Corn na Breataine (Cornwall)

The Cornish Win Their Fight For Recognition

Penn an Wlas - Land's End, Cornwall

Congratulations to the people of Cornwall on the success of their long campaign to win official recognition from the British government for their status as a distinct national minority on the island of Britain. The announcement today means that the Cornish will see the granting of regulatory standing for their identity, language and culture by the British state. From the Guardian newspaper:

“The land to the west of the Tamar river was a jubilant place to be after the government announced that the Cornish are to be recognised as a national minority for the first time. Dancing was promised on the streets of Bodmin, poetry (in Cornish, of course) was being recited – and a fair few pints of good old Cornish being downed in celebration.

The announcement came from Whitehall, more than 200 miles away. The chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said it meant Cornish people would be classified under the European framework convention for the protection of national minorities in the same way as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish [ASF: that would be the Irish in the British Occupied North of Ireland, of course].

Alexander said: “Cornish people have a proud history and a distinct identity. I am delighted that we have been able to officially recognise this and afford the Cornish people the same status as other minorities in the UK.”

The communities minister, Stephen Williams, said: “This is a great day for the people of Cornwall who have long campaigned for the distinctiveness and identity of the Cornish people to be recognised officially. The Cornish and Welsh are the oldest peoples on this island and as a proud Welshman I look forward to seeing Saint Piran’s flag flying with extra Celtic pride on 5 March next year.”

After the celebrations are over, the politicians – both in Cornwall and on a UK level – will work out the ramifications of the status.

The development may earn the Lib Dems some credit in Cornwall, one of their heartlands in recent years but a place where the Tories will hope to make gains at the next general election. Last month, Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, said the government would be investing a further £120,000 into the Cornish Language Partnership to promote and develop the language.

The North Cornwall Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson was keen to make a political point out of it, saying: “Today’s announcement means that the Cornish will finally be recognised as one of the constituent peoples of the UK alongside the Welsh, Scottish and Irish.

The news does not mean that Cornwall is breaking away from Britain, but it was welcomed nevertheless by Mebyon Kernow, which is campaigning for a Cornish national assembly.

Its leader, Dick Cole, said: “This is a fantastic announcement for Cornwall. I am absolutely delighted that the government has recognised the Cornish people as a national minority and it is great to see that all the Celtic peoples of these islands – the Cornish, Irish, Scottish and Welsh – are now afforded equal protection under the framework convention.”

Cornwall council says the announcement means the Cornish will be afforded the same protections as the Welsh, Scottish and the Irish. [ASF: Again, that would be protection for the Irish who unfortunately continue to live under Britain’s colonial rule on our island nation. History and geography is never a strong point in Britain. And that “protection”? They are still waiting for it...]

Britain’s recognition of the Cornish people will take place under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, an international treaty agreed to by some 39 nation-states of the Council of Europe. The campaign is now on to win recognition from France for the people of Brittany!

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Two disheartening news items from Celtic Britain, one from Cornwall and one from Wales, both making the headlines.

In Cornwall, in the run-up to the London Olympics and the “jubilee” celebrations for the British head of state, the famous tourist attraction of Penn an Wlas or Land’s End, the picturesque peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, has suffered what can be only described as an act of cultural vandalism. From the BBC:

“The removal of a Cornish translation of “Land’s End” from above the entrance to the landmark has been criticised by Cornish language advocates.

The Cornish Language Partnership said that the removal of the words “Penn an Wlas” was an act of “linguistic cleansing”.

Maga, the Cornish Language Partnership, said there were about 300 fluent speakers in the county, but that “an awful lot more people than that” had a “smattering” of the language.

Maga development manager Jenefer Lowe said the partnership was “really surprised” the attraction had made the change.

She said: “The language is growing and we are getting more signage all over Cornwall.

“We also know from tourism statistics that visitors are interested in the language and supportive of it.”

Land’s End general manager David Bryans said the changes had been made during a refurbishment which was carried out to maximise the appeal of the attraction and “bring as much tourism to Cornwall as possible.”

He said: “Land’s End is an international tourist attraction and we have a multi-cultural ethos.

“In keeping with that, we have tried to make the entrance as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible.

“As visitors will see, our welcome in Cornish is still displayed prominently and proudly at the entrance alongside international languages such as German, Spanish and Italian.”

A “multi-cultural ethos”? What a laughable excuse. The original sign was in English and Cornish, side by side and of equal scale. Now the Cornish language has been relegated to a minor sign-board somewhere in the park. Multi-cultural? What she meant was “monoculture”, and English monoculturalism at that.

As always we have yet another case of discrimination dressed up as reasonableness. To make matters worse in the last few weeks a number of local people belonging to various Cornish nationalist groups, both political and cultural, have been visited at their homes and places of work by British police demanding to know what if any plans they have in relation to the Jubilee or Olympic celebrations in the country (of Cornwall, that is). Some of those who have been subject to this questioning have described it as being quite intimidating – which is, perhaps, the point.

Meanwhile the Welsh cousins of the Cornish have their own trouble with petty-minded Anglophones in a story that has engulfed a local English-language newspaper, The Western Mail, the self-styled “national newspaper of Wales”. In the London Independent Rob Williams presents a fair analysis:

“Who’d be a newspaper editor in the age of Twitter eh?

In the good old pre-digital era negative feedback on the morning splash would – if you’ve really upset people – start to filter in around lunchtime.

In the brave new world of social networking, however, your offerings are barely off stone before you’re having them handed back to you in a little package marked ‘how you got it wrong – and why I’ll never buy your newspaper again.’

This morning the editor of ‘The National Newspaper Of Wales’, the Western Mail, will be getting many such digital packages.

It’s an unusual occurrence, a Welsh newspaper getting attention outside of Wales – but at 8.30am the hashtag #westernfail was trending in the UK on Twitter.

It was doing so because of a front page editorial about the Welsh language.

It is sensitive, complicated and as one commenter put it this morning on Twitter – ‘tricky biscuits’ journalistically.

Said biscuits are especially tricky if you’re not a Welsh language speaker yourself.

Which is why it’s particularly difficult to understand the decision of the Western Mail editor to publish a front page comment article, written in what can only be politely described as intemperate language, attacking the cost of translation services in the Welsh Assembly.

The story summarized is this: Eight Welsh Assembly Ministers have proposed that the written records of every meeting that takes place in National Assembly be translated into Welsh.

The piece, by veteran Welsh political reporter Martin Shipton, cites a ’senior Assembly source’, as saying that the cost of this translation could be up to £400,000 a year.

The article is written as a comment piece and an editorial, stating with a confidence that I suspect is rapidly dissipating this morning that, ‘We say that at a time when budgets are squeezed and public services are being cut, this is a luxury we cannot afford.’

The front page, as pictured above right, also has a number of mug shots of the Assembly Members, above an exasperated headline (incidentally not used online) – ‘An astounding £400k on translation: What world are these AMs living in?’

There are a number of interesting questions that immediately come out of the article.

How accurate is the front page figure of £400k? And why was the issue handled in such a clunky way?

Rather than investigate the issue in depth posing the pros and cons the Western Mail decided it would be better to tell their readers what to think (a dangerous move at the best of times – particularly so with the Welsh), and to mock the Assembly members proposing the translation changes.

Predictably the response when the front page was Tweeted last night was in general furious – this unsurprisingly has continued this morning.

Some of the choice comments from politicians include,

Paul Flynn @Paulflynnmp

Western Mail commits commercial suicide. Nothing on the extraordinary expense of Olympics & Jubilee but gleeful on attacks on Welsh speakers.

Leighton Andrews @LeightonAndrews

Wasn’t the Western Mail editor recently campaigning to keep the Welsh Government spending public money on ads in a paper read by very few?

Alun Davies @AlunDaviesAM

I am appalled to see this morning’s Western Mail. As a Welsh speaker I do not want to waste money on a paper that attacks my language.

Elsewhere comments were equally scathing

Myfanwy Davies @DrMyfanwyDavies

What’s the point of self proclaimed national newspaper that undermines the national language? #westernfail

Jonathan Davies @jmd1004

400k spent on translators, 1.3bn spent on the Jubilee… enough said #Westernfail

melys @MelysMedia

The Western Mail will not be darkening the desks at Melys HQ in future. #westernfail

…and you know you’re in trouble when the weather girl gets involved:

Sian Lloyd @SianWeather

@WesternMail_Ed @Walesonline Have you lost your marbles guys? #westernfail

There is clearly a debate to be had over the cost of translation and how worthwhile a measure this would be, as Welsh political commentator Daran Hill puts it,

“Translation services always come with a cost. As a general rule I’ve always preferred that simultaneous verbal translation is prioritised over written translation if a choice has to be made.

But there is a big difference between translating obscure documents and the democratic proceedings of our national parliament.

The Committee members are not being extremist in suggesting committee proceedings of The Assembly be translated. It is a perfectly mainstream and principled position to take.”

Undoubtedly a complex issue then.

But Hill, like many others points out that the language of the article today was unusually strident, and that’s perhaps why the Western Mail is reaping the whirlwind…”

Dewi over on Slugger O’Toole reaches similar conclusions.

All in all a depressing few days for our Celtic cousins in the east.

UPDATE: Thanks to Daithí Mac Lochlainn for a link to this latest news from Cornwall, featured on An Helghyer.

Mebyon Kernow – The Party For Cornwall

Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall, is currently engaged on a drive to recruit more members and activists following renewed interest in the Cornish nationalist movement. More over on Breselyerkeltic for those interested in joining or donating to the party.

Cornwall Awakening

To my shame I’ve written relatively little about the nationalist movement in Cornwall, in some ways the almost forgotten nation of the modern Celtic world, but an article in the Guardian thankfully highlights some of the more recent political developments there:

“When Loveday Jenkin was growing up, the Cornish flag was rarely seen. Now the white cross on a black background is ubiquitous, fluttering outside county hall in Truro and printed on everything from souvenir boxes of fudge to pasty packaging and car bumper stickers.

“I think it shows what a long way we’ve come in just a few years,” says Jenkin, the latest member of Mebyon Kernow (MK) – the Party for Cornwall – to be elected to Cornwall council. “Everyone is so much more aware that we are separate, different, not a part of England and should have the right to govern ourselves.”

Scotland has its own parliament, while the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland are maturing nicely. And in the far south-west MK is leading the campaign for a referendum on a Cornish assembly.

It is demanding a meeting with David Cameron and Nick Clegg to ask why a petition of 50,000 names, the equivalent of a tenth of the Cornish adult population, appears to have been ignored. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru, has laid down an early-day motion in the Commons supporting the call for devolution.

MK, which has just celebrated its 60th birthday, is beginning to do well in local elections, holding five seats on Cornwall council – four more than Labour. The party hopes that the unpopularity of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition will lead to it taking a leap forward at the next general election, and believes it is starting to attract younger voters disillusioned with the bigger parties.

“Being Cornish is about belonging to the place of Cornwall but also having a particular way of thinking about things,” says Jenkin, a biochemist.

“We do things differently. Our culture is different, we have our own language. People ask why I identify myself as Cornish. It’s simply because I am Cornish. We have more in common with Brittany and Wales than the south-east of England but we’re subsumed into English decision-making.”

Like Plaid, MK often talks about social justice. Dick Cole, the party’s leader who gave up his job as an archaeologist to become a full-time councillor, says that over the past 40 years Cornwall’s economy has been fractured.

“Jobs have been lost, centralised out of here,” he said. “Cornwall is now one of the worst places for wages and the living costs are getting ever higher. We are one of the most deprived areas and the over-centralised nature of the British state has done us no good.”

Cole and Jenkin are veteran MK activists but believe a new generation is beginning to take an interest; people such as John Rowe, a 25-year-old MK parish councillor.

Like many young Cornish people, Rowe admits he did not understand his identity until he left his family farm to go to university in Bath. “It may sound trite but I did not realise what Cornwall was all about until I left it,” he said.

Rowe noticed not only the cultural differences – the language, the art – but also the economic differences between a relatively wealthy city such as Bath and the former mining town where he grew up, Camborne.”

With the electoral successes of the SNP in Scotland and the upcoming referendum on independence a new consciousness has awakened in the Celtic nations of Britain, one that can see beyond current or past limitations. In Wales the leadership contest in Plaid Cymru has brought to the fore the two competing ideologies of the party, regionalist and nationalist, with Leanne Wood leading the campaign on behalf of progressive nationalism. It can only be hoped that Mebyon Kernow will be able to seize the moment on behalf of the people of Cornwall and gain the recognition of the country’s right to national self-expression that many desire, politically as well as culturally.

Brittany And Cornwall – The Return Of The Celtic Nations

Modern flag of Brittany (the Gwenn-ha-du, made...

A late post on some news from December of last year as the Celtic League carries a story with major implications for the partitioned Celtic nation of Breizh (Brittany).

“The French Parliament has voted in favour of a change in the law that could herald the reunification of Brittany.

In the evening of Wednesday 21st December 2011 the French Parliament voted in favour of allowing residents of a department to hold a referendum without the agreement of other residents of the region.

The change in the law could potentially mean that residents of the Loire Atlantique department, which forms part of the historic nation of Brittany and includes the historic Breton capital city of Naoned (Nantes), will be able to vote in favour of unification without having to convince others in the region to do the same. In 1941 the Loire Atlantique department was merged with the French Pays de la Loire region by the Fascist Vichy Government, which it has remained a part of ever since.

It has been reported that there is widespread support among the people of the Loire Atlantique department for reunification with Brittany and similarly people in Brittany are in favour of this piece of their historic territory returning to them. Within the last decade in particular there has been a growing movement among activists to raise the profile of the campaign to reunify Brittany. In June this year a mass demonstration took place in Naoned (Nantes) that attracted 5000 people. The aim of the protesters was to apply pressure on the French presidential candidates, in time for elections in 2012, to come out in support of Breton unification. In June 2010 the Breton Regional Council voted in favour of a motion on the `territorial collective’ of Brittany, which recognized the Loire Atlantique department as part of the traditional territory of Brittany.

Currently the Pays de la Loire region has approximately 3.5 million residents, with 1.3 million of these people inhabiting the Loire Atlantique Department. The new law could potentially mean that the 1.3 million residents of the Loire Atlantique Department can vote on whether they want their department to return to Breton control, without the approval of the other 2.2 million residents of the Pays de la Loire region. For the Loire Atlantique electorate to be able to decide whether their department is reunited with Brittany, without having to convince the rest of the Pays de la Loire region is a significant development, because traditionally the inhabitants of the Pays de la Loire region outside of the Loire Atlantique Department have been against reunification.

Naoned (Nantes) is an economically strong region in its own right and currently the capital of the Pays de la Loire region. The president of the Pays de la Loire region, who is one of the biggest opponents of reunification, said he was “surprised” by the vote. A close advisor to French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Franck Louvrier, said he was pleased by the draft amendment, arguing that the idea of giving the Loire Atlantique Department back to Brittany was “decidedly favourable” and welcomed the development, which he said was a democratic move.

The draft text of the bill will now need to go before the French parliament’s upper house, the Senate, for approval.”

Given the French state’s general antipathy to Brittany and the Breton people one can only hope for the best. Meanwhile WalesOnline reports that:

“A campaign for devolution for Cornwall is being backed by Plaid Cymru.

Plaid MP Jonathan Edwards, who represents Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, launched an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling “for the formation of a democratically elected Cornish assembly to take decisions for the benefit of the people of Cornwall”.

The motion commemorates the 10th anniversary of the presentation of a petition to Downing Street signed by 50,000 people, equivalent to 10% of Cornwall’s population, demanding a referendum on devolution.

Mr Edwards said the campaign chimed with Plaid’s call for greater powers for the National Assembly.

“The Cornish people feel they have a distinct national identity and that needs to be reflected,” he said.”

There is more news on this important development here and here.

Celtic Nationalism: Six Nations, One Soul

Some good news for all Celtic Nationalists. Carn, the regular news, current affairs and culture magazine of the Celtic League is now online, with all editions of the publication from 1973 to 2010 available to download for free from the League’s website. This new initiative is to mark the 50th anniversary of the Celtic League’s foundation in 1961 as an organisation to promote the freedom and unity of the surviving Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and Brittany, a role which has led to it being officially recognised by the United Nations.

Carn itself is a treasure trove of information on the Celtic Nations, their languages, cultures, histories and politics, and it noted for the very many insightful articles on current issues effecting the Celtic countries. I highly recommend a look through the archives. You might be surprised by what you find there.

For those wanting to know more about the Celtic League and the excellent work they do to promote the spirit of solidarity and community amongst the Celtic peoples then check out their website here. There is a much-praised and regular up-to-date mailing list with the latest news from both the League itself and across the Celtic world in general, that is highly recommended if you are looking for an introduction to the growing politics of Celtic Nationalism. Details about joining the Celtic League, which is open to everyone with an interest (or passion), is available here.

The League is close to a similar Pan-Celtic organisation, An Chomhdháil Cheilteach or the Celtic Congress, founded in 1902 as a cultural rather than political organisation it promotes the native languages and cultures of the Celtic Nations. The Congress is partly funded by the Government of Ireland and has members in all the Celtic countries, though unlike the League it is markedly more low-profile and is rarely active outside of the academic fields. Most of its work involves bringing together people in the areas of Celtic research, scholarship and education and in recent decades it has, sadly, played little role in promoting the Celtic languages and cultures to the general public. Perhaps increased funding and focus from the Irish state could change that but at the moment it is largely a scholarly enterprise, though a praiseworthy one.

The Celtic Congress is very regrettably not open to a general membership though the representatives in the various Celtic nations can be contacted here.

Another great organisation, though Pan-Gaelic rather than Pan-Celtic, is the Iomairt Cholm Cille or Columba Project, jointly set up and funded by the governments of Ireland and Scotland in 1997. The Project promotes the shared Gaelic languages and cultures of the Irish and Scots, and is probably the most active of the state-supported groups, with numerous programs running in the areas of education, heritage, sports, music, literature and media. It is noteworthy for having brought together politicians and civil servants from Ireland and Scotland in promoting and overseeing these programs and is at the forefront of encouraging a sense of common identity amongst these two Gaelic nations.

Those seeking funding can apply here or contact the Project directly via here.

Though absent from its initial foundation it is hoped that the third Gaelic nation, the Isle of Man, will in time join the Project, though the Mann’s recent governments have shown little enthusiasm in co-operating with their fellow Gaels, particularly in the areas of funding and language rights. The Isle of Man has a particularly poor record for respecting the rights of those expressing a native Gaelic identity and most initiatives there have been community-based with minimal or no state input.

Another important organisation is the Féile Pan Cheilteach or the Pan Celtic Festival, a body that stages an annual festival on a consecutive basis throughout the Celtic nations, as well as promoting and coordinating individual celebrations in Brittany, Cornwall, Wales and the Isle of Man. The individual national committees can be contacted here.

Finally to the famous Agence Bretagne Presse or ABP. Founded in 2003 as a voice for the indigenous Celtic people of Breizh or Brittany, who still face the active hostility of the French state towards their language and culture, it has become something of a beacon amongst Celtic Nationalists, since it carries stories on all the Celtic nations, with regular articles on the Celtic League and other Pan-Celtic organisations. Recently re-launched it is a shining example of what a group of committed Celtic activists are capable of in this web 2.0 age (or are we now entering 3.0?). Available in Breton, French and English the site is in constant need of contributors from the Celtic Nations so if you feel you have what it takes please contact them.