Mother language day - From apartheid to immersion

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Cultural repression also exists when majority languages are persecuted         
Voces Layetanas
Concordia Catalana 21/02/2022 3028

We have all heard of Apartheid. South Africa and Namibia were subjected by a white minority to a shameful system of racial segregation that divided its citizens into two groups according to their skin color. For many adults, this barbarity seems like something from a long, long time ago, while (for example) we remember the Barcelona Olympics as if they happened yesterday (at least those of us who are over 45 years old) and find it hard to believe that the year in which apartheid ended was the same in which the Olympic flame rested in Barcelona.

But although the essence of that discrimination was racism, one aspect that no South African forgets is cultural repression. Despite an English-speaking majority, the elitist white minority wanted to impose Afrikaans as the only language, because language was a key factor in the nation-building of South African nationalism. The English language, majority and global, meant for South Africans a cultural link with the British, and that did not please the nationalists, who rejected the links they considered colonial in favor of their own language.

Therefore, a policy of linguistic substitution was added to the well-known racial segregation in schools, denying children their right to be educated in their mother tongue. Afrikaans was a minority language, but it was the language of the nationalist regime, so the National Party imposed it as the sole vehicular language in all schools, whether white or black. Students and teachers rebelled and were harshly repressed by the regime, causing hundreds of deaths, including among children.

What happened in that period not only made the world aware, even more, of the senselessness of racial segregation, but also that minorities are not always marginalized and repressed, because sometimes, when an elitist minority controls power and benefits from an unfair electoral law and superior resources, it can suppress the culture and rights of a majority.

The United Nations holds the obvious consensus that all languages ​​must be preserved and that all citizens have the right to develop in their mother tongue. For this reason, UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, established February 21 as International Mother Language Day in 1999, a right that should be evident but is still denied by politicians whose objectives do not prioritize the rights of their citizens.

This is what happens today in Catalonia, when in front of the schools where some parents ask for their children the right to study in their own language, demonstrations are organized with pro-independence flags. Like this weekend in Esplugues del Llobregat, when a small group of activists from Arràn shouted in front of a Escuela de Todos (Everybody's school) tent (which required the protection of the Mossos d'Esquadra) while unfurling a banner that cried out: "For the language and for the land, young people on the warpath". Because when the language is repressed, it's usually for political reasons.

Because the trees, the mountains or the sand that covers the ground don't speak English or Afrikaans, nor Spanish or Catalan. Culture, and especially the mother language, is the heritage of people, and should never be denied.

That's the right that is claimed today throughout the world.



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