BONN — An obscure group of Slavic-speakers who escaped centuries of repression in their forested homeland have earned a special place in the German unification treaty signed Friday.
The Sorbs, who number about 100,000 and live in East Germany's Spree Forest, asked for legal protection of their unique culture and got it.
"The preservation and continuation of Sorb culture and of Sorb traditions will be guaranteed. Members of the Sorb people have the freedom to preserve their language in public life," states one part of the treaty.
The Sorbs are natives of a remote swath of East Germany stretching 56 miles north of the Czechoslovak border. Centuries ago, their marshy, wooded homeland was called Lusatia.
They are colorful in customs and in dress. The traditional way for Sorbs to get to their fields or visit neighboring villages is in long, thin wooden boats that are pushed with poles along small waterways crisscrossing the Spree Forest.
The Sorbs withstood German invasions in the 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th centuries. Ultimately, German invaders swallowed up their homeland but not their customs, until Adolf Hitler ordered that their language not be spoken.