The Silesian Nation – is there such a thing?

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg turned down a complaint filed against Poland concerning the violation of Article 11 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms associated with the Polish courts´ refusal to register the Union of People of Silesian Nationality.

The Polish courts justified their refusal by the fact that there is no such thing as Silesian Nationality – in their opinion the Silesians are an ethnic group. The Human Rights Tribunal did not investigate whether the Silesian Nation exists or not. It only adjudged that Poland did not violate the freedom of assembly and association guaranteed by the Convention, because the association could have been registered, only under a different name. It was the Tribunal´s second verdict in this case – Silesian activists appealed the previous one from two years back.

According to National Population and Housing Census, which took place in May 2002, the Silesians are the largest minority group in Poland. Over 173 thousand people declared to be of Silesian Nationality. The results of the census caused a considerable stir in Poland. Up to this moment, Silesians were considered as a regional or ethnic group. It was unexpected that this group´s quantity surpassed that of “traditional” Polish minorities such as the German /according to the census – 153 thousand, previous estimations: 300-500 thousand/ or Byelorussian /according to the census 48,7 thousand, previous estimations: 200-300 thousand/.

Talk of the Silesian Nationality began at the beginning of the nineties with the establishment of the Silesian Autonomy Movement. The organization´s activists made declarations to pursue the economic and financial autonomy of Silesia, and also underlined the distinctive nature of their language, culture and tradition in comparison with the Polish nation. The next step towards recognizing Silesians as a nation was the establishment of the Union of People of Silesian Nationality. After this met with refusals of consecutive court instances in Poland – which were adjudged to be valid by the European Court of Human Rights – the Silesian activists were certain that the census results could drastically influence a change in the Tribunal judges´ position. The Grand Chamber, however, upheld the opinion given by the first instance court´s judges, who decided that the Polish courts´ refusal to register the Union of People of Silesian Nationality was based on a suspicion that the establishment of this organization could be associated with electoral preferences guaranteed to minorities.