Nation profile

Frisia
Fryslân

General information
Population
646,705 inhabitants (2010)
Area
3.349 km²
Institutions
Provincial Government and Parliament
Major cities
Ljouwert (Leeuwarden), It Hearrenfean (Heerenveen), Drachten
State administration
Netherlands
Territorial languages
Frisian, Low Saxon
Official languages
Dutch, Frisian (semi-official)
Major religion
Christianity (Protestantism), with Catholic and Muslim minorities

Presentation

Frisia is a country in northwestern Europe, along the coast of the North Sea. The extent of its land area may be understood in different ways depending on the conception of the person who is referring to it. Data and flag included in the general information above exclusively refer to the territory of the current province of Fryslân, in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Even so, the most maximal conceptions of the Frisian lands include, west to east: the region of West Friesland, in the province of North Holland; the province of Fryslân aforementioned; the province of Groningen; the region of East Frisia and the municipality of Saterland, the district of Friesland and the adjacent city of Wilhelmshaven, the north of the district of Wesermarch and the northwest of Cuxhaven, all of them in the German federal state (land) of Lower Saxony; and finally the district of Nordfriesland and the island of Heligoland, in the land of Schleswig-Holstein.

Language

Three Frisian languages are currently spoken. The largest one by far (460,000 speakers, 2007) is West Frisian, spoken in a large part of the province of Fryslân and in a small area of Groningen, in the Netherlands. It enjoys a certain degree of recognition and official use. North Frisian (8,000 speakers, 1996) is spoken in North Frisia and Helgoland, while East Frisian strives for survival in the Saterland towns of Strücklingen, Ramsloh and Scharrel (1,000 speakers, 2007.)

Dialects of Low Saxon —or Low German, as the language is also called— spoken in the province of Groningen and in the land of Lower Saxony show a remarkable influence from Frisian language varieties that were spoken in those areas until the middle and modern ages —in some cases to a very late stage, such as in the case of the island of Wangerooge, in the region of East Frisia, where it remained alive until the 20th century.

Politics and institutions

The province of Fryslân is at present the most prominent government body, as is the only one in the Frisian lands that at the same time bears the name of the country and coincides with a first level state subdivision. It has its own government and assembly (the States of Fryslân) elected by direct suffrage. It has the capacity to approve ordinances —legal regulations of lower rank than a Dutch law— and executive powers in the areas of transport, economy, agriculture, environment, culture, language and territorial organization. In that assembly, the Frisian National Party (Fryske Nasjonale Partij, FNP) has now for decades holding seats. In the subsequent provincial elections of the 21st century it has obtained 8% to 13% of the votes. The FNP favours that Frisian government bodies are devolved as many powers as possible within a federal Netherlands.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the South Schleswig Voters’ Association (Südschleswigscher Wählerverband or Söödschlaswiksche Wäälerferbånd, SSW) seeks to represent the interests of Danes and Frisians there, and demands equal rights for all native cultures of the territory. It has had continued representation in government bodies — with MPs in the Parliament of Schleswig-Holstein and councilors at the local level in North Friesland— since 1958. It has been part of several cabinets of this German land.

In Lower Saxony, Die Friesen advocate the autonomy of East Frisia and closer relations with other Frisian regions. The party, founded in 2007, runs for office mostly at local elections. In 2016 one party member was elected as local councilor.

(Last updated March 2018.)