Stoppard presents petition to Scottish Parliament

Published

Amy Mackinnon

Their placards read ‘No Chopin Polish’ and ‘Czech your priorities’, but an altogether more serious message lay behind these comic puns.

Over 50 students and staff members from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde travelled to the Scottish Parliament yesterday for the hearing of a petition seeking ring-fenced funding for ‘strategically important but vulnerable languages and cultures’ such as Czech, Polish and Russian studies.

They were joined by Sir Tom Stoppard who travelled from London to present the 3000 strong petition. The Oscar-winning playwright behind Shakespeare in Love, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, was born Tomáš Straüssler in the former Czechoslovakia.

Stoppard made an impassioned speech to the Public Petition’s Committee, in which he told MSPs that he was supporting a move to save something ‘rather precious’:

Glasgow in particular, to me, has meant the place in which eastern European languages are kept alive as an area of study… [it] was an outpost of something important and enlightened happening’

However he cautioned MSPs that such unique provision was now at risk of being lost.

The principal petitioner, Dr Jan Čulík, senior lecturer in Czech studies, and Hugh McMahon, a former MEP, also gave evidence at the hearing.

They argued that it was in Scotland’s interests economically, socially and culturally to preserve eastern European language provision.

The high employability rate of graduates of Slavic languages was noted with interest by the committee. Mr McMahon quoted figures from a European recruitment site which had 91 vacancies for graduates of Russian, 93 for Polish and 88 vacancies for those with degrees in Czech.

Scotland has a large eastern European community and a number of MSPs and councillors are backing the petition to ensure that Scotland is linguistically equipped to support these groups.
A letter read out at the hearing from a Glasgow student of Polish origin underlined the domestic demand for linguists:

I am registered as a Police interpreter with two agencies. Despite my telling them that I won’t be available due to my full time work commitment, they were calling me on regular basis as they are desperate for interpreters in Polish.

He continued:

They found in my CV that I study Czech and they were trying on several occasions to give me job as a Czech translator, despite my explanations that it will take a few years before I would ever consider that. Yet they are so desperate that they will take on anyone who went to Prague on a Stag Night and managed to order beer in the local language.

The Public Petition’s Committee agreed to take the petition further, and will write to the Scottish Government, the Scottish Funding Council and Glasgow University.

The petition was raised by staff and students from Glasgow University following a number of cuts to programmes in East European languages and cultures. In June, the University Court decided to close admission the Slavonic Studies program, and in late 2010, degrees programs in Czech and Polish were also abolished. This process is set for review due to a legal challenge to Glasgow University’s ruling body Court, however the cuts seem likely to go ahead. See
http://glasgowguardian.co.uk/news/court-to-reconsider-slavonic-studies/

Those in favour of retaining the programmes say that the programmes are unique to Scotland and unless they are reinstated there will be nowhere in the country to study Czech, Polish or Slavic cultures to degree level.

Gordon Watson, president of Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) Scotland said that: “If we start taking an axe to degrees then Scottish students will be forced to pay the higher fees in England, or give up their dreams”