THE SUNDAY GUEST. “Lo combat contunha”… Tireless defender of Occitan, Jean-Louis Blenet does not have the Occitan language in his pocket

THE SUNDAY GUEST. "Lo combat contunha"... Tireless defender of Occitan, Jean-Louis Blenet does not have the Occitan language in his pocket

Voilà plus de cinq décennies que Jean-Louis Blenet se bat pour défendre un patrimoine linguistique menacé. Midi Libre – SYLVIE CAMBON

A man of the theater, he is a fierce and rebellious lawyer who defends Occitan, a minor language threatened with extinction according to Unesco. He has campaigned for 50 years for immersive teaching and an artistic approach so that the language of the troubadours "who invented the word love" survives.

It’s a given, Jean-Louis Blenet talks a lot. And often to defend minoritized languages ​​in general and the Occitan language in particular. Because the man of the theater is a sort of lawyer revolting about the desolate fate reserved “for local languages. When you think that you live in Languedoc, everything should be said and yet…"

However, Unesco has classified the Occitan "in serious danger of extinction"& nbsp;:"In 1910, 90% of the people in the territory spoke the Oc language. At the start of the 2000s, it was less than 10%", regrets Jean-Louis Blenet who does not want to bring himself to see his heart die& nbsp;: "The language that gave the word love to French cannot disappear", he said.

L’man is fierce against "French centralism, decisions taken in three Parisian districts which continue to weaken language practice". He who believes that French behaves "as a colonial and imperial language".

A language spoken as a family

Severe, the man of culture believes that the salvation of Occitan will invariably come through education. This is what he has endeavored to demonstrate for half a century: “All my life I have created tools to advance the cause”. First of all, through the calandretas (little lark in French). These immersive schools where we share teaching inspired by the pedagogy of Célestin Freinet, based on the autonomy of the child and focused on citizenship and sharing.

Between theater and calandretas, Jean-Louis Blenet has made a significant contribution to the cause of Occitan, underlines Benjamin Assié, regional councilor of Occitanie, in charge of the Occitan and Catalan languages.Now we must go further with a real public education policy to move towards bilingualism. This is a request from more than 80% of the region's inhabitants and in particular new arrivals".

A plebiscite of which Jean-Louis Blenet is aware, he fought so that his children benefit from this education. Besides, as a family, naturally, we only speak Occitan to each other. He likes to tell how his grandchildren, one of whom was born and lived in Mexico, speaks with his cousin when he finds him in France "in Occitan. For them it’s natural". To the point that Estelle, one of her daughters, speaks of a "paternal language. I never spoke to my father other than in Occitan. In French, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. Occitan is the language of the family".

Before changing the world, let’s start by changing the school

After taking the helm of the Calandreta Confederation, defending tooth and nail the Cirdoc (International Center for Occitan Research and Documentation), Jean-Louis Blenet will create the ISLRF. The Higher Institute of Languages ​​of the French Republic founded in 1996 to train teachers: "To change the world let's start by changing the school".

Under the leadership of the institution, the regional languages ​​come together: Basque, Breton, Alsatian, Corsican, Catalan… and Occitan. "I’admire the immense work that Jean-Louis has done. He fought so that we would not be isolated. He showed pugnacity and patience", recognizes Peio Jorajuria, writer and activist for the Basque cause, president of the Seaska federation. Immersive schools equivalent to calandretas in a territory where "there are fewer schools but many more students". Schools which demonstrate that the children who go there "are better in most subjects, particularly in mathematics", adds Benjamin Assié.

"Frêche could have become the Jordi Pujol of Occitanie"

However, nothing really predisposed Jean-Louis Blenet to take up this torch of defense of Occitan. Born in Casablanca in 1951, where his first words were Berber, he left Morocco at the age of 3 to return to his motherland of Ariège where the eldest of siblings five children (two sisters and two half-sisters), he attended school in Saint-Girons. It was in the Ariège countryside and especially in the school dormitories that he learned Occitan , a language already poorly treated. You had to speak sharply to be well seen", he remembers. Occitan, the language of the peasants, of the low-ranking, will also be that of the winegrowers' revolt. He remembers the major demonstrations of 1976. “Viure al pais” wanted to defend a way of life, a language, "a culture which opposed Jacobin centralism. In Montpellier, there were 100,000 people in the rain", he remembers. It was also the year of the bloody clash at Montredon which left two people dead.

He leaves Ariège for Montpellier to study according to his mother's wishes. A bachelor in 1969 in the carefree and militant years post-68, he studied economics to please his father before joining the Paul-Valéry University "because that there were more girls", he smiles today. It is moreover for the beautiful eyes of a beauty that he will enter the theater door, an activity which he will make his profession which he will never leave again: "I understood very early on that a country that does not think about its culture has no head". Actor, director and theatre company director, he created with Bruno Cécillon the professional company of the Rampe, which became the Rampe TIO (Teatre interregional occitan) in 2000.

“Making elected officials culturally literate”

His fight to make the Occitan language and culture coexist at the heart of his artistic approach will no longer have any limits: “Overall, we have been rather successful. Occitan is no longer a patois, it is a language. We have gained legitimacy and attractiveness".
A student of the town planner who shaped Montpellier Raymond Dugrand, he gave up creating a design office and took part in all the fights in favor of the Occitan language. Supported by Georges Frêche in 1971, he believes that it is necessary to “culturally literate elected officials”. From Frêche, Jean-Louis Blenet regrets that he is not far enough: "He could have been the Jordi Pujol of Occitanie. But he preferred to remain Clapassian. It’s a shame", he said disappointed.

The actor, who recently starred in the very first TV series in Occitan, “La Seria”, a regional language is an identity, a heritage, a cultural tool but also a highly political object: "L’Occitan can even serve the cause of identity with young people from immigrant backgrounds, because the language is not is not linked, unlike the French, to a colonial idea". The field of possibilities is and remains immense. There is still work to do. And if regional languages ​​could cure the ills of a sick Europe for which we are voting this Sunday ? Jean-Louis Blenet, believes in it and for him : &amp ;quot;Lo combat contunha"

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