Minorities and Globalization: The Case of the Sorbians in Germany

On February 1st, IES Visiting Scholar from the Université de Poitiers in France, Professor Hélène Yèche, gave a compelling lecture to fifteen community members and students. The lecture focused on cultural revival in an age of globalization that has been apparent among the Sorbian people of Lusatia, Germany. The Sorbian people are a small, Slavic group who are indigenous to Lusatia. In lower Lusatia, the people are known as Lower Sorbs or Wends and have a strong affiliation with the Protestant Church. In upper Lusatia, people are known as Upper Sorbs or Sorbs and have a strong affiliation with the Catholic Church. The total number of Sorbs estimated to be living in Eastern Germany is 60,000. The unique Sorbian culture, language, and way of life persists in this region despite the fact that they are completely surrounded by German culture. That being said, the utilization of the Sorbian language has been in decline since 1945, unfortunately leading Sorbian to be considered an endangered language. Due to globalization, there has been an impetus to revive endangered languages and cultures. For Sorbians in East Germany, this means an increased practice of the language through initiatives such as WITAJ. WITAJ, implemented in 1998, is an immersion program that teaches Sorbian to primary and secondary school children. The program’s goal is not only to help youth foster a greater allegiance to the Sorbian culture but also to pass on the language and cultural values to their children. For the small Wendish population located in Texas, this means building on the Sorbian identity through festivals and museums that teach Sorbian customs and practices (though, unfortunately, there is no initiative to revive the Sorbian language in Texas). As a result of globalization, the Sorbian and Wendish culture is now able to withstand the test of time and place with the hope that future generations will follow this lead. During the Q&A section of the talk, many audience members referenced personal experiences with Wendish populations in multiple countries. In particular, audience members mentioned the strong relationships between Lusatia and Eastern European countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. When asked about the cultural history of the Texas Wends, Yèche emphasized the severe lack of literature on the topic and the loss of the language among that particular community.