Issues

Few countries give pandemic info in minority languages

Only a few European states communicate official information regarding the measures taken to halt the coronavirus pandemic in the language of their minorities. This was shown by a quick survey taken between March 31-April 30 by members of the European Parliament belonging to ethnic minorities and the organizations of the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN).

The results of the survey were presented by Loránt Vincze, European Parliament representative of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (known also by its Hungarian acronym RMDSZ) at a Monday online meeting of the Minority Intergroup. Vincze, President of FUEN and co-president of Intergroup, related that the survey aimed to find out whether European Union states provide information concerning the epidemiological situation and procedures to follow in the language of their minorities or not.

The survey also aimed to determine which states have a helpline functioning in minority languages and have addressed the issue of distance learning in minority languages.

So far, 29 minority communities in 18 countries have provided data for the survey; the collection of data will continue, as the findings undoubtedly strengthen the arguments of the Minority SafePack Initiative, which asks for the protection of minority rights, noted Vincze in an RMDSZ communiqué.

According to the survey, information about official measures related to the pandemic is provided in half of the cases, but it is mostly distributed by regional administrations, minority organizations and media targeting the specific community. Information concerning public health issues is provided in a similar proportion, but local and regional authorities play the predominant role here. The survey also showed that people are using coronavirus helplines far more, but in more than two-thirds (69 percent) of the cases, the helpline is not available in the native languages of the minorities, and for 10 percent, only partial functions are accessible.

Teaching in most countries has moved online due to the pandemic, but only about half of the minorities interviewed have access to distance learning in their own languages; 14 percent of minority students can study partially in their mother tongue, while there is no such possibility for 21 percent. Three of the minorities participating in the survey did not have the chance to study in their mother tongue before the coronavirus pandemic either. Online teaching in minority languages is provided by a whole array of institutions: schools, parent groups, minority organizations and local and central authorities, said the European MP. As he stated, unfortunately many students have no digital devices or even a connection to the internet.

In Romania, the state does not provide information in minority languages. Thus, RMDSZ undertook the task and ensures that the Hungarian community receives precise, continuous and daily updates on all governmental measures taken and health-related procedures that need to be respected to avoid infection and stop the spread of the pandemic. RMDSZ also initiated the so-called Tele-School program, where classes in Hungarian are being broadcasted by the Romanian State TV channel, stated Loránt Vincze.

The survey pointed out the importance of minority media as well, given the fact that for most communities, the written press is the only news source available in their language. A representative of the European Association of Daily Newspapers in Minority and Regional Languages participated in the online discussion of Intergroup and pointed out that minority press outlets have ended up in a situation similar to that experienced during the depression of 2008: Their advertising revenues have consistently diminished, and in many places, distribution of papers has been disrupted.

Title image: A number of students in minority communities have neither devices nor online teaching in their own language

Author: Éva Zay