Ethnic German Minority in Poland

The German minority in Poland is concentrated mainly in the south-western province of Silesia, where it was estimated at around 200 000 in 1990. When Poland was moved westwards after World War Two up to 10 million Germans were uprooted, but the area of Opole Silesia was an exception. Here there was a significant population of Germans who were Slav by origin and Catholic by faith. They spoke both German and the Silesian dialect of Polish. Many were allowed to stay, although the German language was officially banned, and the authorities adopted a policy of "repolonising" the minority, that is - making them Polish again. The policy caused resentment and the Polish sociologist, Danuta Berlinska, argues that, paradoxically, it probably weakened their identification with the Polish state. She also thinks it is one reason why so many have left to work in Germany since the opening of the Iron Curtain. But she says that in today's democratic Poland the position of the minority is gradually returning to normal.

"Silesians were discriminated and they could not continue their cultural identity, so it was a very hard situation in 1990, but now the relations are much better. But I think that the key question is the participation of the German minority in public life and the fact that they take responsibility for development of our region and their local community."

Under the Polish constitution minorities are guaranteed political representation, without having to cross the 5% threshold otherwise required by political parties. As a result there are currently two members of parliament from the German minority.

The minority is no longer a taboo, or forbidden subject. After decades when the teaching of German in Opole Silesia was effectively banned, schools are now being set up where German is taught.

"Now the German language is taught in about 150 elementary schools and we have high schools with bilingual classes. Children from the German minority can learn the German language from the first class of elementary school and then in the high schools they can continue in bilingual classes."

The source of this information was a April 23, 2002 article written by David Vaughan for Radio Prague - the international service of Czech Radio