FRIESLAND: The quest for indy that's taking place in Friesland, just across the North Sea

The National:

You do not have to look very far into Europe to find peoples who, like the Scots are working for greater self-determination and independence.

Except for Ireland, Scotland’s nearest European Union neighbour across the North Sea in Western Europe is the Netherlands and the closest Dutch province to Scotland is Friesland, also known as Frisian, and to there we look in the first of The National’s profiles of other countries seeking self-determination.

In one respect, the peoples of Scotland and Friesland have something ancient in common – we are both located on the margins of Europe and the Romans could not conquer all of both these lands.

The history of Friesland is long and complex. Long before the Romans arrived, the Frisii people first emerged out of the Germanic tribes and migrated westwards, occupying the northern fringes of what are now the Netherlands and Germany.

They were a tribe of fierce warriors, the Romans recorded, and held on to their lands. Eventually, however, the Frisii had to abandon their homelands as they became swamped by the North Sea.

New Frisians arrived in the Dark Ages, and formed their own kingdom until they were overwhelmed by Charles Martel and his Frankish armies. The area of north-west Germany called East Frisia is also seeking greater autonomy, and at one time in the 17th and 18th centuries, East Frisia was a principality in its own right. However, the Frisians we are concentrating on occupy Friesland in the Netherlands. The province of Friesland, which borders the North Sea and includes the West Frisian Islands, has a population of around 650,000. It is divided into in 24 municipal areas.

Famed for Friesian cattle and horses, Friesland has its own language, West Frisian, which is spoken by 74 per cent of inhabitants and understood by 94 per cent – though it is regularly subtitled for the rest of the country on Dutch national television. It is mandatory for all children to learn West Frisian – some say it is the closest language to English in Europe.

It is that language and its preservation which has defined the movement for autonomy in Friesland.

The Frisian National Party, or Fryske Nasjonale Partij, (FNP) has been in existence since the 1960s, but the Frisian Movement was created in the 19th century specifically to campaign for the preservation of Frisian language and culture.

The FNP is a fully fledged political party and a member of the European Free Alliance, the umbrella group for all of Europe’s movement for self-determination.

Friesland’s 43-seat provincial council, based in the capital Leeuwarden, is run by a coalition of Labour, Christian Democratic Appeal and the FNP which has four seats.

The FNP stated its concept of Frisian nationalism in 1988: “It is a nationalism based on the historic development of our country, that is based on self-confidence, self-respect and self-awareness of the Frisian people, however that is influenced and based on indisputable rights to exist freely, to express opinion and to some form of territorial autonomy.”

In that respect, it is very similar to the SNP and shares many of the left-of-centre policies.

Dr Arno van der Zwet of the University of the West of Scotland, who was previously a research fellow at Strathclyde University’s European Policies Research Centre, carried out the first ever academic examination of the similarities and differences between the SNP and FNP.

He concluded that “both the FNP and SNP are self-styled civic autonomist parties” and cited the FNP’s broad approach to autonomy for the province, based on ‘Frisianness’.”

Van der Zwet wrote that like the SNP: “The FNP are also considered a civic autonomist party by most scholars and commentators, although there is a focus is on language.

“The FNP agenda regarding the preservation of ‘Frisian-ness’ can be summarised as follows: preserve the Frisian language and culture, protect the Frisian countryside, focus on agriculture and small-scale development in industry, recreation and housing.

“The FNP propagate an inclusive definition of ‘Frisian-ness’. Their goal is to protect ‘Frisian-ness’, not to exclude outsiders, although not all Frisians support the FNP’s concept of ‘Frisianness’.” FNP councillor Sybren Posthumus was one of 18 party members who came to Scotland to study the independence referendum in 2014. He said at the time: “Scotland has voted No – but for us they’re still the ones to watch in determining our own future.”


SILESIA: Thousands back movement for self-determination in the Polish region of Upper Silesia

The National:

It was not reported by mainstream media in the UK, but last month thousands of people marched in the city of Katowice in Poland demanding the right to determine the future of Upper Silesia.

Probably only followers of global self-determination movements and the European Free Alliance (EFA) will know that for some years now, many people in Upper Silesia – the second most prosperous region of Poland – have been calling for greater autonomy and even full independence.

The latter seems some distance away, but, thanks largely to the RAS – the Ruch Autonomii Slaska (Silesian Autonomy Movement) – the question of self-determination is very much on the agenda. Apart from a growing membership in Poland, RAS have volunteers as far apart as the UK and Florida, working to build the case for autonomy.

Within the last few weeks it has emerged that the two main pro-autonomy movements in Silesia, RAS and the ZG, are working towards the creation of a new party, the Regional Party of Silesia.

Sources in Upper Silesia say the aim is build a stronger party than the current movements have at the moment.

They have also held Silesian Flag Day, in which the pro-autonomy marchers openly used the historic yellow-blue flag of Upper Silesia – this is very much against the Polish Government’s decrees, as they refuse to recognise Upper Silesia’s autonomy in the slightest.

Silesia is complicated, thanks to a history that has seen the area fought over by empires down the ages. Silesia was originally a Polish province, which became a possession of the Bohemian kingdom in 1335, and passed with that crown to the Austrian Habsburgs in 1526, and then was taken by Prussia in 1742.

After the First World War, Lower Silesia remained as part of Germany while Upper Silesia was split into two duchies. Nazi Germany occupied the whole of Silesia in the late 1930s and inflicted countless horrors on the Polish population, but in 1945 the victorious Soviet Union gave Upper Silesia to Poland, and most ethnic Germans were expelled from the territory, usually by force. Lower Silesia is mostly in the Czech Republic where there are also growing demands for autonomy, but in Poland, Upper Silesia’s campaign for self-determination is much more advanced.

An RAS source confirmed to The National: “We will collect the signatures necessary to register the Silesian Regional Party.”

That could be a political game-changer for Upper Silesia where RAS only has four seats on the regional government.

Nevertheless, its growing success – the number of people registering as Silesian in the national census has quadrupled in 10 years – has seen RAS in open conflict with the Polish Government.

Jerzy Gorzelik, the current leader of the party, put it firmly: “I’m Silesian, not Polish. My fatherland is Upper Silesia.

“I did not pledge anything to Poland nor did I promise anything to it, so it means that I did not betray it. The state called the Republic of Poland, of which I’m a citizen, refused to give me and my friends a right to self-determination and so that’s why I do not feel obligated to loyalty towards this country.”

The EFA held its annual conference in Katowice this year and stated: “EFA denounces the evolution in Poland towards authoritarian rule. More persistently than ever, the government and parliamentary majority try to eradicate the Silesian and other minorities.

“The centralism of Warsaw is incompatible with the democratic wish of the Silesians to be respected and with the basic European laws and values. We would like to express our deepest hope that after this dark period Poland will emerge as a more democratic country.”