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Sunday, October 31, 2004

Nationalism and the Welsh language

Wales on Sunday this morning, reports that Welsh language extremists have launched their first direct action campaign for a decade. Cymdeithas yr Iaith members, they say, are prepared to break the law by targeting big names on the High Street until private companies are required by law to be bilingual. However, the Minister has said that he will not give in to such tactics, whilst other politicians have warned that these activists will put firms off from investing in Wales.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline of the Welsh language in its heartlands is economic. A low wage economy, a poor record of inward investment, and a shortage of jobs has led to people moving out from these areas in search of work. Those who are left find themselves priced out of the housing market as others move in. Important as bilingualism is therefore, surely the number one priority in protecting the Welsh language must be economic regeneration. That means working with firms not frightening them through direct action.

At the other end of the scale the Wales on Sunday also reports shocking violence and disrespect for the Welsh flag at football games last week. English football thugs allegedly burned the Welsh flag, hurled racist abuse at police and sexually harassed a heavily pregnant woman as they ran riot in Wrexham. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be stamped out. Some would argue that it has nothing to do with nationalism and they would be right. However, an increasing awareness of national identity created by various movements and protests can add fuel to the tribalism that runs through much football rivalry. All it takes is for a group of thugs to latch onto this and abuse it. It is an excuse, not a reason, but it is no less disturbing for that.

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