by Onno P. Falkena
The small Frisian minority in the northernmost German state of Schleswig-Holstein has a fair chance of getting its very first language law before the summer holiday. The law gives the 10,000 Frisian speakers in the Kreis (province) of Nordfriesland, and on the island of Helgoland, the right to speak and write in Frisian to the local authorities.
The municipalities get the right to use the North Frisian flag with its gold-red-blue colours alongside the flags of Schleswig-Holstein. Place-names and all signs on official buildings should become bilingual as well.
Place names and signage will become bilingual as well
The proposal has been carefully designed and submitted in both Frisian and German by Landtag member Lars Harms of the SSW, the party that represents both the German and the Frisian minority in the Landtag (Parliament) in Kiel.
The proposal will get its first political discussion next week, but already the ruling Social Democrat party (SDP) and the Green Party have expressed their readiness to endorse the proposal.
‘It is my aim that Frisians can use their language in all domains of everyday life. But of course the proposal has a strong symbolic value too’, Lars Harms says. ‘It will be the first law ever written in the Frisian language in the history of Germany. I see this as an important first step. If Schleswig-Holstein decides to give Frisian legal status, there will be proposals for Frisian at school and in the media in the future.’
The proposal gives Frisians the same rights all foreigners in Germany already have. According to German legislation, citizens have the right to use every state language in communication with the authorities. The Danish minority therefore has no problem, but apart from Danish citizens may also address their local council in Russian or even Kazakh.
Frisians however did have a problem, because unlike the Danes they do not have a mother state. ‘I have used the laws for the Sorb language from Saxony and Brandenburg as an example’, Harms says. ‘But my proposal is simpler and concentrates on the official recognition of the use of the Frisian language and the Frisian symbols in the public domain. It is my hope now that official bodies in Nordfriesland, such as municipalities, will encourage their civil servants to learn North Frisian or perhaps organise courses for their employees. Official bodies will need people who will master the language and that will certainly improve the image and the position of Frisian.’
The North Frisian movement does not fail to recognise the importance of the proposal of Harms. The research centre the Nordfriisk Instituut defines the proposal as a 'historic breakthrough'.
‘Making the language visible would once and for all end the legend of an ethnic and linguistic homogonous Schleswig-Holstein’ says Nordfriisk Instituut president Thede Boysen.
According to president Jorgen Hahn of the Friisk Foriining, ‘the new law constitutes a good basis for more work on behalf of Frisian in Nordfriesland and on the island of Helgoland’.