The German interior ministry has joined a European minority association to create a new Internet site that describes ethnic German minorities. Organizers plan to expand the service to include other groups as well.

With every seventh European belonging to an ethnic minority, the Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN) works to provide a comprehensive picture of where the minorities are located, how they fare and what their legal status is in the countries where they live.

FUEN and the German interior ministry on Thursday, Jan. 17, launched a new Web portal with detailed information on the situation of German ethnic minorities throughout Europe, but the site's organizers say they plan to expand the online platform's services.

"If you have no knowledge at all regarding minorities, you need a certain overview: where do they come from, the historical aspect, the school aspect," said Frank Nickelsen, FUEN's general-secretary and the person responsible for compiling much of the Web-based material. "In the near future we will also focus on very specific issues such as education, political participation and religion."

Internet of increasing importance

Christoph Bergner, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, said he sees such Web sites as increasingly important for ethnic minorities.

"The Internet will likely grow in importance among German minorities looking to maintain their cultural identity," said Bergner, who is also the German government's commissioner for national minorities. "I expect people to exchange experiences and help others who are in a similarly difficult position."

In Denmark, France, Poland, Serbia, Kazakhstan and Hungary, there are an estimated two million ethnic German minority members spread across Europe.

Nickelsen said he also believes ethnic minorities will turn to the Internet to keep in touch and discuss issues related to their legal status, which differs from nation to nation. The union also plans to expand the online platform to include other European minorities, he added.

"A second step, for example, will be to focus on the non-kin state groups," Nickelsen said. "I have members of the board who belong to a minority without a kin-state for example: a Sorbian in Germany and a Cornish man in Great Britain."

An aid to dialog

But addressing ethnic minorities' concerns is of more than purely academic interest, according to FUEN's president, Heinrich Hansen, it can also help increase dialog and lower tension between ethnic groups with negative views of each other.

"There is feeling that anyone who is different is dumb," he said. "That's why my belief is that we need more dialog. More dialog between majorities and minorities."

Nickelsen said he hopes the site will help connect minority communities across Europe and help them build a support network for themselves.

"Alone you are nothing; you can't get your rights if you are alone," he said. "And that means you need solidarity."

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