It is a victory for the defenders of regional languages in France. The French Parliament definitively adopted this Thursday a bill, supported by the opposition, to protect and promote regional languages, after the favorable vote of the National Assembly in second reading The text was validated despite the reluctance of the government and LREM deputies, Emmanuel Macron’s party.
Defended by the deputy Paul Molac, elected in the Breton department of Morbihan and member of the opposition group “Freedoms and Territories“, the text which was adopted by 247 votes in favor, 76 votes against and 19 abstentions, will allow two major innovations for supporters of regional languages.
The first is the introduction of immersive education, meaning that students will be able to spend a large part of their school time in a language other than the dominant language.
The second consists of the creation of a school package for private schools providing education in regional languages. This system thus provides for the financial participation of the municipalities of residence of the pupils attending a school of this type located in another municipality. This provision could contribute to the development of schools Diwan in Brittany or in the ikastola of the Basque Country, where education is mainly in Basque.
The leader of the LREM deputies in the assembly had called on his group to vote against the bill. “We question certain fundamental principles of our public school“, also warned Christophe Castaner, the former Minister of the Interior.
And before the vote, during the discussion, the Minister of National Education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, had twice opposed the registration in the law of two measures carried by the text of which it provides “chain consequences“. “We are in favor of the development of regional languages (…) but we have the right to be attentive to the modalities“, underlined the minister.
After the passage of the law, Paul Molac, a long-time activist committed to the defense of Breton culture, and other Breton parliamentarians met to sing the “Bro gozh ma zadoù“, the anthem of Brittany.
The text was voted on at first reading in early 2020 by the National Assembly, after having been partly emptied of its substance. It was then voted on by the Senate in December 2020.
Dozens of regional languages in France
Almost all French people have in mind the image of Epinal of the little Alsatians, Basques or Bretons, put in the corner with a donkey’s cap on their heads for having expressed themselves in a language other than French, punished by the black hussars of the Republic, these primary school teachers of the last century whose objective, dictated by the State, was to build a strong nation around the language of Molière.
Even today, thearticle 2 of the French Constitution proclaims it: “The language of the Republic is French“. But since a revision of the text dating from 2008,”regional languages belong to the heritage of France“, according to article 75-1.
Over 80 “languages of France“are now listed by the authorities. More than ten regional languages are currently taught in public schools in France, including Basque, Breton, Catalan and Occitan, Corsican, tahitien or Alsatian.
In addition, in regions with a strong cultural and linguistic identity, France has encouraged the establishment of bilingual road signs, such as in Brittany or the Basque Country.
However, in the eyes of the international community, Paris could do better on this issue. In 2008, the United Nations Economic and Social Council had thus noted that France “did not make enough effortin the field of the preservation and promotion of languages and cultural heritage“. This UN body had also recommended to France.”consider ratifying the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages“. Indeed, if this text, supported by the Council of Europe, was signed in 1999, it has never been ratified by the French authorities.