29 March 2012, 16:29

European residents to speak their native tongs

European residents to speak their native tongs

On April 1 EU countries start collecting signatures in support of a referendum on equalizing the status of state languages and the languages of ethnic minorities. For the first time Europeans will use the right of civil initiative: since its foundation in 1952, the EU is to conduct its first pan-European referendum.

On April 1 EU countries start collecting signatures in support of a referendum on equalizing the status of state languages and the languages of ethnic minorities. For the first time Europeans will use the right of civil initiative: since its foundation in 1952, the EU is to conduct its first pan-European referendum.

Over the 60 year of its history the European Union for the first time allowed its citizens to directly participate in the democratic processes at the top level, as it occurs in most countries in the world. Now the EU countries obtained the right to initiate referenda and suggest amendments to the legislation. The new democratic mechanism comes into force on April 1, and at that moment the European parliament members will begin to collect signatures in favor of a referendum to stop language discrimination. The idea to submit for general discussion the issue of the «minor» languages appeared last fall when Latvia conducted the referendum on the status of the Russian language. Back then almost 75% of the country's citizens who took part in the poll voted against the national status of the Russian language. There are many Russian speakers in Germany and France, and not only in the Baltic States, says political scientist Valery Ostrovsky.

«The situation is special there, the people don't demand an official status, they just want to receive help from the state in order to raise their children bi-lingual, so that their children know the Russian language and never loose ties with their motherland».

With the help of the civil initiative any issue can be put for a referendum. It just takes a minimum of a million signatures of residents of a minimum of seven EU countries in favor of an initiative. Then the document is forwarded to Brussels where a decision is to be made within three months. The European Commission of course can decline the motion, but it does not mean that the case is lost, says an initiator of collecting signatures and a Latvian member of the European parliament Tatiana Zhdanok in her exclusive interview to the Voice of Russia.

«One can change the wording or argue. The EU launched this civil initiative in order to bring the EU citizens closer to the structures that make decisions. In similar manner Catalonia, Wales or Scotland have their national parliaments and are true autonomies, but their languages have no national status. It contradicts the principle of parity. We suggest that the European Commission itself initiates the extension of the list of the official languages. And Brussels will not be able to ignore the will of a great number of EU citizens just due to some political considerations».

Basques, Catalonians, Bretons, Russians and other ethnic minorities live in the EU countries. Representatives of some of these ethnic minorities struggle to preserve their cultural traditions. Political scientist Valery Ostrovsky believes that this signals the end of the common culture, which the Europeans have been building over dozens of years.

«The oldest European ethnic group is the Frisians. There are only 400 thousand of them left. And naturally, on the territory of Germany and Holland where they live the Frisians want to speak their own language and preserve their cultural traditions. And such multicultural situation will bring no harm to Europe, but to the contrary will make it stronger and outweigh the false cultural diversity».

The initiators of the referendum hope to conduct it this coming fall. However, the European Commission can on its own pass into law all the proposals of its members parliamentarians. In any event the language barriers on EU territory will start dissolving and the languages of ethnic minorities have a chance to reach parity with the national languages.  

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