This is why it’s so hard to talk about the future of Welsh-speaking communities

Aberaeron in Ceredigion. Picture by Heather Smithers (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Rhys Llwyd

How best to preserve Welsh-language communities is an issue it seems that politicians from all parties have been unwilling to get to grips with.

This may have changed recently with the concept of ‘Arfor’ as set forth by highly regarded Assembly Member Adam Price.

According to Adam Price’s plan, Arfor would be a single local authority for west Wales, uniting Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Gwynedd, and Môn.

The region would be given significant powers over housing, agriculture, tourism, and language.

But the reaction to Arfor – here on Nation.Cymru and on social media – suggests that little of the heat has gone out of this debate.

Why has the issue of Welsh-speaking communities become so much of a political hot potato for politicians, including those in Plaid Cymru, over the past decades?

Adfer

Part of the answer lies back in the 1970s and an acrimonious falling out between a movement called ‘Adfer’ (Restore) and the Welsh language society – Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg.

In 1972 the philosopher J.R. Jones argued that nationalists needed to turn their backs completely on Britishness and create a ‘new Wales’.

The way to do this according to Emyr Llewelyn was to create a Welsh language society with its own institutions – a kind of nation within a nation – similar in territorial scope to Arfor.

Adfer was set up with an emphasis on creating a territory set aside for the Welsh-speaking Welsh.

Welsh speakers in other parts of the country were encouraged to move there and live their lives in Welsh.

In 1976 Emyr Llewelyn published a book Adfer a’r Fro Gymraeg (Adfer and the Welsh-speaking land), which set out his argument in great detail.

For those of us, like me, who were not alive during this period it’s worth having a look at this book in order to fully appreciate how Adfer’s philosophy managed to alienate so many people!

By doing so, we can understand why so many people today react so passionately when discussing plans to protect Welsh-speaking communities.

Terrifying

The main impression when reading the book is that it is philosophically naive and written in a way that would inevitably put off most readers.

For instance, in one section he attempts to explain that it is easier for the Welshman to become an Englishman than it is for ‘the black man’ because ‘how ever much he scrubs his colour stays with him’!

In another section, he discusses, sincerely enough, the need for a people to claim ownership of their own homeland.

But then he suggests that it was a lack of homeland that made the Jews ‘such a spineless creature that was willing to be led like a sheep to the gas chamber’!

These examples demonstrate why Adfer’s world view was extremely problematic even in the 1970s – and terrifying in the present day.

There are other problems too. In his foreword, Ieuan Wyn discusses Welshness as a ‘spiritual’ force.

‘Adfer’s work,’ he says, ‘is to bring a spiritual vision to Welsh nationalism…’

Emyr Llewelyn calls this cryptic essence that belongs to the Welsh ‘eneidfaeth’ – a kind of spiritual substance – which ‘feeds the souls of men.’

‘I call it a spiritual substance because it comes from men’s spirits – it is yielded from the spirits of those who came before us,’ he says.

Reaction

One of the country’s leading nationalist thinkers, and a prominent theologian, R. Tudur Jones, wrote a scathing review of the book in the Tafod, the Welsh language society’s magazine, in 1977.

The title he chose for his review – Cysgod y Swastika (the shadow of the swastika) – gives us some idea as to its contents.

In the first part of the article, Tudur Jones portrays the ideology of Adfer as if it was a Welsh version of the ideology of Hitler and Nazism.

He notes that the book is full of the philosophy of Comte, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling and Alfred Rosenberg, before noting that this philosophical tradition ‘reached its terrible apex in the tyranny of the Third Reich’.

Tudur Jones’s main criticism was the idea of ‘enedifaeth’. He argued that this idea was key to understanding Adfer because this nebulous concept allowed them to ‘discriminate between the fake Welsh and the real Welsh.’

This is the attitude that has still left its scars on the minds of some Welsh speakers from outside Welsh-speaking communities who were sneered at by Adfer members in the 1970s and the 1980s.

Regret

It can be argued that Adfer and R. Tudur Jones’ explosive response to its ideology made the idea of a ‘Welsh-speaking region’ that should be protected an unattractive one up to the present day.

Even though R. Tudur Jones argued from a philosophical and religious perspective it is likely that his scathing review had a political aim as well. Adfer’s views could have caused the national movement real damage and needed to be stopped.

Plaid Cymru leader Gwynfor Evans wrote to R. Tudur Jones saying that ‘some are reluctant to see a difference of opinion among nationalists’ aired in such a public way. Nevertheless, they had to ‘clear the air’. He hoped that ‘Emyr and the others would be more careful in future’.

But when R. Tudur Jones received a request by Gomer Press in 1981 to translate his review for an education package about Welsh identity, he expressed some regret.

‘I am not sure’, he said, ‘whether I am happy to see this old controversy revived. My two articles all but destroyed Emyr Llewelyn – and it certainly put paid to Adfer.’

He also expressed dismay that his review inhibited some of the more positive work carried out by Adfer that he himself supported.

‘I regret now that I did not make it clearer at the time that many of the practical aims of Adfer were laudable enough and that what I objected to was the attempt to justify its actions by a pernicious philosophy,’ he said.

Scars

To this day the Welsh national movement has failed to really get to grips with the issue of Welsh as a community language.

It could be argued that it was this bitter argument between R. Tudur Jones and the Adfer movement that poisoned the issue.

To this day politicians of every party have avoided getting entangled with a debate about possible means of helping Welsh-speaking communities.

Although we can appreciate R. Tudur Jones’s argument from a theological and philosophical point of view, we can regret that this controversy left scars which has made it difficult to get to grips with this perfectly salient issue up to the present day.

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