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A new President for Youth of European Nationalities (YEN)
During the last general assembly at Gravenstein (Denmark), Hester Knol has been elected president of Youth of European Nationalities. The most important association of youth from national minorities is nevertheless
Jacques-Yves Le Touze pour ABP le 9/06/08 7:37

During the last general assembly at Gravenstein (Denmark), Hester Knol has been elected president of Youth of European Nationalities. The most important association of youth from national minorities is nevertheless not well known in Brittany.

She tells us about herself, aims of YEN and one the most discussed subjects during the assembly: the relationship between immigrants and indigenous minorities… (Interview by Kevin Jezequel)

Hello, Hester ,could you introduce yourself?

"I'm Hester Knol, 21 years old and living in Groningen at the moment. I'm from the Westlauwers Frisian minority from The Netherlands. I almost lived in Fryslan all my life, but since I'm studying in Groningen I'm living there as well. I'm studying Human Movement Sciences at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RuG). I hope to finish my bachelor thesis in June or July. When I was 17 I joined the Frisian international youth organisation Frysk Ynternasjonaal Kontakt (FYK). After half a year I was elected as boardmember and I've been in the board for three years. The last year I was the president of the organization. FYK organizes a lot of exchanges, seminars, Frisian cultural events and good parties.

In February of 2008 I quit my board membership in FYK. It thought it was time for a different challenge so I decided to candidate for Youth of European Nationalities (YEN). During the General Assembly at the Whitsun Seminar in Gravenstein (Denmark) I have been elected as the president of YEN."

Can you give a short history overview about YEN?

"YEN started as a youth committee of FUEN, the Federal Union of European Nationalities, in 1963. In 1984 YEN became an independent organization. In 2003 YEN became one of the members of Youth Forum Jeunesse.

Today YEN is the largest union in Europe of youth organizations representing the autochtonous national minorities."

What are the aims of YEN? What is the relationship between YEN and the European institutions?

"The aims of YEN are: - raise the level of attention for national minority issues in (EU) law, politics and policies. - Establish ourselves as consultative body of the European Commision and the Council of Europe (for education and culture). - Provide an international network for exchange of knowledge and problem solving to young people with a minority background - Protection and development of minority rights and the cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe - And…LIVING DIVERSITY"

What are the actions of YEN?

"YEN organizes two seminars a year, the Youth Leader Seminar which originally is a working seminar, and the Easter Seminar. The General Assembly takes place at the Easter Seminar where the member organizations elect the new board members, adopt resolutions if necessary and decides about the work YEN is doing and how to proceed the work.

YEN has got a broad network within Europe. At the moment YEN exists of 32 member organizations. Seminars are a great place to get to know each other and a lot of plans for multilateral youth exchanges and projects start here.

Almost every year one of the member organizations organizes Voices of Europe, where some minorities come together to form a choir for one week and sing in each other's minority languages.

Of course YEN has to get to know their member organizations and organizations that can be one of the members in the future. Therefore we need study visits to minorities. One of the study visits took place immediately after the Whitsun seminar in May. This seminar has been organized in Rumania to get to know the minorities there and improve the contacts."

There are only a few members of Western European minorities in YEN. What could be done to attract them?

"A few weeks ago, during the Whitsun Seminar, a new structure has been adopted. This includes that we installed a working group on enlargement. This working group will see where YEN can improve the network and will especially focus on Eastern Europe, Balkan and Western Europe. I come from a minority from Western Europe as well, and I know that there are a lot of minorities. Some of these minorities are a member of a different network-organization and haven't participated in YEN yet. We think it would be good to spread the network and include as much minorities as possible."

During the seminar, the issue of new minorities (immigrants) has been discussed. What is your personal opinion on this topic? Do you think they should have the same rights as the indigenous minorities?

"This is a tough situation with a lot point of views. Mainly I think that a lot immigrants deal with the same problems as autochthonous minorities. New minorities are trying to find a way to live their culture in a completely different, mostly Western world. We, as autochthonous minorities, try to find a way to live our culture as well. How do you implement your language? Is there a Frisian school for example? And how can we make it possible for young people to live their culture and language as well? There are more similarities than we know.

Nowadays people are scared of the diversity on the street because people think these differences between the minorities cause problems. People don't know enough of each others culture, that's probably why they start to be scared. Not knowing other cultures can raise a feeling of fear. This is the same for autochthonous and 'new' minorities when I compare some of the Frisian problems to the problems of migrants. I think ignorance is the main, but not the only problem.

I find it hard to say whether they should have the same rights as 'us', autochthonous minorities. On one hand it would be good for their culture, have the support they need. But, though there are many similarities, there will always be some differences. But as long as it is a minority in the country, they should have rights too. Though I don't think it should be exactly the same rights. And this differs for every minority in every country and this is different for 'new minorities' that are in The Netherlands for 100 years and this differs for the 'new minorities' that are in The Netherlands for 50 years. And then if you start to compare France and The Netherlands…we all have to deal with different laws and different rights, so I think it's not possible to generalize rights.

Though I think that laws might stay different, that doesn't mean that we cannot cooperate. It would be good to build up a good relationship between autochthonous minorities and migrants because this can strengthen the position of both sides. Together you are stronger! Live and enjoy this diversity!"

What do you think YEN will be like in 10 years?

"In 10 years YEN will be 35 years old and an even bigger organization with more member organizations. The new structure that has been adopted on the General Assembly in 2008 works perfectly and the results are visible : YEN became many new member organizations due to the working group enlargement, YEN has a good political position in Europe and supports the minorities all over Europe, YEN improved the communication network, in- and outside the organization. Of course the European Dialogue Forum has been an enormous success, YEN and FUEN cooperated well during those ten years and there is a solid connection and cooperation with the European Parliament! Brussels project, accomplished!

And let's not forget about the nice parties, seminars, people, pictures, thoughts, music, culture, folklore, grape juice, etc etc etc . This would be perfect!"

If I tell you « Brittany », what comes to your mind?

"Brittany, one of the only places in France that I have not visited yet. Last summer I planned to go there, but the weather was horrible so we had to change plans and visited Austria where it was raining as well.

One of my first memories of Brittany is the band EV. EV was playing at LIET ynternasjonaal in Fryslân, where I come from. LIET is a kind of song festival with only minorities playing and singing in the minority language. After performing this one song of EV, they started to play in the foyer during the break. This was one of the coolest bands I ever saw, especially since I played the accordion myself for quite a long time. If all Bretons are like this…"

Thank you !

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