Letter to the Editor of Time European Edition
Lettre ouverte de Philippe Argouarch

Publié le 4/11/04 14:12 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

To the Editor,

This letter is concerning you recent article French Plays Defense dated 31 Octobre 2004, that I read in your European edition. I am very surprised that you could write an article on the french language and the recent declarations of President Jacques Chirac in Hanoi without any words about the situation of minority languages in France. The article author's missed a good opportunity to show the astonishing contradictions and plain hypocrisy of French cultural and linguistic policies.

On one side, President Chirac cries about the overtaking of English and even denounces American cultural domination and on the other side the French government plays deaf and ignores the disastrous situation of minority languages in France.

To quote your article, you did ask the right question: " Are the French out to defend cultural diversity — or their own influence and prestige?". The answer is easily found if your consider some facts reported below:

France has refused to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages while the signature and ratification of this chart is mandatory for new states joining the European Union. The government hides behind the constitution that recognizes only French as an official language, but do not hesitate to modify the same constitution regularly to fit other european regulations and treaties. Same refusal with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities adopted by the Counsil of Europe in 1995 and never signed by France.

It is true that some Breton courses are offered in some public schools in Brittany but I like to point out that quiet few classes have been closed this fall. There has been stories around, that teachers who know Breton language and who want to teach it, among other things, were sent by the Ministry of National Education, outside Brittany and as far as French Guyana! In the seventies, private schools for teaching the Breton language using methods such as immersion, where created in Brittany by an association called Diwan. The schools are barely surviving, not having enough money to pay the teachers. The Goverment has refused to integrate the schools using another constitutional loophole.

One million people where speaking Breton at the beginning of the 20th century, making it the most spoken Celtic language in the word. Today, if 257 000 people still know Breton, two third of them are over sixty. Maybe only 50 000 people are still speaking it on a daily basis. This is a disaster. Of course the French government is not entirely responsible, but many point out that, while one billion dollar is spent to promote French internationally every year, as your article reports rightly, almost nothing is spent to prevent Breton from becoming extinct.

Breton, like any language, belongs to humankind inherited treasures but is also the corner stone of Breton cultural identity, some even say national identity. What is hard to understand, is how this french disastrous internal linguistic policies, the refusal to sign European conventions on the subject, Jacques Chirac double talk and the hypocrisy of all, never make it to the International Press.

Some Welsh elected officials are very concerned by the situation and have protested the french government. The Celtic league has written many letters. ICBL (International committee for the Defense of the Breton Language) aswell. Many petitions have been signed in Brittany and addressed to the French government. A 15 years old girl went on hunger strike to protest the closure of a Breton Course in her high school in fall 2003. Last year 20000 people demonstrated in Rennes asking for Breton language recognition. Still, the international press including your magazine does not seem to be aware of the problem.

Are we too few to matter?

To get more information on the situation of Breton, I urge you to check the web site (voir le site)

Please do not hesitate to publish this letter, even if you must cut it to fit.


Philippe Argouarch

Quimper, France

ref: (voir le site)

Philippe Argouarch

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