The ELEN General Assembly Caerdydd 2022 broke new ground this year with a record number of participants, a new format which helped to highlight the various challenges facing European lesser-used languages today, as well as having full support from the Welsh Government for the prestigious event.
Panels discussed sustainable communities and the threat of second homes, how NGOs can build support for indigenous languages worldwide, and an activist workshop discussing the latest best practices in language campaigning. Presentations were made on Cymraeg 2050 and creating a new climate for language use and development, the campaign for Irish language legislation, the Welsh Language Commissioner discussed setting standards, the Iaith organization presented the EU Erasmus funded LISTEN Project, and NGOs reported on Breton, Catalan and Occitan in France, Gaelic in Scotland, as well as a workshop on Basque. Resolutions were passed on the use of Catalan in France, the COVID recovery plan and languages, UNESCO including European territorial languages in the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, and for the EU to adopt the ELEN Recommendations to the Conference on the Future of Europe. The event concluded with welcome news about the 2023 General Assembly in Sardinia.
The theme of this year’s General Assembly was on Wales and the Welsh language keeping and building links to Europe. In the Brexit vote most Welsh speakers voted to remain in the EU. Over several decades of EU membership Wales had built deep and lasting links with European partners from a wide range of sectors from farming, academia, to language NGOs, yet the Brexit vote, driven by a toxic Brexiteer ideology, has acted to cut those links and bring economic decline, not just for Wales, but for Scotland, the north of Ireland, Cornwall, as well as England. Having the General Assembly in Cardiff acted to symbolise the renewal of Wales’s enduring links with Europe with around 100 language organisations from across the continent represented.
Speaking to the press ahead of the event, ELEN President Prof. Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones said: “Now, more than ever, it is crucial that Welsh organizations play a proactive role in Europe in the field of language normalization and continue to build on the decades of connections, expertise and experience that have contributed so much to our common goal of ensuring a future for all our languages. Hosting the ELEN General Assembly here in Wales is an important part of this mission and we look forward to welcoming local and international delegates and speakers.”
Prior to Friday’s reception Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant (UWTSD) hosted a workshop on “Sociolinguistic Methodologies and Changing Language Habits: experiences from the Basque Country”. The session, attended by researchers, policy makers and ELEN member organisations, was led by Dr Imanol Larrea-Mendizabal, the director of Soziolinguistika Klusterra, and the current Etxepare Chair for Sociolinguistics at the UWTSD.
The official reception on Friday evening opened in the splendid surroundings of the Temple of Peace in Cardiff’s government district. ELEN members were pleased to welcome Cardiff City Council Leader Huw Thomas to open the event along with ELEN Secretary-General Davyth Hicks, ELEN President Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, and Kemper Councillor Anna-Vari Chapalain. Delegates were treated to a performance of Welsh traditional music by local harpist Yasmin Richard.
Prif Weinidog Cymru, Mark Drakeford, opens the General Assembly
The General Assembly opened on Saturday with opening remarks from the Secretary-General and President and the organization was delighted to receive an official opening address to ELEN delegates by Prif Weinidog Cymru (First Minister of Wales) Mark Drakeford. In his speech the Prif Weinidog welcomed ELEN members to Wales and spoke on the topic of maintaining Wales’ links to Europe and how the ELEN General Assembly being held in Cardiff symbolized the enduring relationship between European organisations and Wales, a European country.
“We’re working to reach one million speakers by 2050 and to double the daily use of the language”. He said. “We focus on the communities and on the progress in language use. The work takes place across Government but also hand in hand with external and independent organisations. The third sector organisations like yours [ELEN] are absolutely important to the success of any language policy.
“Therefore, this General Assembly is a perfect opportunity for us to treat and discuss our languages. What works? What are the challenges? How can we help each other? Because the field of language policy isn’t always easy. Covid-19 has affected all of us. We face rising costs of living. We have learned to live outside the European Union. But we have learned a lot from these experiences and we have adapted so as to make the best of every opportunity that comes. Leaving the EU makes no difference whatsoever to our right to continue working with you. Therefore, we will continue to maintain a close relationship with you, our friends, and our partners in Europe. So, good luck to you all for the meeting. I’m looking forward to hearing all about it.”
The Chair of the Senedd Culture and Welsh Language Committee, Delyth Jewell AS, followed the Prif Weinidog. She warmly welcomed ELEN delegates to the capital and described ELEN as a, “vitally important organization, not just in terms of maintaining languages and cultures but acting to strengthen them, particularly in a globalized world where fostering connections has never been more important.”
Creating a new climate for change around bilingualism
Dr. Jeremy Evas from the Welsh Government opened the public section of the proceedings with a detailed examination on what has been achieved for Welsh and current actions to strengthen the language including Cymraeg 2050 – the ambitious plan for one million speakers by 2050. Dr. Evas expanded on the topic in detail giving delegates a detailed insight into the latest thinking on increasing language usage and how to influence behavioural change by employing tactics such as verbal strategy and the need for an emotional as well as a logical motive when aiming at increasing language usage.
Ensuring sustainable communities for lesser-used languages
The first panel of the morning discussed sustainable communities for lesser-used languages focusing on current challenges to Welsh-speaking and other language communities, such as the threat posed by second homes, lack of affordable housing and employment. The panel were asked how we address these problems that affect language communities across Europe, and what steps are and could be taken to improve the situation. The panel comprised Dr Seimon Brooks, Llywodraeth Cymru, Bethan Ruth Roberts (Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg), Dr Kathryn Jones (Iaith), Azenor Kallag (Kevre Breizh), Caterina Canyelles Marquès (Obra Cultural Balear), with Davyth Hicks as moderator.
Seimon Brooks outlined the new measures being implemented by the Welsh Government to prevent second homes hollowing out Welsh-speaking communities. Azenor Kallag spoke about the range of challenges to Breton, in particular ongoing threats to Breton-medium education despite its proven successes. Bethan Ruth Roberts referred to the new Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg manifesto (Cymru Rydd, Cymru Werdd, Cymru Gymraeg) linking activism for the language with that of the climate crisis and the need for a community driven approach to language maintenance. Caterina Canyelles described how second homes are only one factor impacting on Catalan language in the Illes Balears as well as the lack of work.
The panel discussion underlined the need for a holistic, community driven approach adapted to the current context for language maintenance and how existing language legislation is of little use when families and the young are being driven out of their communities because available housing is being turned into second homes.
Summarising the work of the Welsh Government Seimon Brooks said. “The core message behind the foundation of the Commission for Welsh-speaking Communities is that language is a societal phenomenon. And in order to maintain language, the societies where it is spoken have to be maintained. And for that reason, we need to look at core issues like the economy, housing, education etc. Covid-19 has made community as a concept even more important as well, and in the UK case, Brexit has added to the need to protect communities under pressure. The job of language policy makers is to make realistic but radical policy recommendations that face this situation honestly.” The discussion will help feed into a forthcoming ELEN policy paper on how we ensure sustainable communities for our languages.
Welsh Language Commissioner
This year ELEN was pleased to welcome the Deputy Welsh Language Commissioner, Gwenith Price, to address the General Assembly on setting standards and stepping forward in terms of implementing language rights. In her presentation Gwenith described the work of the Commissioner in ensuring that people are able to live their lives in Welsh. The Commissioner works with public sector organisations to ensure compliance with language legislation as well as to increase their use of the language. She discussed what has been achieved as a result of the current language legislation and what has happened during the first decade of implementation of the Welsh Language Measure, and the priorities for the next period now that the foundations are firmly in place.
ELEN works closely with the International Association of Language Commissioners and welcomed the appointment of the new Welsh Language Commissioner, Efa Gruffudd Jones, just before the General Assembly.
Irish Language Act: from Campaign to Implementation
Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh and Conchúr Ó Muadaigh from Conradh na Gaelige made an inspiring presentation on the successful campaign for Irish language legislation. There have been enormous achievements in the development of Irish in the north of Ireland. We’ve seen the re-establishment of Irish-speaking communities in an urban context, the latest census results reporting an increase in the number of speakers, and language legislation being passed in the UK Parliament.
Why has this community driven, rights based campaign been so effective and what lessons can ELEN members learn from it? The speakers outlined the history of the movement in the six counties going back to the original Shaw’s Road Gaeltacht set up in 1969, right up to the formation of An Dream Dearg, the Líofa Gaeltacht bursary scandal as a tipping point, and this year’s demonstrations. One aspect of the success throughout has been the demographic. Young people were mobilised and got behind the movement, and the key to mobilising the young was social media and the ability of supporters to easily participate because of that.
The UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages: Role of European NGOs
The second panel of the morning focused on the UNESCO Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL) and the role of European NGOs in building a global community for the preservation, revitalization and support for indigenous languages worldwide. ELEN were delighted to welcome Prof. Vesna Crnić-Grotić (Council of Europe, ECRML Committee of Experts), Mònica Pereña, (Linguapax International President), Dr. Huw Williams (Cardiff University), and Jill Evans (former MEP and the international representative for Plaid Cymru).
Huw Williams addressed the current controversy over the non-inclusion of European autochthonous/ indigenous lesser-used languages in the UNESCO IDIL. He proposed that a “reframing of the Decade of Indigenous Languages”” is needed, “that seeks out points of connection and that deploys a more liberal, capacious understanding of indigenous and its equivalent terms in other languages, [this] could help to overcome a potentially problematic, even possibly neo-colonial dynamic, with a view to exploring mutual aid and mutual struggle. In this way European NGOs can also seek to locate themselves not as the purveyors of knowledge, expertise and power but instead as allies and fellow warriors in what is now the desperate struggle for global linguistic justice.”
Vesna Crnić-Grotić emphasized the role of the Charter for Regional or Minority Languages in the preservation, promotion, but also the revitalisation of European minoritised languages, something which could help act as a framework for indigenous languages recovery. Mònica Pereña underlined that it is crucial that organizations join forces, play a proactive role in defending linguistic diversity, and continue to leverage the connections, knowledge and experience that contribute so much to the common goal of securing a future for all languages.” A short ELEN report based on the panel discussion will be sent to UNESCO.
The afternoon session started with a new innovation for the General Assembly – the activists workshop. ELEN member organisations are the leading language activist organisations in Europe. As so much expertise was gathered for the G.A. the workshop took the opportunity to discuss campaign work, what’s been successful, what can be improved, and looked at various approaches to successful NGO work such as intersectionality, the community driven rights based approach, demonstrations, and advocacy work.
The workshop featured Paul Bilbao (Kontseilua), Elena Jimenez (Omnium Cultural), Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh (Conradh na Gaeilge), Bethan Ruth Roberts (Cymdeithas), and was moderated by Davyth Hicks.
Paul Bilbao outlined the situation in the Basque Country where a strong political consensus had resulted in equally strong language policies, and where language normalization applies to everyone.
Discussing the Conradh na Gaeilge approach Pádraig said that there was no set methodology, instead campaigns would adapt to the particular set of circumstances. “Language rights are a bit nerdy”, he said, “how do you get 16 year olds to make Tik-Tok videos about language rights? You have to make the campaign relevant to people and create the conditions for success.” He added that to be successful online activism must act to complement real, in person activism, not try to replace it.
Elena Jimenez discussed the campaigns for Catalan language and culture as well as in the ongoing independence campaign in which Omnium Cultural has a key role in. Omnium has always taken an intersectional, inclusive approach. Bethan Ruth Roberts emphasised the importance of community involvement and how Cymdeithas works to link language activism with climate and green activism.
Following the workshop the agenda turned to ELEN Business where the organisation’s annual work programme was reported on and discussed with the Secretary-General. This included current advocacy work at the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, and various States, ongoing language projects and campaigns, new member applications, and re-structuring the membership fees.
Delegates were also informed about the success of the ELEN/ University of Valencia summer school on language rights held in Gandia in July, featuring international experts and with 50 participants from a range of backgrounds taking part. Because of the success University of Valencia has asked ELEN to hold the summer school again next year.
ELEN delegates received a presentation from Tangi Louarn (Kevre Breizh) on the ongoing problems in the French state and the follow up to ELEN’s Letter of Allegation to the UN and the subsequent UN Special Procedures Communication report, which is yet to be replied to by France. The G.A. decided to write to the French Government calling on them to respond to the UN Communication.
Dr. Kathryn Jones from Iaith gave a detailed presentation on the Erasmus Plus funded LISTEN project on training people on language assertiveness. ELEN members were encouraged to go to the project’s website and to engage with the various materials such as the online training course.
Delegates gave a warm welcome to Mònica Pereña the President of new member organisation Linguapax International. Linguapax are renowned globally for their work in raising awareness about linguistic and cultural diversity and the promotion of languages to help greater solidarity and mutual understanding. Monica discussed the work of the organisation along with some suggestions for future projects with ELEN, as well as how Linguapax will help to extend ELEN’s influence and activities globally.
Prof. Conchúr Ó Giollagáin from the Soillse Centre at the University of the Highlands and Islands gave a presentation on language promotion and the societal erasure of minority language groups. He discussed the concept of language promotion without protection and the problem of implementing language policies without adequate diagnosis of the specific situation of the language.
Next the G.A. turned to four resolutions. Firstly, from Plataforma per la Llengua, that ELEN call on the East Pyrenees prefecture and French Government to ensure that Catalan is used in council meetings. Recently the Prefect insisted that council meetings be conducted in French only. The resolution was passed unanimously.
Secondly, that ELEN call on UNESCO to include European autochthonous endangered languages in the IDIL. Currently these languages are not recognized as indigenous yet face the same set of problems as indigenous languages such as endangerment and marginalization. The resolution was passed unanimously.
Two more resolutions called for inclusion of support for lesser-used languages in any post-Covid recovery schemes, and that the EU adopt the recommendations made by ELEN in the Conference on the Future of Europe process, also passed unanimously.
Lastly, delegates discussed the location and date for next year’s General Assembly and received an official proposal from the Babel Film Festival to hold the G.A. in Casteddu (Cagliari), Sardinia. Delegates supported the proposal unanimously.
The Secretary-General and President closed the General Assembly, thanking the delegates for their participation, Osian Rhys for his excellent interpreting services, Nia Davies and the UWTSD staff for their outstanding work preparing the event, the Welsh Government for their support, and that the organization looks forward to working closely with the Welsh Government in the future.
ELEN delegates were delighted to welcome representatives from the Council of Europe, the EU Commission, the European Parliament, and the Welsh Government, Prifysgol Caerdydd, Prifysgol Aberystwyth, as observers. Special mention goes to the distinguished academic Professor Colin Williams who joined us on his birthday.
The event was sponsored by the Llywodraeth Cymru (Welsh Government) with the support of Prifysgol Cymru Y Drindod Dewi Sant.
Caerdydd 2022 Facebook picture gallery: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.488661869956231&type=3