Why this story matters:
What is concerning is that neither minorities in Poland nor civil society showed much interest in supporting the project. Activists in favor of the motion report a lack of enthusiasm at the thought of helping minorities from other nationalities, like Germans in the Polish region of Silesia.
“I collected the signatures myself and some people said that I only want to fight for the German minority. I explained that it would also mean a better life for the Polish minority in Lithuania [...]” -- said Rafał Bartek, president of the Social-Cultural Society of Germans in Opole, in the interview below.
Poland is home to 9 national minorities, but according to the current legal definitions their overall percentage of the population is one of the lowest in the EU -- only a few percent.
However, people of Polish descent are one of the largest national minorities in Lithuania, and there are sizeable minority communities in Germany, Ukraine and Belarus.
Although there is currently a lot of talk about the importance of patriotism (both in Polish politics and Polish society in general), the number of signatures collected so far shows an “us v. them” mentality that could ultimately harm Poles living outside the Polish borders because of its narrow perspective.
Details from the story:
- It is estimated that about 50 million people in the EU belong to a national minority or a minority language community.
- The European Commission launched the collection of signatures in March 2017. The Commission initially refused to register the initiative in 2013 (claiming that enforcing a unified minority law was outside of its jurisdiction), a decision which was annulled in February 2017 following the appeal against the decision lodged by the authors of the initiative with the support of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.
- 11 out of the 28 EU countries that took part in the initiative reached the threshold required by the European Commission (seven countries were the minimum required, with the unionwide threshold of 1 million signatures). The highest number of signatures was collected in Hungary (569,813), Romania (303,695), and Italy (60,545), followed by Slovakia, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Croatia, Denmark, Slovenia, and Latvia. The collection closed on 3 April 2018. Overall, 1,215,879 signatures were collected.
- The Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán publicly supported the initiative and signed the petition himself.
- Poland did not reach the required threshold of 38,250 -- 22,892 signatures were collected, mostly by the German minority.