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"Sorbian culture, leverage for development"

Sabine Schwarz
(LEADER Siedlungsgebiet der Sorben-nordöstlicher
Teil, Saxony, Germany)


The “Sorbs” live along the German-Polish border in Saxony and southern Brandenburg. This Slavic group has an estimated population today of about 60,000. Called the “Wends” by the Germans who defeated them in the 11th century, the Sorbs were enslaved and lost almost the entire use of their language. Their situation improved in the 13th century when their region, Lusatia was joined to Bohemia. When in the 17th century Saxony and Prussia divided Lusatia between themselves, the Sorbs were again able to speak their language and recover their traditions. Oppressed by the Nazi regime, it was not until 1949 under the East German government that measures were adopted to promote their culture and encourage their development. With German reunification, the Sorbs’ right to their culture and language was written into the constitution of the new Länder of Saxony and Brandenburg, and Lusatia is still today a bilingual region.

Our LEADER II area, “Siedlungsgebiet der Sorben-nordöstlicher Teil” (Northeastern Part of the Land of the Sorbs), corresponds to Upper Lusatia, near the important lignite-mining towns of Weißwasser and Hoyerswerda. The Sorb culture and traditions are still very alive here, although the language is under threat. Unlike the other Sorb areas of Saxony and Brandenburg where Sorb is still the children’s first language and German is a language they learn in pre-school, German here comes very early and many children only speak German. Generally, Sorb takes second place to German which is the language of work and communication among young people.

As the name we chose indicates, the development and preservation of the Sorb language and culture is at the heart of our LEADER group’s development strategy.

Using the experience of other regions with minority languages and cultures, notably Friesland and Brittany, our LAG supports the implementation of a Sorb language programme for pre-school children that continues on into primary school.

Developing the Sorb culture as heritage and putting it to work for tourism is another priority of the LEADER group.

In the small village of Schleife, where the inhabitants still commonly wear the traditional dress, a “Sorb Cultural Centre” has been opened. It is housed in an old farm inn which was restored between 1995 and 1997 and is a noteworthy example of the typical square-shaped Sorb farm.

The Centre offers a whole range of possibilities and activities. There is a demonstration workshop for fabric-related crafts, a traditional wedding room, a banquet room, and offices for the local associations. One building houses an inn that operates as a bed-and-breakast. A market for farm produce and crafts is regularly held in the internal courtyard which has podiums for singing and a working bread oven.

The Schleife Centre organises readings in Sorb, dances and exhibitions. Since its opening, the place has already attracted a large number of artists, craftsmen, theatre companies, orchestras, folk groups, and various cultural associations from Lusatia and elsewhere in Germany. The Centre is also involved in various Sorb language programmes, including a pilot action for very young children entitled “Learning Sorb is fun”.

Another major project is the building of a group of Sorb peasant houses in the little village of Rietschen. These are copies of houses that were torn down to make way for lignite mining under the East German regime. Including workshops of craftsmen, it is a real living museum and a major tourist attraction.

The “village” centre consists of a barn and a covered market. It is a cultural centre where local artists can use modulable facilities to display their works. A “Nature and Tourism” information booth gives out information about the region’s sights and services and about the village itself.

The Sorb Village of Rietschen will be expanding this year to include a gourmet restaurant, a joiner’s workshop and a small shop where farm products and crafts will be sold.

Activities for children during the school holidays are also organised at the site along with various classes. Guided tours, walks and cycling trips leave from the Centre, and various exhibitions on the life of Sorb peasants and a pottery market are organised there. Another popular attractions are the various festivals held there to celebrate spring, fishermen or elves.

Through all these initiatives, LEADER II has largely helped make Lusatia an attractive region for visitors, but it has also and especially enabled the Sorb community to protect and find uses for its distinctive features.


source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000

Rural-Europe - © European Commission - AEIDL 2000


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