Work of High Commissioner on National Minorities must continue

The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) will probably be needed for another twenty years, foreign minister Frans Timmermans said at the start of the 20th anniversary celebration of the High Commissioner post. The event in The Hague was attended by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and many visiting dignitaries.

Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans at the opening of the 20the anniversary celebration of the office of High Commissioner for National Minorities

At the opening of the 20th anniversary event, Mr Timmermans said: ‘Over the past twenty years, many ethnic tensions have been resolved and the countries concerned have become stable member states of the European Union. Other problems are more tenacious. To blame “the other” is a deep-seated trait of human nature. So, conflicts around minorities, will always be part of any situation in which change is occurring. That is why the efforts of the HCNM will be needed in the future, too, certainly for the next 20 years.’

The HCNM is mandated to identify and seek early resolution of ethnic tensions in the 55 member countries of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, using quiet diplomacy.

In the past 20 years, the HCNM has helped reduce tensions between Hungary and Slovakia, and between Poland and Lithuania. And in Georgia, the HCNM helped the government with the integration of minorities – through language training, multilingual education, and radio and TV broadcasting in minority languages.

The first High Commissioner, from 1993 to 2001, was Max van der Stoel of the Netherlands. He was succeeded by Rolf Ekeus of Sweden, who held the post until 2007. The current HCNM, Knut Vollebaek, is Norwegian. The office of the High Commissioner is located in The Hague.

At a conference on Friday 8 March, participants will look back on the accomplishments of the past twenty years and look forward to what the future holds for the HCNM.

Before the 20th anniversary event, Mr Timmermans met with his counterparts from Sweden, Slovakia and the Ukraine to discuss, among other subjects, developments in Europe and the Middle East.