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Tackling the language gap in a central Romanian city

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Bridging the multicultural divide is never an easy tasks. But Antal Arpad, the mayor of Sfântu Gheoghe set out to do just that. He looks to pioneer a program that will help ethnic Romanians and Hungarians to learn each other’s language, writes Cristian Gherasim.

During a recent press conference the mayor announce 1,000 scholarships worth around €200 each to Romanians and Hungarian who want to take part in the language learning programme.

"I promised during the election campaign that in this term I will initiate programs for Hungarians to learn Romanian, and for Romanians to learn Hungarian, and I am very excited that I can solve this problem in collaboration with Babeş-Bolyai University. This year, in the budget of Sfântu Gheorghe municipality we will allocate an amount of 1 million lei, of which we will support a thousand people with 1,000 lei each. We want these people to increase their level of knowledge of the language of the other community by one level, so those who are at the base to advance by one level, and those who are at the intermediate level to reach an advanced level. I think this is very important, and here students will be able to obtain funds, but also those who return to the city after completing their university studies in other cities, or maybe abroad, and can learn Romanian and Hungarian, respectively,” explained Mayor Antal Árpád (pictured).

The city of Sfântu Gheoghe located in central Romania, in the historic region of Transylvania, has a mostly Hungarian population. Following the census of 2011, 41,233 (74%) of the city's 56,006 inhabitants classed themselves as ethnic Hungarians, 11,807 (21%) as Romanians, with the remaining inhabitants belonging to other ethnicities.

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Arpad said that the idea for a language learning program to help end the communication barrier that exists in Sfântu Gheorghe started to take shape a few years back following a local essay contest.

The mayor hopes that the program will bring the community closer together and reap economic benefits as well. The local university will be hosting the language lessons which are aimed at both students and people who return to the city after completing their studies in other cities or countries.

Students will take a test at the beginning and at end of the program. Financial support from Sfântu Gheorghe City Hall will be conditioned by working towards bettering language skills, Mr. Arpad explained.

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Examples from around the world

Melbourne’s neighbourhoods are home to one of the world’s most culturally diverse communities. In Australia’s second-largest city, you can find most of the world’s major cultures, more than 100 nationalities and as many languages. Bilingual teaching was started in Melbourne in 1974, with schools such as Footscray Primary School, Richmond west primary school, Fitzroy Primary School providing bilingual programs where in addition to English the curriculum is taught in Vietnamese and Mandarin.

The National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools, introduced in 2005, also explicitly recognizes the importance of learning languages other than English. Some of these programs are taught in mainstream schools, while others are offered through ethnic or community languages schools.

In Europe, Belgium has a longstanding history in supporting bilingualism. In addition to its three official languages, many other mother tongues are provided funding. For example, minority language instruction has been available in Flanders since 1981. In the Flemish community, while Dutch is the official language of education extra resources are allocated under the Ministry of Education and Training's program "equal opportunities for all" to teach non-Dutch-speaking people.

In Spain, while Spanish is the only language with official status for the whole of the country, many other languages have co-official or recognised status in specific regions, and a number of unofficial languages and dialects are spoken in certain parts of the country. Spain’s National Action Plan for Social Inclusion aims to promote agreements with the autonomous regions to develop bilingual and trilingual teaching programs.

Across the European Union, from the likes of Erasmus+ and Creative Europe funding programs there are various EU-funded initiatives aiming to support the teaching of regional or minority languages in schools in Europe.

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Belgium

Clashes break out in Brussels in protests over coronavirus restrictions

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Police and protesters clashed in the streets of Brussels on Sunday (21 November) in demonstrations over government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions, with police firing water cannon and tear gas at demonstrators throwing rocks and smoke bombs, witnesses said, write Christian Levaux, Johnny Cotton and Sabine Siebold, Reuters.

About 35,000 people took part in demonstrations, police said, which began peacefully before violence broke out.

Protesters wearing black hoods threw stones at police as they advanced with water cannon at the main junction in front of the European Union Commission headquarters, Reuters journalists said.

Facing up to the police lines, the protesters held hands and chanted "freedom". One protester was carrying a placard reading "when tyranny becomes law, rebellion becomes duty".

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Police forces stand guard as people protest against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) measures near the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium November 21, 2021. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

Protesters also threw smoke bombs and fireworks, the newspaper Le Soir reported. The situation calmed down later, police said.

Belgium tightened its coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday (17 November), mandating wider use of masks and enforcing work from home, as cases rose in the country's fourth COVID-19 wave. Read more.

There have been 1,581,500 infections and 26,568 coronavirus-related deaths reported in the country of 11.7 million people since the pandemic began. Infections are increasing again, with 13,826 new cases reported on average each day.

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Violence has also broken out in anti-restriction protests in Belgium's neighbour the Netherlands in recent days. On Friday, police in Rotterdam opened fire on a crowd.

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European Commission

NextGenerationEU: Commission receives payment request from Spain for €10 billion under the Recovery and Resilience Facility

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The Commission has received the first payment request from Spain under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) for a disbursement of €10 billion in financial support (net of pre-financing). Spain's overall recovery and resilience plan will be financed by €69.5 billion in grants. Payments under the RRF are performance-based and contingent on Spain implementing the investments and reforms outlined in its recovery and resilience plan. This first payment request relates to 52 milestones covering several reforms in the areas of sustainable mobility, energy efficiency, decarbonisation, connectivity, public administration, skills, education and social, labour and fiscal policy.

The Commission now has two months to assess the request. It will then send its preliminary assessment of Spain's fulfilment of the milestones and targets required for this payment to the Council's Economic and Financial Committee. More information on the process of the payment requests under the RRF is available in this Q&A. More information on the Spanish recovery and resilience plan is available here.

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Belgium

'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King'

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'When the Smurfs meet Monkey King' is a children's art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium.

The successful art exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium in La Louvière, the birthplace of Surrealism in Belgium that ended on 24 October gave the opportunity to nearly 300 local primary and middle school students in just one week to depict their vision of friendship between China and Belgium.

On 17 October, during the opening ceremony, Françoise Ghiot, Laurent Wimlot, aldermen of La Louvière, and their guests from China and Belgium attended the event. Counsellor Yang Qing, wife of the Chinese Ambassador to Belgium, also recorded a video for the inauguration of the event.

Counsellor Yang Qing said in her speech that she admired the exhibition held in La Louvière. Using pure and innocent artistic perspective, extraordinary creativity and imagination, the children have well defined the cultural elements of both countries. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium with children’s eyes, sincere feelings, those future ambassadors of friendship have expressed their visions of a better collaborative future between the two nations.

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Ghiot said in her speech that she was very happy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Belgium to see children’s paintings from China. The art exhibition opened a skylight of artistic exchange for local children.

This children's art exhibition was jointly curated by the city of La Louvière, the Nardone Gallery, and Yellow Vitamines. Through the LPGA (Little Painter Global International Art Exhibition), covering 40 cities and 500 aesthetic education training institutions in China, 5000 children’s work were collected and 200 were finally selected to focus on Belgium. With the innocent help of children's brushes, imagination and understanding, art and culture provided an ideal medium to understanding differences and strengthening the bond between China and Belgium.

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