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Proposal for Italian as official language in Constitution - Lega Nord defends minorities

Brussels 26/2/02 , by Margret Oberhofer
This week the Chamber of Deputies will take a decision to possibly change the Italian constitution, adding to article 12 that Italian is the official language of the state. The amendment was initiated by rightwing party Alleanza nazionale (AN) and gets support by the majority of the political parties, including the center-leftwing opposition. Lega Nord, the Northern Italian party which promotes strong federalism for their own created region ‘Padania’, however stands up and wants to defend the rights of the linguistic minorities in Italy. ‘Amending article 12 could contradict the provision of article 3 and 6 of the same document. They guarantee the obligation to protect all the linguistic minorities and the equality of all citizens, regardless, among others, their language’, says the leader of Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, according to Italian broadcaster RAI net.

According to the initiative takers of the amendment, the bill will help to fight ‘strong separatist tensions that are spreading beyond the historical minorities of the Italian territory, into larger areas of the national territory on the basis of the ethnic identity or dialects, sometimes not existing.’

‘The explanatory report is clearly stamped by a nationalist spirit, as it wants to prevent situations like in South Tyrol’, says Karl Zeller, deputy of the Italian Chamber for the South Tyrolean Peoples Party (SVP). He refers to the special autonomous status of the Northern Italian province with its German-speaking and Ladin minorities. ‘It’s not a law in favour of Italian but a law against minorities,’ Zeller tells Eurolang. Convinced that the law will pass with a big majority, the deputy of the Chamber handed in some amendments to the law in order to prevent the worst from happening. ‘We want to have a written addition, guaranteeing that minority rights are not affected.’

Erminia Mazzoni from CCD-CDU, the Italian Christian democrats, tries to calm down the emotions of minority representatives. She promises that the law from 1999, protecting the minorities in Italy, will not be touched. ‘We are all European citizens and it's important to emphasize elements like the language, the culture and the flag that characterize our history and our nation.’

‘Writing down in the constitution that Italian is the language of the state is simply against the principle of freedom’, contracdicts Mario Borghezio, MEP for Lega Nord. ‘And if you look at reality objectively, you realize that more languages are spoken in Italy.’

Lega Nord gives the Spanish constitution as an example on how things could be handled. Apart from Spanish (Castilian) also Catalan, Galician and Basque are mentioned as official languages in their specific regions.

The supporters of the Italian amendent however have other examples in mind when urging for the constitutional addition. Cosimo Ventucci, Under-Secretary of State for relations with the parliament, sees the need to approve this law ‘in analogy with other countries where the Constitution clearly establishes an official language at the national level.'

‘Not all European states have a provision in their constitution stating that the X language is the official one. Some examples are the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany or Denmark. These are states where there is no political discussion on which is the main language, as they have what is known as de facto official languages. This means that it is generally accepted that a certain language is in fact also the official language,’ explains a legal expert from Mercator-Legislation/Ciemen, a European organisation dealing with linguistic laws.

In the meantime Alleanza Libera Europea - the European Free Alliance - has started collecting signatures 'in the name of human rights and linguistic pluralism' against Italian as official language in the Constitution. The petition warns that this addition to could affect activities in local languages - schools, theatres et cetera - as they could be considered 'illegal' or 'unconstitutional' by some judges. (EL)


Constitutional proposal to make Italian official language 'is really dangerous for minority languages', says minority law expert

Turin 25/3/02 , by Marco Stolfo
'This proposal is really dangerous for minority languages in Italy', says Felice Besostri, former Member of the Senate and rapporteur on the Italian Law n° 482/99, which protects the historical linguistic minorities. Besostri isn’t in doubt on what could be the consequences if the Italian Parliament will accept to add to article 12 of the Constitution that ‘Italian is the official language of the State’.

Last weekend Besostri was in Lanzo Torinese, an Italian town situated in the Franco-Provençal area of Piedmont. He participated in the international meeting 'Linguistic Minorities: Perspectives about the Feasibility of a Law', organized by the Provincial Administration of Turin and dedicated to dicussing the implementation of Law n° 482/99.

Article 1 of Law n° 482/99 states that Italian is the official language of the State. This is the same phrase, which is currently being proposed to add to article 12 of the Constitution. Besostri told Eurolang that 'a Law is a Law and the Constitution is the Constitution. When we were working on the text which became Law n° 482/99, we had to add this phrase to it. The law was the result of an amendment of the opposition, expressing fear of supposed strong separatist tensions connected to the recognition of historical linguistic minorities. It was sort of a compromise we had to accept for approving this Law which is very important for the minorities in Italy'.

'In the case of this proposal to reform article 12 of the Constitution, there is a convergence between the supporters of the unity of the Italian State against Europe or in favour of Europe, and the supporters of the Italian language against English and against minority languages. This eventual constitutional change is a strong threat to linguistic pluralism and it wouldn’t benefit anything'.

Valter Giuliano, the Councillor for Culture of the Province of Turin, who promoted the meeting in Lanzo Torinese, seemed to be less troubled by this eventuality. 'I think that article 6 of the Constitution, stating 'the Republic protects linguistic minorities with special Laws', can secure minority languages anyway', he said.

The weekend meeting focused on what universities and local institutions can do to protect and promote minority languages. Therefore the specific subject of the proposal of Italian as official language of the state, didn’t emerge during the discussions. Not even after the report of Jeanine Elisa Médélice (Stendhal University, Grenoble) who spoke about the bad situation of minority languages in France, whose Constitution contains an article stating that French is the only official language of the state.

The meeting consisted of speeches and debates on research, didactics and experimental projects, and two final documents were written: one about the role of universities, and the second referring to the implementation of Law 482/99 in the media. The Law provides specific obligations and tasks for the public broadcaster (Rai).

'In organising meetings like this - Giuliano explained - our aim is to create a confrontation between different experiences in these fields. In our territory, which is inhabited by communities whose mother languages are Franco-Provençal, Occitan and French, institutions and associations need to know what happens in other minority language areas, in order to compare situations, problems and solutions for recognizing, choosing and doing the best for our realities'. (