Editorial: A petition calling for Luxembourgish to be made the official language of the Grand Duchy has broken all records and sparked fresh debate about the identity of the country.
And so, here we go again. Thanks to a gentleman by the name of Lucien Welter, the passionate debate surrounding the role of the Luxembourgish language in the country has been reignited.
Mr. Welter, undoubtedly with good intention, submitted public petition no.698 to the Chambre des Députés website on 16 August. By the end of September, and with three weeks to go before its 24 October deadline, the number of supporters who had signed the petition was approaching 14,000. That is by far the most ever for a public petition since signature via the website was made possible, and well over the 4,500 required to force a parliamentary commission debate.
The petition calls “to legally secure the Luxembourg language as the no.1 administrative and national language for all residents of Luxembourg.” Reaction and counter-reaction on social media was swift, often sarcastic, and at times fierce. The petition was dismissed as nonsense by many because the cost and practical logistics of translating all existing laws and administrative documents into Luxembourgish would be prohibitive. Others still were genuinely afraid that the move to protect the national language would be seized on by populists or even nationalists, and that it would discriminate against the majority non-Luxembourg population.
Singer and actor Serge Tonnar, who performs almost exclusively in Luxembourgish, said he would not be signing the petition. But he weighed in with the argument that “so-called intellectuals” who attacked its author and signatories were still failing to intelligently address in public the notions of identity, nationhood and the language. “They leave the monopoly in this discussion to the populists, and then wonder why.”
It is this question of identity that is at the core of a debate that rears its head persistently--last year the question of Luxembourgish was at the heart of the referendum on foreigners voting rights. And the level of language proficiency required to acquire dual nationality is still being hotly discussed, even as the new law is about to come into effect.
Many Luxembourgers are concerned that their language will die unless others are forced to learn it. They are annoyed that they have to speak French in many shops and restaurants. But evidence shows that the language is alive and well. Many restaurants and shops are encouraging their staff to learn at least some Luxembourgish. And never before has so much culture--film, theatre, music--been made in Luxembourgish. The problem is, as one social media commentator pointed out, that many defenders of the Luxembourg language prefer to watch German television at home rather than go to the cinema or the theatre to watch a Luxembourg-language production.
The petition is a well-meaning folly, and it should be dismissed by the parliamentary commission as thus. But politicians at national and local level must tackle the problem of the language and its role in national identity. There is a genuine need to make learning Luxembourgish more accessible and easier to practice. Sadly, there is still a large disconnect between the expat population and Luxembourgers outside of Tonnar’s sphere of “so-called intellectuals”. And as long as that gap persists those learning the language will not get the chance they deserve to use it, and both sides lose out.