Key Welsh language campaigner Gareth Miles dies at 85
Gareth Miles, a Marxist who was one of the most influential figures in the 20th Century Welsh language movement, has died at the age of 85.
Born in Caernarfon and growing up in the nearby village of Waunfawr before settling in Pontypridd, he was one of the founders of Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society.
He worked as a teacher of English and French at schools in Amlwch, Wrexham and Dyffryn Nantlle before becoming the national organiser of the Welsh teachers’ union UCAC.
Mr Miles published several books and won the Book of the Year award in 2008 for his novel The Prophet and his Two Jezebels.
In an interview with the BBC in 2003 he declared that Karl Marx was the person he admired the most “because he more than anyone enabled us to understand the modern world and its complexities, and previous eras as well”.
Rob Griffiths, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, was one of his closest friends. He said: “Gareth Miles made an enormous contribution to cultural and political life in Wales and internationally as a founder member of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, and as a novelist, playwright and political activist. He helped lead the earliest non-violent, direct action campaigns to win equal status for the Welsh language in practice as well as in law, serving time in prison.
“He was Welsh-language novelist of the year for his witty and insightful work, served as a full-time official for UCAC and, politically, he went from Plaid Cymru to the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement and then – for the past four decades – into the Communist Party and the management committee of the Morning Star daily newspaper.
“A warm, generous and wise friend and comrade to me and many other people, Gareth was also an outstanding internationalist, a leader of the Wales Anti-Apartheid Movement, a fluent French speaker and a champion of the oppressed and exploited around the world. He leaves a huge void to fill, but his life and work will be celebrated for a long time to come – not least during next year’s National Eisteddfod in Pontypridd, where Gareth, wife Gina and three daughters Elen, Branwen and Eiry made their home for many decades after he arrived there from Waunfawr near Caernarfon, via Wrexham.”
Cymdeithas yr Iaith issued a statement which said: “Gareth Miles was one of our founders, chairing the organisation between 1967 and 1968.
“While reflecting on the success of the Cymdeithas yr Iaith in a recent interview with Cymdeithas, he said: ‘The biggest success is that the Welsh language and Welsh culture are so prosperous despite everyone and everything. The culture, our literature and Welsh education are succeeding.’
“Looking back on his chairmanship, he prided himself on preserving the unity of the movement and defending the policy of non-violence. He was also instrumental in the sign painting campaign [which involved defacing English only signage]. He defended it, saying: ‘Certainly, we had fun with it. Every time we see a Welsh sign, Cymdeithas can congratulate itself’.”
Ffred Ffransis, himself a lifelong language campaigner who became part of the organisation when its chair was Mr Miles, said: “Gareth chaired Cymdeithas yr Iaith in an invaluable way by speaking and encouraging young new members.
Above all, he gave us all the assurance that the fight for the Welsh language is part of a wider global fight for social justice, and putting people ahead of corporate interests. We owe him a huge debt.”
Robat Idris, the current chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, added: “Besides his contribution as founder and chair, Gareth Miles introduced and rooted the idea that still runs through the work of Cwmdeithas, that the struggle for the language is integral to social justice and part of the global struggle against imperialist and capitalist power. That is an integral part of our vision to this day.
“His passing is a loss for the national movement, the socialist movement and the left in Wales, but above all it is a loss for his family.”
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