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Germany

Sorbs Aim for Party of Their Own

The Sorbs -- a Slavonic minority living in the eastern German federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony -- are poised to found a political party. The plan is not without its critics.

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The Sorb minority want more political clout

In the northern German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Danish minority party SSW has become a decisive factor in forming a post-election coalition government. Social Democrats and Greens are now courting the small party -- which, by agreeing to tolerate the coalition, is now in a position to ask for political favors in the interest of its own voters.

The Slavonic minority of the Sorbs in eastern Germany have a vested interest in what happens in Schleswig Holstein. They also want to become more influential. On Wednesday, Sorbian leaders announced they'd be forming a minority party of their own before the end of March in a bid for more political clout.

The desire for direct influence

Up to now, the 20,000 Protestant Sorbs in Brandenburg and another 40,000 Catholic Sorbs in neighboring Saxony are only represented by an umbrella organization called Domovina, as well as Sorbian councils in the state assemblies. However, neither of the two offer any direct influence on decision-making.

Elke Lorenz, a local counsellor in the Sorbian stronghold of Bautzen, views the Sorbs' endeavours to found a party of their own with suspicion, and plays down current difficulties.

"I wouldn't say there have ever been grave conflicts between us Germans and the Sorbs living here," she said. "We can look back on many centuries of peaceful coexistence. Of course, the Nazi period had a severe impact on our relationship in that the Sorbian language and the Sorbian party was banned. But things have long returned to normal."

The next step

For Sorbian leaders such as Hannes Kell, though, the re-founding of a party is essential. He says that increasingly, the Sorbs are viewed as a mere folklore ensemble entitled to appear at cultural events in the region. He calls for more political influence to make sure that Sorbian traditions are preserved. And money plays no small role in this.

Kell deplores the cutting of subsidies over the past few years. In 2005 alone, the Sorbian minority in Brandenburg will get €152,000 ($200,000) less than previously promised by the regional government. Federal allocations are also going down with the government in Berlin shelling out €450,000 less than in the previous year.

Sorbs on the move

Jan Nuck, Vorsitzender des Bund Lausitzer Sorben

Jan Nuck

Leos Shatava from the Institute of Sorbian Culture is skeptical about the forming of a party, fearing that it might not get the desired backing from the population on the ground. Jan Nuck (photo) from Domowina also has his doubts, saying he doesn't see "why it would lead to greater influence for the Sorbs."

But Hannes Kell says it's high time the Sorbs entered uncharted territory in unified Germany.

He's poised to form the party to be called "Serbska Ludowa Strona," or Sorbian People's Party, in a few weeks' time. Just like the Danish minority party in Schleswig-Holstein, the Sorbian party would not have to clear the five-percent hurdle at elections. Some 20,000 votes would entitle them to send a representative of their own into the regional parliament.

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