How well does the Dutch government protect national minorities?
Europe’s answers create job perspectives for students of Frisian
The Dutch government should do more to promote the Frisian language and identity. It should also do more to address discrimination of Roma, Sinti and Travellers. It should create opportunities and structure for organisations of minority groups within the Netherlands to foster general intercultural respect and tolerance within the Dutch society. These three issues for immediate action were brought forward in the third report of the Council of Europe (since 2010), that visited the Netherlands last year to check whether the Netherlands upholds the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). This report was recently published, along with the response of the Dutch government.
The aim of the Council of Europe is to uphold democracy, protect human rights and the rule of law. The Council holds that ‘the protection of Minorities is part of the universal protection of human rights’, and so the FCNM was created specifically to protect minorities. While the reports created by the advisory committee are not legally binding requirements, the publication of such reports – including the comments of the national government concerned – has helped to create a dialogue about the situation of national minorities.
In general, the advisory committee found that the Dutch government continued to maintain a high standard when implementing the FCNM. For instance, they concluded that there was a strong commitment from both the national as well as the provincial government to protect the Frisian minority. While recent improvements such as an increasing number of students taking high school exams in Frisian were noticed, it was found that there was still room for improvement.
This improvement should mainly be focused on the promotion of the Frisian language. On the one hand, the use of Frisian with official institutions must be made more visible. This means that there must be staff with knowledge of the Frisian language present in court as well as at municipality-institutions. This creates immediate job perspectives for students of the Frisian track within the BA Minorities and Multilingualism. This is also the case with regard to the second recommendation of the site visiting committee: the education of the Frisian language should be better supported, so that specifically Frisian writing skills will improve. A pressing issue on this front is not only the quality of the education, but also the availability of teachers. The state must therefore monitor educational quality and invest in teacher training. In the meantime, the province of Fryslân has taken care of this by funding our programme on Frisian for the next 5 years.
Furthermore, the existence of the regional broadcaster Omrop Fryslân was identified as crucial for the promotion of the Frisian language. The position of this broadcaster may be better supported by the national government by including broadcasting in the Frisian language in the national law.
As to the position of Roma, Sinti and Travellers, the FCNM does not officially include them. However, the report concluded that these groups face substantial discrimination: mainly when it comes to housing and labour. The advisory committee recommends that cohesive policies are written to counter discrimination, and that possibilities must be created to allow these groups to participate in the debate concerning their position in society.
This is also true in the broader picture of society. The committee noticed an increased presence of xenophobic and divisive discourse within society, and therefore urges the government to promote inclusiveness and tolerance by organising opportunities for minority groups to enter the debate.
The central Dutch government reacted positively to this report. They stressed that Omrop Fryslân has the strong support from the Netherlands. Furthermore, it was assured that enough support and policy exists to make the Frisian language visible within the public space. They also vowed to invest in Frisian language teachers.
Concerning other minority groups within the Netherlands, including the Roma, Sinti and Travellers, the Dutch government stated that they do and will continue to include the groups concerned in the process of policy building. This is aimed at promoting tolerance and inclusiveness within the Dutch society. It also assured that a great amount of action was taken to counter discrimination towards Roma, Sinti and Travellers and sufficient organisations are created.
Overall the report and the response signalled a great deal of attention and work committed to protecting national minorities. However, work is not done yet. Next fall a delegation of the Council of Europe will visit to monitor the implementation of the European Charter for Minority Languages in the Netherlands. This charter includes not only Frisian, but various minority languages within the netherlands.