The Swiss authorities have accorded the Jenish and Sinti communities in Switzerland full official recognition as a minority group. In a speech on Thursday, Interior Minister Alain Berset said they would no longer be referred to as ‘traveller’ communities.
“You – Jenish and Sintis – are recognised as national minorities,” said Berset on Thursday at the opening of the Feckerchilbi, a four-day traditional celebration in Bern that dates back to the 18th century.
“Switzerland is not a people with minorities but a people of minorities.”
Since 1998, Jenish and Sintis have been protected by the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Swiss authorities have since officially recognised them as a national minority. In 2001 the cabinet insisted that all Jenish and Sintis communities were recognised, whether they pursued nomadic lifestyles or not.
But Berset’s speech on Thursday is seen as highly symbolic. The Swiss authorities often referred to Jenish and Sintis as ‘travellers’ but only 10% of the 35,000 community move around.
In April, the communities sent a petition to the interior ministry, asking to no longer be referred to as travellers but simply as Jenish or Sintis.
“I recognise this demand for self-designation,” said Berset, adding he would ensure that their wish is implemented throughout Swiss administration.
Daniel Huber, the president of the umbrella group representing Jenish communities, said people were extremely happy with this decision.
“A people without a name is no people,” he declared.