Curent Annual Meeting

The Non-Kin-State Working Group visits the Pomak minority in Bulgaria


What makes a minority community strong? How can it best develop and become an added value? And which models can serve as good examples? Answers to these questions are to be found at this year's meeting of the FUEN Working Group of Non-Kin-State Minorities, which will take place from 31 August to 3 September 2022 in Velingrad, Bulgaria. This year, the focus will be on "Ways and possibilities for community building".

About 20 participants from seven countries are expected, representing a total of ten different minorities – from the Frisians in the Netherlands to the Aromanians in North Macedonia and the Karakachans in Bulgaria.

The host is the Pomak minority, a transnational ethnic group living in different regions of the Balkans and Anatolia. Their language belongs to the Slavic languages. Today, the largest Pomak communities are in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece.

The conference offers participants the opportunity to inform each other about current developments in their communities and to expand their knowledge through lectures and discussions with experts, in order to ideally initiate developments in their own minority. This year, special attention will be paid to the development of minority communities in their national context through presentations on best practice examples in Europe, including the Sorbian minority in Germany and the Aromanians in Bulgaria.

To bring the participants closer to the host minority, the programme also includes a thematic excursion to the Pomak community of Draginovo and a visit to the local folk festival and the Pomak museum, accompanied by lectures on traditions, customs and the impressive handicrafts of the Pomaks.

The conference venue Velingrad is located 130 km from the Bulgarian capital Sofia, in the western part of the Rhodope Mountains. The beautiful landscape and the mineral water resources make Velingrad one of the leading health resorts in the Balkans.



The tough struggle for visibility - Non-Kin-State minorities discuss current challenges


The Bulgarian city of Velingrad usually attracts tourists from the Balkan region but these days it is also the meeting place for around 20 representatives of minorities without a kin-state from all over Europe  gathered for their annual conference.

"Velingrad is a good example of interethnic coexistence and integration of different nationalities and cultures," said Mariana Zinkova, representative of the City Administration, in her opening statement today. She stressed the importance of the meeting "to promote intercultural dialogue, tolerance and understanding between cultures". This was echoed by FUEN Vice-President and speaker of the Non-Kin-State Working Group, Bahne Bahnsen, who appealed to the European institutions and the European community: "Europe must support the Non-Kin-State communities so that they can not only preserve their identity and culture, but also be able to actively contribute to the development of the societies where they live in."

The host minority for this year's annual conference is the Pomaks in Bulgaria. The member of the European Institute – POMAK, Asan Mola, warmly welcomed all participants and thanked them for their visit. The guests were able to gain an insight into the culture of his minority during the following lecture by Arif Alov (European Institute Pomak). They also learned that "the Pomaks are a guarantor of security, not a threat".

Colourful: Pomak women in their traditional costumes. Another hallmark are the elaborate face paintings (see cover photo). 

The first working session focused on the current situation of the various minorities in their respective countries. What has been achieved recently? What challenges do they face? One of the major problems that almost all minorities in this group have to deal with is the preservation of their language. For example, a representative of Frisians in the Netherlands reported on their attempts to increase the visibility of their language in the public sphere as well as its economic value in the labour market.

"The lack of a mother state is a real problem because politicians at national level take little interest in supporting non-kin state minorities," said Meto Novak, a member of the Sorbian minority in Germany and speaker at the Ministry of Science, Research and Culture in Brandenburg.

The annual conference of the FUEN Non-Kin-State Working Group will continue in the following days and will focus on the question of how minority communities can be strengthened to develop their capacities and become an added value to societies.

Photo credit: Zora Popova/FUEN



What makes minority communities strong


Golden fragments, bright colours and sequins: These are the ingredients that transform a young Pomakin into an artistically made-up bride within 20 minutes. A truly unusual spectacle, which was offered to the participants of the annual meeting of the FUEN Non-Kinstate Working Group in Velingrad, Bulgaria, in the Museum of the Pomaks - and which impressed everyone very much. This insight into the culture was part of the comprehensive social programme of the host minority offered to the European guests during the four-day event from 31 August to 3 September 2022.

Fascinating sight: Make-up ritual of a Pomak bride. Photo: Kamen Mavrov.

There were 20 participants from seven countries and ten minorities - including Ladins from South Tyrol, West Frisians, North Frisians, Roma, Sorbs, Aromanians from North Macedonia and Albania, Pomaks from Greece and Karakachans from Bulgaria.

The core topic of the conference was the question of how community-building strategies can contribute to strengthening the minorities without a kin-state. Numerous presentations, discussions and working sessions provided insights into existing best practice models, including:

  • the successful development of the Sorb community in Eastern Germany after reunification
  • the exemplary integration of the Roma in Bulgaria through the "Amalipe" centre, which has, for example, set up special "development centres" for communities as well as school networks
  • the creation of the office of a minority representative in the city of Bijeljina in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which created better networking between minorities and the majority, also at the administrative level
  • campaigns that generate media attention, such as the "Mayor Friends of Roma" campaign, which sought the "most Roma-friendly mayor in Bosnia and Herzegovina".

Zora Popova, research associate at FUEN, complemented these insights with a presentation on good European examples of community building, with a focus on the experiences from Schleswig-Holstein and the German-Danish borderland.

After the informative exchange, the future focal points of the working group were also discussed at the meeting and Bahne Bahnsen was elected as speaker for another term of office 2022-2025.

The festive conclusion was a joint visit to the Pomak folk festival in the municipality of Draginovo, where the group was personally welcomed by the municipality administration and then once again received a lively impression of the music, dances and traditions of Pomak culture.

At the folk festival in Draginovo, Bulgaria. Photo: FUEN.