Sorbia, rebirth after oppression
The Sorbs, who call themselves Wends, are the last survivors of the Slavs of the east German territory. They occupy a large part of that which is eastern Germany today and western Poland.
The Sorbs live in Lusatia, straddling two German states (Brandenburg and Saxony where they are recognised as a minority), near the Czech and Polish borders. Using two distinct language variants, Low Sorbian in Lower Lusatia and High Sorbian in Upper Lusatia, the Sorbians have suffered throughout their history because of Germanic domination, until they received some recognition after the Second World War. Estimated at more than 300,000 people today, only a fraction of the population are registered as being Sorb according to language. Sorbian is spoken by 30,000 people mainly in Upper Lusatia.
Apart from the Nazi regime, it was under the yoke of the DDR that the Sorbs have suffered most. While appearing to be protected, the Sorbs actually lost more than 40% of their territory, which was given over to lignite mines and power plants.
After the collapse of the Communist bloc, the Sorbs became aware of the richness of their identity, and enjoyed expressing their culture, notably thanks to the “Domowina” association, forbidden under the Nazi regime. Since 1998, certain nursery schools teach Sorbian by “immersion”. Unfortunately, bilingual teaching is not widespread, which is a risk for the survival of the language.
Since 2003, a political party has formed to defend Sorbian interests. This is the “Serbska Ludowa Strona – Wendische Volkspartei”, polling modestly.
|Name|| Serbja | High Sorbian |
Serby | Low Sorbian
Sorben / Wenden | German
|Population||1,600,000 inhab. (Lusatia, including around 80,000 Sorabians)|
|Languages||Serbšćina/Serbska | Sorbian|
Hornjoserbsce | High Sorbian
Dolnoserbski | Low Sorbian (without official status)
Deutsch | German(official)
|Number of native speakers||20,000 | Sorbian (2007)|
|State of guardianship||Germany|
|Capital||Chóśebuz | Low Sorbian |
Choćebuz | High Sorbian
Cottbus | German (Lower Lusatia)
Budyšin | High Sorbian
Budyšyn | Low Sorbian
Bautzen | German (Upper Lusatia)
|Historic religion||Protestant and Roman Catholic|
|Flag||Chorhoj Serbow | High Sorbian |
|Anthem||Rjana Łužica | High Sorbian |
Rědna Łužyca | Low Sorbian
- 400–600 BC • First Wende population and creation of “rondins” (a particular form of housing).
- 950–13 BC • Start of Christianisation and the Germanisation of Wende tribes.
- 14th–18th centuries • Progressive assimilation of Sorbian territories.
- 1700 • First Bible edited in Low Sorbian.
- 18th–19th centuries • Boom of literature and the associative sector.
- 1900 • First bans on the use of the language in Lower Lusatia.
- 1933–45 • Under the Nazi regime, deportation of Sorbian activists to Siberia.
- 1948 • First “Sorbian law”, protecting de facto the Sorbian minority while destroying the territory.
- 1998 • After the fall of the Berlin Wall, massive efforts to spread and conserve the Sorbian culture and language.
Sorbian history is one of subjection. In 938, the Margrave of Merseburg invited the chiefs of the Wende tribes, ancestors of the Sorbians, to peace negotiations. However, this invitation turned into a massacre and the Wende princes were decapitated, beginning a forced Germanisation. The height of the Sorbian persecution was reached during the Nazi regime, with Sorbian patriots being exiled by force. It was only in 1945 that the East German dictatorship actually promoted Sorbian culture, not without the condition of adhering to the regime. These good times were not without their consequence for the Sorbian culture and language. After the fall of the wall, some hastily made the link between Communist dictatorship and the protection of the Sorbian minority. Today the situation is improving but remains critical. Obligatory teaching could perhaps save the language.
The Sorbs are found in Lusatia, a region straddling Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Two towns separate this small territory: Bautzen in the south, the capital of Upper Lusatia and Cottbus in the north, and the capital of Lower Lusatia. The Sorbian language is very present in the south. Strongly marked by the coal industry, Lusatia embarked on converting fallow land to create recreational areas. Artificial lakes have been recently created. In addition to these two territories, Saxony and Brandeburg are recognised as bilingual (the two German states in which Sorbs are located), Lusatia is historically more extensive. It spills over into Poland to the east and the Czech Republic to the south. The Sorbian populations do not live there anymore.
Sorbian is divided into two varieties – Low Sorbian and High Sorbian. It is a western Slavic language, related to Polish and Czech. Sorbian is spoken by almost 30,000 to 60,000 registered people in a region made up of 1,600,000 people. It enjoys a relatively small status, granted by the two German states of Brandenburg and Saxony. However, these states display a voluntary policy, in particular where it concerns the promotion of the language. Primary education does not enable its circulation, which is often carried out by the family. Nevertheless, a daily newspaper Domowina has created a real link between native speakers of this Slavic language.
Sorbs are recognised as a minority in Germany although this recognition is tentative. A sort of status quo exists, which is for the Sorbs not to engage in the political arena, as if that were taboo. This attitude of mistrust with regards to the public is possibly due to the turbulent history of the region. The fact is that representatives of major cultural associations in the region had voted, until recently, against the creation of a specific party. In 2005, the Popular Party of Sorbia (Serbska Ludowa Strona (SLS) Wendische Volkspartei) appeared on the political scene. It is considered a part of the Sorbian minority in Lusatia, claiming a true linguistic independence and a re-enforcement of German federalism. Fearing greater assimilation through the merging of Berlin and Brandeburg, the SLS rejects this option.