ELIN HAF GRUFFYDD JONES.
Prifysgol Cymru-University of Wales.
ELEN President (https://elen.ngo/).
The NAZIOGINTZA group wants to make known the linguistic struggle of other stateless nations like ours. To this end, we will analyze other models through a series of articles that we begin today. We will show you the cases of Wales, Catalonia, Quebec and Flanders.
In this first article written for NAZIOGINTZA by Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, president of ELEN, we will analyze the case of Wales. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the creation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, a pressure group in favor of the Welsh language. The linguistic struggle of Cymdeithas has been long and hard, and more than a few members of the association have been imprisoned. In fact, Cymdeithas has been the UK civil society organization that has received the most fines and prosecutions in the last 40 years.
The year 2022 marks the 60th anniversary of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg – the Welsh Language Society. Its name suggests an association of people interested in historical linguistics or dialectology. Yet nothing could be further from the truth: through Cymdeithas came the beginning of an activist language movement in Wales, infused with the radical youth culture of the 1960s, led by young people taking power into their own hands to shake up the status quo. Six decades later, it continues – having changed the face of Welsh politics as well as the fate of the language.
“The fate of the language” – in Welsh, Tynged yr Iaith – was the title of the radio lecture presented by Welsh academic, literary critic, novelist, playwright and activist Saunders Lewis (1893 – 1985) and broadcast by the BBC on 13 February 1962. This lecture was the game changer that led to the creation of Cymdeithas. Saunders Lewis had been a founder member of Plaid Genedlaethol Cymru in 1925 [the national party of Wales] though over the decades, he became convinced that constitutional politics alone – demonstrations, petitions, standing elections – could not, within the power structures of the British state, bring about the changes that Wales and the Welsh language needed.
The radio lecture [text and an English translation by G.A. Williams here] discusses the historical factors that led to the demise of the language since the Acts of Union 1536 leading to no official status, absence from public administration and commerce, a marginalized and stigmatized presence in education, contempt in the media and so on. In such conditions, he states, “Welsh will end as a living language, should the present trend continue, about the beginning of the twenty-first century”. More significant than his lucid analysis of the situation, however, were the very last minutes of his lecture: the determination in his affirmation “Fe ellir achub y Gymraeg.” [The Welsh language can be saved], the unambiguity of his statement: “Mae’r iaith yn bwysicach na hunan- lywodraeth” [The language is more important than self-government] and the clarity of his vision for the way ahead: “Trwy ddulliau chwyldro yn unig y mae llwyddo.”[Success is only possible through revolutionary methods”].
Some six months later, on 4 August 1962, Cymdeithas was formed by a group of young activists at the Plaid Cymru Summer School in Pontarddulais. From then onwards, this movement would plan non-violent actions, civil disobedience and campaigns that would lead to arrests, court cases and imprisonments, inspired by pacifist civil rights movements in other parts of the world. The landmark protest took place in February 1963, on the Trefechan bridge in the university town of Aberystwyth, after members of Cymdeithas had plastered the Post Office with posters demanding “official status for the Welsh language”. Students and young people sitting on the road, blocking the traffic, the arrival of the police and the presence of photographers [https://www.casgliadywerin.cymru/collections/377392] meant that Saunders Lewis’s language revolution had indeed started: “Nid dim llai na chwyldroad yw adfer yr iaith Gymraeg yng Nghymru.” [It will be nothing less than a revolution to restore the Welsh language in Wales. ]
Campaigns for official status continued to be fundamental for Cymdeithas over the decades across a range of sociolinguistic spheres: from road signs and official documents to education and, perhaps best known internationally, the campaign for media, to establish a Welsh language television channel. Several successes ensued, including the Welsh Language Act (1967), the Broadcasting Acts 1980/81, the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Education Act 1995. The principles of English jurisdiction meant that Welsh could be used in one context, as if it were ‘de facto’ an official language, without it being permitted at all in another. Even when the first modern Welsh elected legislature, today known as Senedd Cymru, was established following the referendum of 1997, it still took a Cymdeithas campaign to argue that it should operate bilingually. Cymdeithas had to continue to campaign, until The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 for Welsh to be an official language in Wales. [ https://www.legislation.gov.uk/mwa/2011/1/section/1]. Crucial to this debate was Cymdeithas’s argument that the Welsh language belonged to all [Mae’r Gymraeg yn perthyn i bawb], not to a small minority or a faraway locality, or to Welsh-speakers only.
It can be said that Cymdeithas uses dialectical materialism to analyze the situation of the Welsh language. Changing the words on a road sign from English only to bilingual English and Welsh was a symbolic action that represented the inequality of power that the two languages held in the British state. This had to be addressed, and was articulated in the slogan: “Os yw’r Gymraeg i fyw, rhaid i bopeth newid”. (If the Welsh language is to live, everything must change). Cymdeithas developed and articulated its own ideology: y Dull Didrais – [literally the non-violent method] an analysis of its approach to non-violent direct civil disobedience – and Cymdeithasiaeth , an articulation of its community socialism. During the years of Thatcherism, Cymdeithas would align with other left wing movements, such as the National Union of Miners during the 1984-5 strike, as well as internationalist campaigns such as anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, Nicaragua solidarity campaign etc.
From this period onwards, it increasingly made connections with other minoritized language activist groups, exchanging ideas about campaigns and socio-political contexts. Among the most influential were the relationships with movements in Ireland, Catalonia and the Basque Country. Cymdeithas instigated the development of an all Wales consortium of movements and associations working for the language, ‘Mudiadau Dathlu’r Gymraeg’ which was inspired by the Basque Kontseilua. It introduced into its own campaigns and into the Welsh public sphere, concepts and slogans ‘Ie i’r Gymraeg’ (Yes to Welsh) and ‘Dw i eisiau byw yn Gymraeg’ (I want to live in Welsh) drawn directly from Bai Euskarari (Yes to Basque) and Euskaraz bizi nahi dut (I want to live in Basque). It continued to develop knowledge of the legal status and normalization processes of minoritized languages in Europe and further afield, which contributed to its analysis and campaigns at home.
Many key aspects of language policy in contemporary Wales started life as radical ideas and campaigns by Cymdeithas. Over time – and after varying degrees of disagreement and debate – they were often adopted or adapted by political parties and institutionalized. A flagship example is the Welsh Government’s long term policy of a Million Welsh Speakers. The concept and campaign were instigated by Cymdeithas, in response to the results of the 2011 Census, that showed that progress was not being made to change the course of decline. The Million Speaker campaign aimed to create a political gear change for the future or the fate of the language: to develop a new, positive narrative, ambitious yet achievable strategies, overarching yet measurable policy goals, clear and memorable messages, and capable of capturing the imagination and enthusing people across Wales. It certainly changed the narrative, but will the aims be achieved? And will progress finally speed up in key areas like education, where parents still have to campaign for access to Welsh medium (immersion) education, and most of Wales’s school age population are not bilingual when they finish education ?
One of the longest running campaigns of Cymdeithas is Deddf Eiddo [“Property Act”]. It grew from Cymdeithas’s response to the neoliberal agenda and policies from the 1980s onwards and for decades this focus remained quite unique in the European context. Language movements in other minoritized language communities didn’t place the same high and consistent level of emphasis on campaining for change in local government spatial planning regulations, to tackle issues such as assessing local housing needs and ensuring sufficient affordable homes to buy and rent, limiting the open market on second homes, developing language impact analyses of planning projects. From the late 1980s onwards, the slogan “Nid yw Cymru ar Werth” (Wales is not for sale) has been painted on walls, chanted in protests, worn on T-shirts and featured in songs.
Finally, after decades of local, Welsh and UK Government not being able or willing to find or create appropriate legal instruments to address the issue, action will now be taken forward by Welsh Government and local authorities [link] Next steps confirmed to tackle impact of second home ownership on Wales’ communities | GOV.WALES]. The argument for sustainable communities has been won, in part due to the recognition of the impact of Brexit and the pandemic on vulnerable communities. Measures to curb the free market are vital if Welsh is to continue to be a living language, in communities as well as a national language. Localities where Welsh is used at community level must be multi-dimensional communities where people learn, live and work, instead of being bought up as sterile picturesque playgrounds for richer people to retire or to relax.
So, over six decades, there have been major achievements across a range of different spheres – several of them are highlighted in this short article. And surely, one of Cymdeithas’s successes must also be its enduring strength, that relatively small numbers of people have been able continue reinvigorating the movement over decades, creating populist campaigns from official status to pop music, from education to digitalization, and from planning laws to the rights of refugees to learn Welsh – Dinasyddiaeth Gymraeg i bawb / Welsh language citizenship for all. What started as a student-led movement has drawn together generations of men and women of different ages and backgrounds. The activists of Cymdeithas, in the face of global powers, have indeed changed the Fate of the Language, but as all campaigners know, la lucha continua, the struggle continues, mae’r frwydr yn parhau.