Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
The German minority of South Jutland is officially characterized as a national minority, and Denmark has therefore, in line with its ratification of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, declared that the Framework Convention shall apply to the German minority there. The German minority of South Jutland is the only officially recognized national minority in Denmark.
There is no official record of the size of the German minority in South Jutland, but the German minority itself has stated that it comprises around 15,000–20,000 people. The German minority resides mainly in the southern and eastern parts of South Jutland. In the large communities in its settlement area the minority constitutes between 5 and 20 per cent of the population. Moreover, members of the German minority live scattered throughout other parts of the region.
The sociological structure of the German minority is much like that of the Danes in this part of the country, characterized by agriculture and small businesses with a few big industrial enterprises.
The members of the German minority speak Danish and German. A large proportion particularly of the rural population traditionally also use the South Jutland regional dialect ‘Sonder-jysk’, a derivative of Danish, in its day-to-day discourse. The rest traditionally speak High German.
The southern Danish border was first defined in the early eighth century and did not include Holstein. During the medieval period, the Holstein nobility came into possession of estates in South Jutland, and the Duchy of Schleswig was regarded as theirs. In 1460 they supported the Danish King and gave him power over Holstein on condition that it was not to be separated from Schleswig. This arrangement endured for 400 years.
In 1864 both provinces were incorporated into the Prussian and later the German Empire, resulting in tens of thousands of Danes emigrating to Denmark and other European states. The end of World War I saw the possibility of a border revision, and in 1920 a plebiscite was held in Schleswig. The north voted by 74 per cent to rejoin Denmark, while the middle voted by 80 per cent to remain with Germany. The total province-wide vote was 53 per cent in favour of rejoining Denmark. That same year the border was drawn between north and south Schleswig and it has remained unchanged despite pressures following the Second World War.
Collaboration by members of the German minority with the Nazi occupation during World War II resulted in the temporary loss of rights previously secured in Denmark. However, the German minority population now enjoys the full rights to equality and non-discrimination secured by the 1955 Bonn–Copenhagen Declarations. These were two parallel, unilateral declarations on the positions of the German minority in Denmark and the Danish minority in Germany (see Germany). The Copenhagen Declaration guaranteed the German minority equality and recognized its citizenship and concomitant rights, including the right to use the German language and to German schools, and its special interest in cultivating relations with Germany.
Under the auspices of the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities monitoring mechanism, concerns have been raised regarding language rights and administrative provisions for the German minority in South Denmark. While local administrations are staffed by German-speakers, the FCNM Advisory Committee has noted that minority language procedures are not regulated formally through written regulations; nor are they monitored. The Advisory Committee has also reported lack of progress on bilingual topographical sign-posting in South Jutland. Persons belonging to the German minority have complained that more could be done to reflect their culture, history, language and religion in the Danish school curriculum and in Danish textbooks. They have also expressed concern about the possible long-term impact of administrative reforms, for instance in 2007 when counties were abolished, and a new Southern Denmark region was established; they feared that such changes might to affect their level of political representation at regional and municipal levels.
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