I dream of a Europe where the right to self-determination will be part of the acquis communautaire, I dream of a Europe which will be champion of the right of minorities, … But, to reach there implies a long walk in a badly paved and bending road that we should march together.

Anyway, let’s dream as did Chilean president Salvador Allende, surrounded by the military in his presidential residence, that much sooner that later, great avenues will again be opened to through which will pass the free man, to construct a better society. Put people instead of man and Europe instead of society and let’s go ahead!

Thank you very much!

ECMI - Coppieters Summer School

Europako blokeak 1989a baino lehen