Parliament and Penang State Assembly should
adopt resolutions at their next meetings to formally recognize and observe
the International Mother Language Day from next February 21 onwards
- launching of the DAP 2003 International Mother Language Day
by Lim Kit Siang
Today is the first time that the International Mother Language Day (IMLD) on
February 21 is celebrated in Malaysia, by the DAP with a modest
mother-tongue education exhibition in Penang this morning followed by an
IMLD Forum organized by the DAP IMLD National Committee at the Selangor
Chinese Assembly Hall in Kuala Lumpur tonight, and by Dong Jiao Zong with an
IMLD Festival in Kajang this morning.
What is most disappointing is that
the IMLD today is not being celebrated officially, both at the national and
state levels, involving the Federal and state governments, with IMLD
messages by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir Mohamad and the
Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Su Koon, as well as by all
communities and the entire civil society.
There are at least four reasons
why Malaysians should speak up and voice their disappointment to the Federal
and Penang State Governments at their failure to recognize and observe the
This is the fourth IMLD since the
inaugural year of its annual world-wide celebration in 2000;
Malaysia is the home of several
mother-tongues, making the country the most ideal place to lead the world in
celebrating the IMLD with verve, vigour and imagination.
Malaysia was one of the 28
countries which supported the Bangladesh proposal at the 30th General
Conference of the UNESCO resulting in the unanimous adoption of a Resolution
declaring 21st February as ILMD.
My urgent email on Monday to all
Cabinet Ministers, Penang State Exco members and all other state Chief
Ministers and Mentris Besar urging the formal recognition and observance of
the fourth IMLD by the national and state governments.
The DAP and Dong Jiao Zong
celebrations today should have been two of a nation-wide series of IMLD
celebrations in the country, involving the national and the various state
governments - instead of the being the sole two fourth IMLD celebrations in
the country today.
Although this is better than the previous three years, when there had been
no IMLD celebration in Malaysia whatsoever, Malaysia's apathy and
disinterest in the IMLD is unacceptable and against our unique national
heritage of linguistic and cultural diversity as well as best future
This is because in the era of globalization and information and
communications technology, one essential prerequisite to position Malaysia
at the cutting edge of international competitiveness is to promote and
popularize trilingualism for all Malaysians, grounded on the mastery of the
mother-tongue, the national language and English as the international
It is not that the Malaysian and state governments are not aware of the
importance of promoting and popularizing multi-lingualism, but the national
and state leaders lack the political will and foresight to do what is in the
best interests of the country by officially recognizing and observing the
Only on Tuesday, Sarawak Tourism Minister Datuk Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg
said Sarawak needs to develop a competent multi-lingual manpower in order to
become a leading Meeting, Incentive, Convention and Exhibition (MICE) centre
in the region.
He said Sarawakians would need to be conversant in international languages
like English, Japanese, Chinese, French, German and Arabic in efforts to
promote Sarawak as an international tourist destination with MICE
To illustrate his argument, Abang Johari said interpreters would be in great
demand when Miri, which has been "slotted" as the "Monte Carlo of Borneo"
attains resort city status in a few years' time.
If the Sarawak state government is serious in wanting to develop competent
multi-lingual manpower in the state, it should have promptly acted on my
email proposal to the Sarawak state government on Monday that it officially
recognizes and observes the fourth IMLD today.
I must confess surprise however at the Sarawak state government's tourism
masterplan to turn Miri into the "Monte Carlo of Borneo" as Monte Carlo is
famed as a resort centre not only for its convention and exhibition
facilities but its world-class casinos - but this will the subject of
comment for another occasion.
Although the Cabinet, the Penang State Government and the other state
governments have not officially recognized and observed the IMLD in the
fourth year running, it is nonetheless heartening that there is greater
national awareness of the IMLD after the DAP decided last year to
disseminate information about it - and we see several newspapers carrying
articles and even editorials on the occasion of fourth IMLD today.
The next step is for Parliament and the Penang State Assembly to adopt
resolutions at their next meetings to formally recognize and observe the
IMLD from next February 21 onwards.
DAP will move a resolution in the next meeting of Parliament and the Penang
State Assembly to officially recognize and observe the IMLD every Feb. 21,
and all Members of Parliament and Penang State Assembly members, whether
ruling or opposition, should stand united on a common platform to adopt such
a resolution as Malaysia had officially endorsed the IMLD at the UNESCO
General Conference in 1999 to proclaim 21st February as IMLD.
There is no reason why the next Parliamentary meeting from March 10 to April
8, 2003, should not make history in according recognition to the IMLD to
pave the way for major nation-wide celebrations of the fifth IMLD on
February 21, 2004.
All educational, cultural, community and civil society organizations and
groups in the country, and in particular in Penang, should make a special
point to prepare for a major celebration of the fifth IMLD next year - and
ideally, a national umbrella organization should be established to plan and
co-ordinate such activities so that Malaysia's IMLD celebrations could be a
model for the rest of the world. Dong Jiao Zong would be a very suitable
candidate to initiate such an effort.
The DAP National IMLD Committee under the chairmship of Ronnie Liu, DAP
National Publicity Secretary, will meet after the IMLD celebrations today to
prepare a programme to promote national and state government recognition of
IMLD and nation-wide celebrations of the fifth IMLD next year.
There is insufficient awareness, whether in Malaysia or worldwide, that the
threat to multilingualism is similar to the threat to biodiversity.
Multilingualism is the most accurate reflection of multiculturalism. The
destruction of the first will inevitably lead to the loss of the second.
In June 1996, the World Conference of Linguistic Rights in Barcelona
proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights which states:
"All languages are the
expression of a collective identity and of a distinct way of perceiving and
describing reality. Education must always be at the service of linguistic
and cultural diversity and of harmonious relations between different
language communities throughout the world."
The proclamation of the Universal
Declaration of Linguistic Rights 1996, which has been endorsed by world
NGOs, linguistic experts and distinguished personalities like Nobel Peace
Prize laureate Nelson Mandela and Nobel Literature Prize laureate Seamus
Heany, should set the stage for the formulation and proclamation of an
International Convention on Linguistic Rights binding on all governments and
nations of the world.
There is no better way for Malaysia to mark the fourth IMLD today than for
the Malaysian and Penang State Governments to declare their support for the
preparation of an International Convention on Linguistic Rights for adoption
and ratification by the international community and all nations.
Such an International Convention is urgent and necessary to save the great
majority of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world today from dying out at
unprecedented speed and in full recognition that linguistic diversity is an
important part of human heritage and the cornerstone of cultural diversity,
which is in turn a mainstay in the preservation of biodiversity.
Lim Kit Siang, DAP National