By Hélène Ginabat

“A truly democratic society should guarantee the participation of national minorities in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious life,” said Monsignor Urbanczyk. He deplored “manifest or indirect forms of oppression or marginalization” of certain of these communities that “do not enjoy fully their fundamental liberties and rights.” They can also be “affected negatively” by the coronavirus crisis,” he stressed, “notably by the lack of access to health systems or lack of information in their own tongue.

Monsignor Janusz S. Urbanczyk, the Holy See’s Permanent Representative at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), took part in the first supplementary meeting on the human dimension dedicated to the “fight against all forms of intolerance and discrimination,” at Vienna, on May 26, 2020. He intervened in the 3rd Session on the theme: “From Early Alert to Early Action: Prevention of Discrimination, the Escalation of Tensions or Conflicts.”

National minorities have “specific rights and duties, affirmed the Holy See spokesman: the right to “preserve and develop their own culture, including their language” as well as to “profess and practice their religion, including the freedom of worship as a community.” They have “the duty to work, as all citizens, for the common good of the State” as well as “to promote the freedom and dignity of each of its members,” respecting “their decisions, even if these are different from their heritage,” he specified.

Here is a translation of Monsignor Urbanczyk’s address.

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Monsignor Janusz S. Urbanczyk’s Address

Mister Moderator,

To work for a society of tolerance and religious, cultural and national diversity means to recognize the value of “multiculturalism and of the necessary complementarity of cultures. This leads in turn to collaboration and mutual respect between the different components of the civil society,”[1]among which are the national minorities.

These communities have issued from different ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious milieus. There are groups capable of preserving and affirming their own identity and well integrated in the societies to which they belong. Some are even able to exercise great influence on the political, economic, social and cultural life of their country. However, other communities do not exercise any influence and do not enjoy fully their fundamental liberties and rights, being in situations of suffering and distress. This can lead to passive resignation, to troubles or even to rebellion. However, neither marginalization nor violence is the appropriate way to create veritable conditions of peace, of justice and of stability.

In this context, my Delegation hopes to attract attention on two principles that it is worth keeping in mind. The first is the inherent dignity of every human person, regardless of his ethnic, cultural or national origin, or his religious belief. The second is the fundamental unity of the human race, in virtue of which all national communities enjoy the same inherent dignity. In fact, a veritably democratic society should guarantee the participation of national minorities in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious life.

National minorities have specific rights and duties, the most evident being the right of existence. Unfortunately, this right can be ignored or refused in numerous ways, by manifest or indirect forms of oppression or marginalization. They also have the right to preserve and develop their own culture, including their language. In this regard, education, by the parental transmission of the language and cultural identity, plays an essential role. Moreover, they must be free to profess and practice their religion, including the freedom to worship as a community.

On the other hand, during the present COVID-19 pandemic, the protection and promotion of the rights of national minorities remain essential factors for democracy, peace, justice and stability within participant States and between them.

In fact, the crisis linked to COVID-19 has put several institutions to a harsh test, notably those of the health sector. Fundamental rights and liberties have been limited or have been the object derogations in the whole OSCE area. Unfortunately, in certain cases, national minorities have been negatively affected by these measures, notably by the lack of access to health systems or the lack of information in their own language.

Finally, It is important to note that the members of these communities also have duties toward the society and State in which they live. In the first place, they have the duty to work, as all citizens, for the common good of the State. In the second place, a minority group has the duty to promote the freedom and dignity of each of its members, and also to respect their decisions, even if these are different from their heritage. All this is inscribed in Pope Francis’ words: “As all citizens, you can contribute to the wellbeing and progress of the society, by respecting the laws, by fulfilling your duties and also by integrating yourselves by the emancipation of each new generation.”[2]

Thank you, Mister Moderator

[1] Pope Francis, Meeting with the Authorities and the Diplomatic Corps, Baku, October 2, 2016.

[2] Pope Francis, Address to the Pilgrimage of Travellers, October 2015.

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