NWR Issue 30

English in Wales

Towards the Millennium is the title of a collection of essays on the arts scene in Wales just published by the Gregynog Press. Purporting to describe the artistic climate in Wales " at a turning point in his history", its most noteworthy feature is an hysterical attack upon the Welsh language cultural industries by the Welsh film maker, Kari Francis. A paid-up member of the conspiracy theory of history, Mr Francis accuses the Welsh language community of being a 'racist clique', which has excluded thousands of actors, writers, directors, poets, publishers, dramatists, technicians from the means of production and distribution of artistic wealth of Wales in the last thirty years.

He reserves particular abuse for S4C, the Welsh Fourth Channel. " S4C is a child of Thatcher. And there are many children of her lie. Children who ask that that they be treated like victims but have become oppressors. They ask to be favoured like Israelites after the Holocaust when in fact they behave like Africans after Soweto. The total absence of black Welsh writers and actors from our culture is an indictment of the Welsh Rule."

"English is an Irish language in which Irish literature, drama poetry and film flourishes. English is a Welsh language in which nothing flourishes. We wish to flourish. To excel, to be our best. By fearing us and nailing us to a the cross, you crucify yourself. The disease is with us all. Cultural anorexia in the English language, cultural obesity in the Welsh. We must be free of this hypocrisy, nepotism and greed."

As an English language literary magazine devoted to Welsh writing in English, New Welsh Review firmly disassociates itself from Mr Francis's comments. This is necessary because he claims to be speaking on behalf of the 80 per cent of people in Wales who do not speak Welsh, a key constituency of this magazine. Any fair-minded person living in Wales today recognises that the cultural- i.e. civic-rights which the Welsh language enjoys today are the result of an uphill battle to win concessions from an, at best, indifferent or, at worst, hostile British state stretching back over several generations. It has involved idealistic young people risking, and often suffering, imprisonment. S4C is a child not of Thatcher but of Gwynfor Evans.

This is not to say that the Anglo-Welsh condition is without its frustrations and difficulties. It so happens, the current number of the New Welsh Review carries two articles - one by Joseph P. Clancy (p. 36) and other by Mark Jenkins (p.74) - which approach the subject from two very different perspectives. But unlike Mr Francis they don't seek to blame the frustrations of serving the Anglo-Welsh audience in Wales on concessions secured for Welsh language culture.

The New Welsh Review knows full well the potential constituency of Anglo-Welsh literature is at least the whole population of Wales, as it is for films and plays. But as the critic Tony Conran has commented (Sec NWR No.15), compared with Welsh speakers, the English-speaking majority in Wales displays great disunity of purpose and outlook and very little cohesion as a specifically Welsh group.

Instead of blaming those responsible for Welsh language culture - a far higher proportion of whom, it must be emphasised, also support Anglo-Welsh cultural products like the New Welsh Review than do the non-Welsh speaking majority - people like Mr Francis need to recognise that their fundamental problem arises from Wales's political condition.

In Mr Conran's words, "... Many people from all walks of life seem quite content to regard living in Wales as living in a region of England, and are upset when events show them that their contentment is misplaced.... It almost seems as though the loss of the Welsh language implies a disinterest in all home-produced culture and a complete acceptance of .. provincial status."

Without the Welsh language, Wales's cultural industries would be a shadow of their present selves. Wales would be treated merely as a region of England and the possibility of Mr Francis being able to make films "at home" rather than in London - apparently the answer to his frustration - would not arise.


previous editorial: Ken Saro-Wiwa
next editorial: Writers and the Nobel Prize


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