Today, Saturday 26 September 2020, the first Brussels Multilingualism Day took place in the Brussels Parliament at the initiative of the Minister for the Promotion of Multilingualism in Brussels, Sven Gatz. In the morning, the new Brussels Council for Multilingualism was instated. Because of covid measures, live streaming enabled all interested parties to be present virtually.
The organization of Multilingualism Day is an important and visible concrete realization of the vision text presented by Minister Gatz to the Brussels Parliament in December 2019. In this paper he outlines his policy on multilingualism for the coming years. Instating the Brussels Council for Multilingualism is also a new realization from his vision paper.
Getting to know and understand each other
Following the welcoming speeches by the President and Vice-President of the Brussels Parliament, Rachid Madrane and Guy Vanhengel, Minister Gatz said that this Multilingualism Day is a "first" for Brussels, and the externalization of a major asset for Brussels: multilingualism.
Minister Gatz: "In recent years, our city has grown into a cosmopolitan metropolis of 1.2 million inhabitants. On a relatively small territory, we live with around 180 nationalities who between them speak more than 100 different languages at home. A majority of Brussels residents also believe that this language knowledge is an essential part of the Brussels identity. After all, it is important that the people of Brussels understand each other language-wise, and thus get to know and comprehend each other better on all other levels.”
This first Brussels Multilingualism Day, despite the constraints imposed by the corona crisis, has the ambition of bringing together as many people as possible who care about multilingualism in our city. In the morning, the Council for Multilingualism was presented. Minister Gatz also launched the new platform for all things multilingual in Brussels, BeTalky, in the form of a website, and promoted through a new logo that was unveiled. In the afternoon, conversation tables were held in the Parliament's Mirror Hall, organized by the Huis van het Nederlands. People chatted in different languages about Brussels, the multilingual capital of Europe, and did this by way of an original formula.
Philippe Van Parijs chairperson of the Council for Multilingualism
Minister Gatz introduced the chairperson of the Council for Multilingualism, Philippe Van Parijs. "A good reason," said Minister Gatz, to make him president, "is that the initiator of the Marnixplan and professor at UCLouvain is himself a multilingual Brussels citizen. He speaks not only French, English and Dutch, but also German, Spanish and Italian." Van Parijs published an influential book on 'Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World'.
Minister Gatz also introduced the vice-chairperson of the Council, Nadia Fadil. She is professor at KU Louvain and specializes in interculturalism, migration and minorities.
All the other members of the Council were presented:
Fatima-Zohra Ait El Maâti (Imazi.reine), Grégor Chapelle (Actiris), Laurence de Ruette (Saint-Boniface), Hilde De Smedt (Foyer), Yvon Englert (ULB), Dirk Jacobs (ULB), Rudi Janssens (VUB), Laurence Mettewie (UNamur), Aimée-fidèle Mukunde (Minority Forum), Olivia P'tito (Bruxelles Formation), Anne Posma (Francisco Ferrer), Helena Van Driessche (Atheneum Woluwe), Wim Vandenbussche (VUB), Piet Vervaecke (OCB), Nicole Wauters (hanGements pour l'égalité), Olivier Willocx (BECI).
All members of the Council perform their duties in their personal capacity, not on behalf of the organization in which they operate. Minister Gatz sees this Council of experts as an important body to define future policy for the promotion of multilingualism.
Minister Gatz: "I recognize the intellectual autonomy of the Council to come up with new ideas and proposals. Above all, I would like to see an alliance between myself as Minister and the Council, an alliance presenting as objectification of policy and in which the Council ensures the continuity of policy.
The chairman of the board, Philippe Van Parijs, pointed out during the morning session the specific task of the Council:
Philippe Van Parijs: “A Council for Multilingualism must be able to count on academics whose speciality is language contact and language learning. But it needs to be able to rely just as much on people with practical experience of teaching in multicultural classrooms and of the language needs of an extremely diverse population. Above all, it must be driven by a shared conviction: that by combining collective intelligence and enthusiasm, there is a way to make the multilingualism of the people of Brussels take a huge leap forward.”
After the presentation, stand-up comedian Dena Vahdani put a light-hearted spin on the promotion of multilingualism.
In the meantime, the online followers had the opportunity to ask the minister and the members of the council questions in a Q&A session.
The first Multilingualism Day concludes with an online patati E-péro, organized by the Huis van het Nederlands.
European debate on multilingualism
Afterwards, Minister Sven Gatz will take part in a debate in the European Parliament in support the European Multilingualism Day.
Minister Gatz: “Multilingualism is also crucial in the European Union, with its 23 official languages. In the EU, too, it is an instrument for promoting better understanding, cohesion and European citizenship.”