Marking the first event in the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), current High Commissioner Knut Vollebaek spoke at a conference organized by the European Centre for Minority Issues on “HCNM 20 Years On” in Flensburg, Germany, on 6 July 2012. This is the same location at which the late Max van der Stoel, the first HCNM, delivered his first public speech as High Commissioner in 1993.
In his address, Vollebaek reflected on the political context in Europe 20 years ago and the challenges that the institution was established to meet. He also identified new issues that he faces in his work. While ethnic tensions have not gone away, their manifestations have changed, he said. In some cases, the countries and people suffering the destabilizing effects of ethnic conflicts are the same; in others the flashpoints have shifted. He pointed to the rise in kin-State activism and “passportization” as serious concerns. “I believe the HCNM has an important role to play both in trying to stem these tendencies and to develop rules of engagement that can guide States in their policies and communication on cross-border minority matters,” Vollebaek said.
He also considered how the institution is adapting to meet new challenges, and the special contribution it can make to international affairs. “Few, if any, other international institutions have developed instruments like the HCNM,” Vollebaek said. This meant there was “a niche where the HCNM can and does play an important role as a neutral and trusted actor,” he added.
The full text of the speech is available here: http://www.osce.org/hcnm/92214