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Diwan entre secousses locales et soutien global
The decision to grant a 1000 euro subsidy to Diwan, the Breton-medium school network, voted by the town council of Douarnenez, a town of 16000 people, 25 km north of Kemper (Quimper), has caused a major outcry both in the local Council and in the local press
pour Yann Rivalain le 13/10/03 15:00

The decision to grant a 1000 euro subsidy to Diwan, the Breton-medium school network, voted by the town council of Douarnenez, a town of 16000 people, 25 km north of Kemper (Quimper), has caused a major outcry both in the local Council and in the local press. Diwan is currently facing huge financial difficulties following the refusal by the French state to integrate it into the national education system.

Former mayor and member of the opposition, Jocelyne Poitevin accused Diwan of being “a form of fundamentalism”. Referring to the pupils she said that “they are not open to the outside world and always stay together. This is a form of isolation for the children”.

Jackie Guigo, local delegate of the party “Mouvement des citoyens”, in a letter sent to the local press said that “left wing politicians [who voted for the subsidy] were forgetting the fundamental values of the Republic by supporting an education system based on a linguistic particularism and a communitarian pedagogy”. M. Guigo opposed the immersion system used by Diwan against the government-funded bilingual schools. Pierre Favre, former journalist and historian wrote that “immersion is itself an authoritarian phenomenon. The beginning of exclusion is present in any immersion policy.”

These attacks against Diwan, which uses methods and principles which have proved successful in minority language communities across Europe, have urged many to respond. Gerard Alle, a writer whose children are currently enrolled in bilingual classes provided locally by the national education system stressed that “immersion was the best way to learn a language, by using all its forms in everyday life and not only in a classroom context.” He denounced “an inward-looking Republic which obliges new EU members to respect minorities through international treaties which it refuses to comply with itself”.

Parents whose children attend classes in the secondary Diwan school in nearby Kemper met on Thursday to discuss these attacks. “We have been surprised and shocked by the words used in the town council. What an incredible mark of intolerance and lack of respect for our children! Our children said they were hurt by those words which show a total lack of knowledge about their school, social and cultural life, which remains open to the town and the rest of the world.”

As reactions flooded the Douarnenez local newspaper, former UN secretary General Boutros Boutros Gali speaking this week on the national radio station France culture and the importance of protecting small languages, took Breton as an example of a language seriously endangered by adverse public policies on the part of the French government.

Further east, in the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, Diwan entered the spotlight once more on Wednesday when Paul Flynn, Labour member of the UK Parliament, referred to Breton in a report about the rights of minorities in Europe. At the same time as making history for the Welsh language as the first official ever to be granted permission to speak Welsh in the Council of Europe, Paul Flynn chose to address the issue of Breton. He explained that the language was “a sister language of Welsh, suppressed for centuries, which has had a revival through the Diwan schools that teach through the medium of Breton”.

Referring to the agreement to let Diwan schools join the public system and receive public funds, rejected by the French authorities, he told delegates that “the campaign to gain recognition and fight for survival continues.” According to Mr Flynn, “this is the result of an over-rigid interpretation of the French constitution, which sees minority languages of this kind as a threat to French and the unity of the Republic. This view is abhorrent, in direct conflict with the spirit of this report and our modern European appreciation of the cultural value of ancient languages.” (EL)

Douarnenez 6/10/03, by Yann Rivallain


The European news agency for minority languages

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