Address by Tytti ISOHOOKANA-ASUNMAA,
member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe,
member of Parliament of Finland
One of the main tasks of the Council of Europe consisting of
more than forty member countries is to further in its new member
states democratic safety i.e. human rights and a versatile democracy
including many different values. The Council supervises the realization
of member criteria and the ability of states to conform with member
obligations e.g. with the aid of monitoring. On the follow up
list are for instance minority issues. Many minorities are with
greater probability than others subjected to breaches of human
rights and discrimination. In the prevention of conflicts the
improvement of the position of minorities is of great importance,
because a considerable part, especially of the local and regional
conflicts, originate in ethnic disagreements and oppression of
Furthering of minority rights on international forums is a challenging
task, because not all governments want to acknowledge the existence
of minorities or the rights of the minorities. An example of this
are the Finno-Ugric Csangos, who live in Rumania on the slopes
of the Eastern Carpates. Discrimination manifests itself in their
life in many practical things e.g. beginning with population census.
They have also been refused the right to education in their own
language. Indigenous peoples can be in the same position as minorities.
In the Council of Europe several agreements protecting the rights
of the minorities, regional and minority languages and cultures
have been approved, which the member states have ratified unevenly.
An important agreement is the European Chart on regional languages
or minority languages signed in 1992. This agreement aims especially
at the fortification of the position of minority languages. The
Chart recognizes the minority languages as being part of the European
cultural heritage and strives to further their position among
the main European languages. The aim is to protect small minority
languages on the verge of disappearing, which the citizens of
the signatory states traditionally use in their states. In Russia
there are for instance several such languages.
Another important agreement was concluded in 1995 and it deals
with the protection of national minorities. In this agreement
the principles are defined, which oblige the signatory states
to protect national minorities within their territory. The signatory
states commit themselves to support the maintenance and development
of minority cultures.
In addition to the agreements attention can be paid in the Council
in different ways to the actions of the governments of the member
states or rather their lack of action in the improvement of the
position of minority languages and cultures. One of the most applied
methods of action is to authorize one of the members of the parliamentary
general assembly of the Council to put together a memorandum based
on expert opinions as a basis for discussion of a certain issue.
I have myself compiled a memorandum among others aiming at the
improvement of the position of the Finno-Ugric peoples living
in Russia, who are in an endangered position, and to make it easier
for young people belonging to national minorities to gain access
to university education. At present I am writing a report to the
general assembly on the Csango people, whom I mentioned earlier.
The main message of the said agreements and reports is that linguistic
and cultural versatility is an extremely important factor from
the point of view of the European cultural heritage and its future.
It is a feature, which enriches Europe, and which we want to protect.
The European map of nationalities is like a beautiful mosaic.
In spite of their efforts, the imperialists, nationalists and
advocates of social realism have not been able to destroy it.
It is wise that the new Europe allows for cultures to live and
continue to develop. When difference is considered a value, the
Finno-Ugric peoples as well have their possibility in the Europe
of the future.
The same ideology has been written down in the recently approved
document on basic rights of the European Union. One of the articles
of this document states the following: the union respects cultural,
religious and linguistic versatility. Realization of these factors
in the every day life of citizens is one of the conditions for
Thus European integration does not weaken the position of small
languages. With the Finnish language the case has for instance
been the opposite. The union membership has elevated its position
and the interest toward a language, which differs from all the
other official languages of the union, has clearly grown. When
the union some years from now will expand, the amount of Finno-Ugric
languages will increase as well. Thus the Finnish, Estonian and
Hungarian languages do not for the time being need to carry on
a defensive battle in the union. On the other hand, in those countries
where these languages are minority languages, the situation is
different. Due to their strength, the three above mentioned states
are obliged to help and support in every way possible the development
of the language and culture of their language relatives.
The Council of Europe and the European Union work at present
together in favour of cultural versatility. A recent example of
this is the common theme for next year.
The Council of Europe has together with the European Union and
UNESCO designated the coming year as the European language year.
With this theme year they wish to remind of the linguistic versatility
of the continent as well as to further learning of languages.
This campaign is an open invitation to get acquainted with new
languages and to meet new cultures.
The language year is meant to wake up the general public to notice
the necessity of language studies. The slogan of the language
year is simply as follows: language studies open doors and everybody
can do it. Everyone can leam new languages, it is never too late
to start. Learning is a life long process.
The Commission of the European Union is at present preparing
a long-term programme in support of European regional and minority
languages and cultures. For this purpose 2,5 million euros have
been allocated, with the aim of promoting the preservation of
more than 40 minority languages spoken with the territory of the
But no language has a future, if it is not used in the home,
the schools, public administration and media. Understanding, thinking,
remembering, expressing oneself, experiencing - all of this is
connected with the language, a person grows up with. All of ones
life is connected with the mind of the language. Therefore realization
in practice of the point of view that only by merging into the
main population can a minority or indigenous population be able
to influence its own matters, would for the minority be a shocking
suicide. Therefore intervening in the position of a language is
the most important action in preventing a culture from being destroyed.
On the agenda of the power-holders securing of the position of
small, endangered languages should be considered as important
as prevention of an ecological catastrophe or promotion of disarmament.
We know that languages die just as plants disappear from the
surface of the earth. In Western Europe Uralic languages have
at some time been spoken from the Atlantic to Siberia. The history
of development of languages is fascinating. The theories on the
origin of Finno-Ugric languages render our languages an exotic
element, which I hope will increase our self-esteem. We can succeed
alongside the big languages and cultures stronger than ours only
by following our own path as we move ahead. The past and our memory
has to be connected with the future and technology. This may save
many indigenous peoples from final annihilation. We also have
to understand and realize that the right to the mother tongue
is everyone's basic right. It is a human right we have to fight
for. Those who fight are protected by numerous international agreements.
But how can we get people to realize their rights? Recently I
read a UNDP report on the Ukraine. According to the report only
some 65 % of the Ukrainians were aware of the fact that the constitution
guarantees Ukrainian citizens the right to teach and to learn
in their mother tongue. There is among others a large Hungarian
minority in the Ukraine.
Citizens need explicit information on international achievements,
the contents of agreements and the obligations contained in them.
They need information about their rights, which they should demand
of the decision-makers and governments. Let this Congress become
one of the means for passing on information even to the most remote
Dear participants and guests of the Congress!
The strength of small peoples is in the end in their individual
culture. It has to be sufficiently distinctive in order to offer
protection against direct efforts of conquest from the outside,
in order to oblige its citizens to mutual relations and in order
to secure passing on of their own national values to the next
generation. The strength of small peoples is also in their past,
the feelings of joy and sorrow that they have felt, the victories
and losses, which they have experienced, in order for the inseparable
unity of fates to be born. The strength of small peoples is in
the common language. If the language disappears, with it disappears
all that is own, inherited, lived, experienced, finally and for
Source: III World Congress of
the Finno-Ugrian Peoples. Helsinki, 2000 [Joshkar-Ola, 2001],