by Davyth Hicks
UNESCO’s first forum on human rights, held in Nantes and ending yesterday, turned its attention to language rights on Tuesday with politicians calling for France to help reverse the decline of Breton.
The politicians, speaking at a round table meeting on language rights as part of the Forum, all called for France to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML), sign the Framework Convention for National Minorities (FCNM), work more closely with the Welsh Language Board, and, more generally, how protecting cultural diversity may, in turn, help the French language. Christian Guyonvarc’h (UDB) from the Breton Regional Council said that “if you go against diversity you go against humanity”.
However, despite talk about working together more closely with the Welsh Language Board there was no mention of the cornerstone that underpins all Welsh language development, the 1992 Welsh Language Act. As has been seen in other countries with minoritised languages, such an Act is crucial to underpin any language development strategies, as has been proven in Catalonia, the Basque Country and Wales. Similarly a Breton language act could prove to be the basis for meaningful Breton language development in the future and certainly protect the language from any future hostile French government.
Breton native speaker, Yann Ber Thomin, from the ruling socialist group, Vice President of the Breton regional council and responsible for Breton language development, outlined how meetings were being held with representatives from the Alsace to develop joint strategies, how a working group had been set up to devise a Breton language strategy, and how all of Brittany would be included in the strategy, including Loire Atlantique. This department was administratively sectioned off from the rest of Brittany in 1941 under the Vichy government.
Eurolang spoke to Mr Thomin after the meeting about the region’s plans for Breton. He said that a strategy for Breton will be “voted on before the end of the year”, and that: “First we want the government to sign the ECRML. Then we need a language plan to cover all of the domains such as schools, evening classes, books and radio and TV”.
“We will also be looking at Welsh language development policy, meeting with the Welsh Language Board and looking at the Welsh language channel S4C,” he added.
Eurolang asked whether legislation would be needed in order to underpin Breton language strategies. “I hope that we can have this, but we can’t wait for legislation,” he said referring to the dire linguistic situation that Breton is in.
And what about the Diwan schools, Eurolang asked, what can the regional council do? “I think that the French government cannot stay as it is now on this issue, it has to ratify the Charter.”
But will the current French Government sign the ECRML, especially considering that this would require a modification of Article 2 of the Constitution? “With this government I don’t know, and for a new government we’ll have to wait for another three years,” replied Mr Thomin.
On the Breton reunification issue Mr Thomin told Eurolang that: “There should be a referendum, the people should decide.”
Patrick Mareschal, the new president of the Loire Atlantique department and campaigner for reunification, also spoke to Eurolang on encouraging more children to learn about Breton language and history in the department and started his talk to the forum by defining Loire Atlantique as part of Brittany.
Language law specialist Fernand de Varennes also outlined “the need for language laws in France” otherwise any strategies for language “will have the grass cut from under their feet. Wales and Catalunya all have such legislation.”
The round table was convened by the “Unity for Diversity” group which comprises different Breton NGOs and EBLUL.