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Thousands rally against closure of Basque school in south-west France

Basque lettering on a funerary stela
Basque lettering on a funerary stela Open access/Wikipedia

Over 5,000 people demonstrated against the closure of an infant school teaching the Basque language in the town of Ciboure in the French Basque country. Primary education in minority languages is technically banned in France, although it is tolerated by some local autorities.


Several thousand demonstrators, some coming from over the Spanish border, lined the seafront at Ciboure in a protest at the threatened eviction of an ikastola, a primary school that gives lessons in the Basque language.

The school, which has 13 pupils aged between two and four, has been housed in a prefabricated building on council-owned land and has become a symbol for campaigners for the Basque language since its lease ran out at the end of July.

In September a court ordered the ikastola to leave the premises and last week the local mayor, Guy Poulou of the right-wing UMP party, cut off the water, heating and electricity.

Negotiations to find new premises have failed but Poulou has said he will not ask police to clear the building.

Since the state does not provide education in minority languages ikastolas and calandretas, which teach in the Occitan language, are technically private establishments and are not supposed to receive aid from the state for building work.

But they are tolerated and there are 31 ikastolas, with 3,000 pupils, in France.

A government circular in May left local mayors some leeway in providing support and premises.

The federation of ikastolas, Seaska, which organised Saturday’s protest, is demanding recognition as a public service that is keeping the Basque language from dying out.

Local MP Sylviane Alaux, a member of President François Hollande’s Socialist Party, joined the demonstration, as did a number of local councillors.

The number of people who can speak Basque in France is on the decline, according to a 2011 study that found 22 per cent of the French Basque country’s inhabitants over the age of 16 could speak the language, compared to 27 per cent in 1996.

The number is rising in the Spanish Basque country, where it became a co-official language after the fall of General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.

About half of the Spanish Basque country’s population are either speak the language or have a good understanding of it.

Breton (North-West)
Language group: Celtic
Number of speakers: 250,000 (out of 1.5 million)

Alsacien (North-East)
Language group: Germanic
Number of speakers: 900,000 (out of 1.7 million)

Francique (North-East)
Language group: Germanic
Number of speakers: 400,000 (out of 2.3 million)

Flemish (North-East)
Language group: Germanic
Number of speakers: 20,000-40,000 (out of 1.4 million)

Langues d’oïl (North)
Language group: Romance
Number of speakers: 204,000 (out of 35 million)

Basque (South-West)
Language group: Basque
Number of speakers: 40,000-100,000 (out of 260,000)

Franco-provençal (South-East)
Language group: Romance
Number of speakers: 150,000 (out of 6 million)

Catalan (South-East)
Language group: Romance
Number of speakers: 126,000 (out of 370,000)

Occitan (South)
Language group: Romance
Number of speakers: 3 million (out of 13 million)

Corse (Corsica)
Language group: Romance
Number of speakers: 150,000 (out of 250,000)

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