This is a story about Germany’s biggest secret and a scandal, its treatment of the Sorbian people. They are allowed to perform their folk-dances for German crowds. Yet, despite their minority rights and despite Lusatia’s abundant mineral riches, the German authorities continue to close down Sorbian schools and kindergartens.
As Germany’s State television station MDR revealed recently, irreplaceable landscapes and many Sorb villages have been and continue to be destroyed on the basis of a Nazi law. The Sorbs are the smallest Slavonic nation and a national minority within Germany living in a region called Lusatia. They cultivated Lusatia and have been living there for over 1,500 years, always under German pressure to give up their own Slavonic culture.
This Nazi law which was never eliminated, has made it possible to confiscate privately owned houses and commercial properties in Lusatia on a huge scale up to the present day. The original purpose of the law was to feed Hitler’s war machine with the brown-coal of Lusatia. The present German government has allowed the Swedish State energy trust, Vattenfall, to use it to destroy an area in Lusatia the size of Luxemburg.
The German authorities have systematically hidden this abuse of Sorb lands, culture and property from the public view. The role-model State of Sweden profits from this abuse and from this Nazi expropriation law. It is only by threatening forced expropriation, that Vattenfall is able to blackmail the Sorbs living there to leave their homes and land. This alone enables the Swedish State
company to expand its brown-coal mining at the expense of both the beautiful landscapes and of the people living there.
"A quarter of our entire nation has been forced to leave our homelands by the mining lobby. We Sorbs are being forced over the cliff", warned Jan Nuk, chairman of the Sorbian umbrella organisation, Domowina
, through the Foreign Press Association in London. Shortly afterwards, the gates of Buckingham Palace opened for Sorbian representatives. Sorbs brought the first foreign gift to London during the "Golden Jubilee" of Queen Elizabeth II. Sorbs have not campaigned in the British capital since the end of WW II. In 1946 they tried, in vain, to lobby in London for Lusatia
to join with Czechoslovakia.
Up to this day Lusatia is located in the federal states of Brandenburg and Saxony. Lusatia is blessed with the largest gold, copper and rare earth resources in Germany. Despite its natural riches it is continually denigrated as a supposedly undeveloped region by the coal-mining lobby. However the region suffers mainly from a lack of courageous policies. Even twenty years after the collapse of the communist regime, Sorbs have no legitimate democratic representation of their own.
There are also signs of hope. The SERBSKI SEJMIK tried to become the first grass roots movement towards a Sorbian parliament. Stanislav Tillich is the first Minister President of Sorbian origin. Musicians of the cult band Silbermond speak Sorbian. The 20th Century Fox studios distributed the KRABAT film, which featured renowned German stars such as Daniel Brühl and Robert Stadlober. However, the German film-makers failed to mention that the bestseller KRABAT was originally a Sorbian epic freedom story, published by Měrćin Nowak-Njechorński.
| Girl from Sorbian Lusatia (Foto by Iwajla Klinke) |
136 obliterated villages
Werner Domain and his wife were the last inhabitants of the Sorbian village of Horno. The seventy year old, retired couple tried to withstand the ongoing intimidation of mining operators. They managed to plant a linden tree in front of their house while giant coal excavators approached amidst deafening noise and clouds of dust. By then, Horno was already deserted and destroyed as if by war.
136 villages disappeared in Lusatian lignite coal craters, right in the heart of Germany. Germany, the self-proclaimed green technology and eco-champion! These brutal actions accelerated the dissolution of the Sorbian people. On the Internet site www.verschwundene-orte.de one can find the melodious names of destroyed Sorbian villages such as Publik, Bukovina, Horno, Barak, Rovno or Lacoma.
Horno was destroyed by the Swedish state-owned energy company Vattenfall, although there was no exploitable coal under this village. Vattenfall took over almost the entire East German energy infrastructure during the fall of communism. This was no coincidence, since some of the most prominent East German politicians made a swift career under these lobbying wings. Sweden was also one of the main western trade partners and technology suppliers to the East German communist regime. Today, Vattenfall sponsors Sorbian communications and education infrastructures, which undermines Sorbian self-representation. The Lusatian mining company Laubag announced euphemistically, that they had “appropriated” more than 750 square kilometres of land. What they actually did through this massive land excavation was to destroy an area the size of the City State Hamburg. Prof. Joachim Katzur, head of the Institute for Mining Redevelopment, goes even further in a ZEIT interview: "Actually, the Lusatian mining operators have affected four times as much land, if we also count the land where the flow of below ground water is disturbed."
Thus over 3000 square kilometres of fertile urban Lusatian land were sacrificed to relentless coal mining. 3000 square kilometres of affected land is more than the size of Luxembourg and half the size of the Palestinian territories. The size of Lusatia as a whole is comparable to the size of the EU country Belgium. In Germany thousands of square kilometres of fertile land has disappeared in open cast lignite mining craters. This man-made intervention into nature is the biggest transformation of the earth's surface since the last ice age.
| Over 130 destroyed villages - Strip Mining by Vattenfall in Lusatia |
Fairy tales about clean coal
"If we take the global climate change seriously, we need to steer away from lignite coal as quickly as possible", said Claudia Kempfert of the German Institute for Economic Research. Due to its low efficiency and huge greenhouse gas emissions, lignite coal is extremely damaging to the climate. We are now losing more than just the struggle for climate protection. Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) is just a PR buzz word invented by Vattenfall, RWE & Co. The proclaimed aim of this experimental technique is the reduction of CO2 emissions and their underground storage.
"CCS is in fact a tool to block investments in renewable energy technologies and thus to cement oligarchic fossil power structures," the energy expert of the Green Party, Astrid Schneider, explained. In Saxony, a parliamentary hearing failed recently to make the case for CCS. Vattenfall expert, Hubertus Altmann, admitted in Parliament that the CCS technology can not be industrially applied before the middle of the next decade, if at all.
| Lusatian Village - Associated Press AP |
Precious metals worth billions such as gold, platinum, silver, zinc and more than 2.7 million tons of copper shale were discovered in Lusatia. World market prices of up to 10,000 € can be reached for a single ton of copper. The Kupferschiefer KSL GmbH applied for mining rights in Lusatia. However, KSL operates under a murky Matryoshka principle. KSL is merely a subsidiary of the Panamanian Minera SA. Minera SA is in fact a subsidiary of the Canadian Inmet Mining. And Inmet Mining is headed by a German geologist from Aachen, its CEO, Jochen Tilk. Only citizen participation can provide contract transparency. And the Lusatian treasure hunt would find some sort of happy ending, if besides providing jobs and profits, substantial investments were to flow into the region’s educational system, universities and Sorbian language programs. Nuk’s successor, David Statnik, demands: "If mining rights are granted to companies for coal, copper or gold, they should have to invest in Lusatia as much as they would have to in Bavaria or North Rhine Westphalia.”
Nazism, Communism and now imposed Democracy
Sorbs were suppressed for centuries. They were forbidden to use their language. They weren't even allowed to keep dogs or horses. After a brief heyday during the period of Enlightenment, the brutal German assimilation pressure returned. Thousands of Lusatian families were forcibly Germanized. A key event dates back to the year 939, when German Count Gero advanced his martial career by inviting thirty Sorbian princes to a feast and assassinating them on the spot. In this way, Gero beheaded the Slav resistance against German land robbery.
What is the situation today? "Even after over two decades of the peaceful revolution, we have no self-determination rights as Sorbs. Sorbs are still ruled by others," Benedikt Dyrlich complains. As chairman of the Sorbian Artists’ Federation, he criticises the lack of Sorbian representation in their own homeland. The Sorbian umbrella organisation Domowina is still entangled in a GDR-like inertia and top down politics.
Markus Meckel is well-versed in the matter. He became the first freely elected East German Foreign Minister. And as such he participated in the 2plus4 negotiations with the WW II victorious powers. Recently, Meckel ironically remarked in Brussels: "Perhaps Sorbs would be better off, if, as First Nation, they made themselves a bit more independent with their abundant mineral resources." Meckel became evasive when asked about shortfalls in the carelessly patched German Unification Treaty. Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, patched this treaty hastily together with a “hot needle” and with Stasi-tolerated East German politicians. As Foreign Minister, “this Unification Treaty was not really my cup of tea”, Meckel said.
Thus, the question of who owns the ancestral Sorbian lands is still the focal topic which was neglected also by East German bureaucrats. Who are the rightful owners of the Lusatian land and its natural resources? This crucial question about the legitimacy of the hastily awarded excavation rights remains unanswered to this day.
| Sorbian Wendish village Horno - destroyed by Vattenfall (Foto Gerard Petit) |
Silence is death, speech is gold
Marka Macijowa, head of the Sorbian National Publishing House, focuses on the ground work of Sorbian-German language education. "The Sorbian language will only survive if parents pass it on to their children. Germans, on the other hand, must learn to discover and respect the Sorbian culture as an enriching aspect of their own culture”, Macijowa demands. Meanwhile, Sorbs have also established political links to Berlin, Prague and Brussels
. The President of the EU Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, agreed to become the patron of this year's International Conference on Sorbian Music in Cottbus. As a young man Buzek organised the Polish Solidarity movement in Silesia from the political underground.
Help could also come from another source. Agricultural Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, from Rumania is currently restructuring EU agriculture. His aim is to decentralize European agriculture and to make it greener. If these EU reforms are only partially implemented, it would be a sustainable policy push for the Lusatian region. For over sixteen centuries Sorbian has been spoken and sung in the Lužica region. Ruthless coal exploitation is now destroying the landscape from which the Sorbian culture emerged.
| Buckingham Palace Gates open for Sorb Delegation - Jan Nuk, Tomaš Kappa (2002) |
At the reception in Buckingham Palace Jan Nuk and the author handed over a small blue-bound book entitled "Dwe Lubosci Ja Mam - Two loves I have in me”. Shakespeare's sonnets in Sorbian. Also, with the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in mind, one could say, that Germans and Sorbs now must together learn to practise the techniques of joint survival. This know-how of joint survival is certainly the most substantial and yet undiscovered Lusatian treasure. Lusatia could still rise to become a cosmopolitan CleanTech country. Ironically, also the German majority would benefit from this change.
Only towards the end of his life did my father speak Sorbian again. After he passed away, I found a receipt slip on his coffee table. His living room appeared to have been tidied up as if he were expecting a visitor shortly. On this slip father had written just two sentences: "Witajci k nam" (warmest welcome) and below, also in Sorbian: "Blessings to whom who returns home".