Jan 04, 2017

2016 Donostia Protocol - A Tool to Ensure Protection for Regional and Minority Languages

Photo Courtesy of Nationalia

On 17 December 2016, the Donostia Protocol to Ensure Language Rights, finalised by a committee of organisations including the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), was released and presented to the public at the Kursaal Palace in Donostia – San Sebastián, after a preparatory work of almost two years. More than 100 organizations representing approximately 26 languages signed it on that day, while many others have already agreed to do so. The Donostia Protocol, concluded the extensive programme of Donostia/San Sebastián as European Capital of Culture for 2016.


More than 600 people were present as the Protocol to Ensure Language Rights – otherwise also referred to as the Donostia Protocol – was unveiled. Fruit of the work of 2 years, the event, which followed the two-day Summit on Language Diversity in Europe, brought together academic, scientific and social viewpoints to create a truly unique framework working to protect Europe’s increasingly vulnerable minority languages. Extensive workshops were conducted in the run up to the Protocol, with contributions from over 200 civil entities, to ensure the 185 measures enshrined in the protocol would ensure fundamental rights to minority language communities across Europe. Linguistic experts, representatives of international organisations and cultural activists delivered speeches on the topic, punctuated by traditional musical performances, for a truly enriching event promoting the revitalisation and normalisation of Europe’s minority language communities.

The project began as an initiative for society to take the process of protecting European linguistic diversity into their own hands, undertaken by social entities, non-governmental organization and specialists including UNPO, the Council of Social Organisations of the Basque Language (Kontseilua), Linguapax, the European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI), PEN Translation and Language Rights Committee, the European Language Equality Network (ELEN) and the Centre Internacional escarre per a les Minories Etniques i les Nacions (CIEMEN) that worked together towards this goal. Thus the Forum put linguistic diversity on the agenda, but from a new perspective, bringing together a diverse group of experts and civil societies. The Protocol is heir to the 1996 Universal Declaration for Linguistic Rights signed in Barcelona in 1996, of which some of the drafters were present at the event, and it updates its principles to adapt to the ever-changing European linguistic landscape. There are 24 official languages in the European Union, whilst there are still 90 unofficial ones – and 30 on the verge of extinction; proving the protocol’s vital importance. Presented all over Europe in the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, Ireland, Wales, Friesland, Flensburg, Brussels, Asturias, Norway, Estonia, Sardinia, Corsica, Brittany, Scotland and Friuli, the document will be a tool for all civil societies across Europe to nurture their linguistic diversity.

The Secretary General of the Council of Social Organisations of the Basque Language (Kontseilua), Paul Bilbao opened the event by introducing the protocol, highlighting how its 185 measures articulate the possibilities to live together in diversity. Moreover, CIEMEN President and one of the promoters of the 1996 Barcelona Declaration, Mr Aureli Argemí, took the floor to express his hopes in the Protocol’s potential to “culminate in the full recognition of linguistic rights [and be] capable of finally establishing linguistic coexistence and peace in our world." During the Forum that preceded the adoption of the Protocol, UNESCO’s Dr Kasinskaite-Buddeberg underlined that “One does not inhabit a country; one inhabits a language”, stressing the importance of using a language – even if you don’t speak it perfectly –  to preserve Europe’s cultural richness. This was then complemented by linguist Suzanne Romaine, who pointed out that 90% of the world's languages are still excluded from schools, and to avoid the extinction of a language one must create favourable conditions for its use.

During the Protocol presentation, the different members of the organising committee looked back to their joint work and the support they received from many sources. Others, including UNPO, outlined their plans and hopes for the future developments of the project.

Overall, the three days of strong focus on language stimulated a debate on the importance of a framework in which to protect Europe’s cultural and linguistic diversity. They showed the commitment of civil society to create the necessary conditions for this cultural richness to endure and develop.

UNPO hopes more international organisations in Europe and beyond will commit to using the Protocol to Ensure Language Rights and in doing so provide fundamental rights to all linguistic communities.

Click here to download the Donostia Protocol, in Basque, Spanish, French, English and Catalan.

For Basque reportage of the event it click here for an article by Gipuzkoa, here for an article by Berria, here for an article by Gara, here for an article by Deria and here for El Diario Vasco.