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How Lusatian Sorbs were inspired by Welsh rebels

by Elisa Ribbe (Bukecy/Hochkirch)

During their visits in Lusatia many members of the Wendish Heritage Society will have noticed the bilingual signs at the outskirts of the towns and villages and in the steets. These bilingual signs form part of the unmistakable face of the region drawing the attention of many visitors. However, they show also the crucial right of the Sorbian population to apply their language in everyday life, now a subject of protest and discussion in the Sorbian and German media.

In April 2012 Julijan Nyča, a young blogger who has gained respect and popularity in the Sorbian internet community through his astute and critical articles regarding Sorbian politics, has posted an article about bilingualism in public space. By means of photos taken in Wrecsam/Wrexham, Aberystwyth and Caerdydd/Cardiff he illustrates how Sorbs can learn from the Welsh minority in the UK. In contrast to Lusatia, where almost only the street signs and place-name signs are provided bilingually, in Sorbian and German, in Wales the Welsh language is highly present in everyday life. Through demonstrations and hunger strikes, and by pasting over signs, the Welsh people have achieved the goal that all public signs, including signs on construction sites, letter boxes, bins, bus stops and including private signs and adverts of private businesses are provided in both languages, Welsh and English. And in contrast to Lusatia, where Sorbian writing normally just takes the half of the size of the German letters and furthermore are often spelled wrongly, in Wales signposting shows recognition and respect of the bilingual traditions of the region.

Probably inspired through the Welsh example and Nyčas’ article, a short time later, in Lusatia, unknown activists protested for language equality by putting stickers with the words “A serbsce? Und auf sorbisch?” (“and in Sorbian?”) on monolingual German signs in Upper Lusatia. The right for Sorbian lettering on public buildings, streets, places and bridges is defined in the “Sächsisches Sorbengesetzt” (Saxon Act about Sorbian Population), paragraph 10. Despite this clear legal situation, Benedikt Cyz, responsible for Sorbian issues in the district of Budysin/Bautzen has strongly criticized the protest of the anonymous activists claiming the action to be “senseless” and “criminal property damage”. Instead, the activists do receive support from the Sorbian media, the chairman of the Domowina, Dawid Statnik, and above all, from many private persons posting supportive comments on the internet.

Although some internet comments demanded the extension of the protest to Lower Lusatia, so far no similar actions are known in Brandenburg. If and how public administration in both parts of Lusatia will take action to improve the current situation is still open. But maybe in your next visit to Lusatia you will find the Sorbian language even more present and vivid in the public sphere.