“In the north, you take for granted something that should be clear to us throughout Germany, namely that minorities enrich the majority and that they open up new perspectives for everyone.” This is what Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in the presence of the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs Martin Lidegaard and the Minister-President of Land Schleswig-Holstein Torsten Albig on Thursday, 26 March in Berlin. Steinmeier, Lidegaard and Albig were attending celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations on 29 March 1955 by the then Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Danish Prime Minister Hans Christian Hansen.
Civil liberties for German and Danish minorities
The Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations, said Foreign Minister Steinmeier, became “the basis for deep understanding and friendship between Germans and Danes”. In his speech, Steinmeier referred to the fact that, in the course of their histories, Germany and Denmark had “overcome difficult and painful times – from the war of 1864 to the occupation of Denmark under the National Socialists”. The signing of the Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations in 1955 was so significant especially when considered against this backdrop, he continued.
The civil liberties of German and Danish minorities living on both sides of the German-Danish border were confirmed with these Declarations. These liberties include, in particular, the freedom of language and culture, as well as equal treatment for the approximately 20,000 members of the German and around 50,000 members of the Danish minority on both sides of the border.
Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs Lidegaard emphasised that the Declarations had helped to transform “distrust and conflict” into a “close friendship” that transcended the German-Danish border. He hailed the German-Danish model as a “success” and hoped that it would inspire others “in Europe and beyond”.
Path of tolerance
Minister-President of Land Schleswig-Holstein Albig also paid tribute to the Declarations: “While minority issues were dealt with violence and expulsion elsewhere in Europe, Denmark and democratic post-war Germany chose the path of tolerance 60 years ago.” However, the Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations are no excuse for Land Schleswig-Holstein to rest on its laurels, the Minister-President said. Rather they are an “inspiration to do things even better, for example with an independent language policy”. The aim is to raise the profile of the languages of minorities, he continued.
The German Federal Foreign Office and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a joint declaration at the celebrations. In it, they emphasised that the Declarations of 1955 had made a major contribution to laying the foundations for the development of friendly and close connections between Germany and Denmark, giving German-Danish relations their special and unique character. Both sides, the declaration continued, were aware of the fact that “protecting national minorities is of key importance for stability, democratic security and peace in Europe”.