The village council of Vilanòva de Magalona (Villeneuve-Les-Maguelone in French, a town located at the Occitan-speaking department of Hérault, Languedoc-Roussillon) does not intend to cease using Occitan as the council’s own language despite the decision issued by a court in Montpellier compelling to withdraw or rewrite the road signs at the entrance to the municipality. The court said Robert Hadjadj, a neighbour arguing bilingual signposts are open to misinterpretation, is right. Hadjadj had declared the road post in Occitan had a grave accent on the letter O, a symbol that does not exist in French. The mayor of Vilanòva de Magalona Noël Ségura has stated he won’t have the road signs withdrawn and that he might appeal against the decision: “People speak Occitan here. It is taught in school and the institute”, he pointed out.
Ségura also said the decision is inconsistent with the resolution made by the neighbouring department of Aveyron, which promotes signposting in both French and Occitan. Now the court reminds that the traffic law establishes French as “the language of the Republic” and that any inscription in public ways must be in this language.
According to the decision, the regulation admits “translations” and establishes that “nothing prevents municipalities from using a regional language” as long as it is based on grounds of public interest.
But this time the judge considered the local council did not respect the traffic regulation, which states that the French name must be on a signpost on its own, and therefore urged the local authorities to move back the Occitan place name. The decision also points out that the local government failed to provide consistent historical proof of the Occitan place name.
Promoter of the court decision Robert Hadjadj is a 71-year old retired man who launched his personal crusade against Occitan signposts in Vilanòva one year ago. He is a well-known unionist who even campaigned for boycotting regional elections, which he labelled as a “masquerade”
The Institute of Occitan Studies (IEO) has issued a press release expressing their concern for the court decision and reminding that Occitan is acknowledged by the Constitution of the Republic as “part of France’s cultural heritage”. The IEO offers itself to lead the “struggle” to overturn the decision, which is considered “totally unfair and unjustified”. IEO’s president Pierre Bréchet went even further arguing for the need to set up “a legal framework for our languages” in order to protect them against such arbitrary actions.
To the Occitan Party (PÒc), the decision shows that “French legislation on the so-called regional languages is archaic indeed”. The party’s regional councillor in Aquitaine David Grosclaude has already contacted the mayor of Vilanòva to express him support.