By Jason Moore

THE closure of the Basque daily newspaper Egunkaria and the launch in Belfast of the first daily newspaper in Irish were just two of the key points discussed at the annual convention of the European Association of Daily newspapers in Minority and Regional languages (MIDAS) which met in Helsinki last week. The Bulletin was represented at the European-wide convention through its Catalan stablemate, Diari de Balears.
It was bitter sweet occasion with the Irish newspaper, La, gaining plenty of interest especially as a daily newspaper in Welsh is also in the pipeline but marred by the closure of the Basque newspaper. “I think we are all proud of our achievement. Our newspaper has twelve pages and we are distributed across Ireland. The initial response from readers has been good,” said the editor of La Ciaran Pronntaigh . He went on to say that the paper was born, as a result of the Good Friday agreement with a small grant being received from the British government through their regional language policy. The Irish language is gaining in popularity and it is hoped that the paper will act as launchpad for further development. Hoping to be able to announce at the next conference that his newspaper will soon be hot off the presses was Ned Thomas a real pioneer of minority languages who hopes that in a short space of time Wales will have its very own national newspaper in Welsh. This is a project which he has been working on for many years and already market research has been carried out which showed that the proposal is completly viable. “We are aiming at that vital A-B market (an advertising term for those people who take a broadsheet newspaper and are in the higher range of paper readers) and the paper will initially be about 32 pages,” he said. Ned Thomas said that they were confident that funding would be available from the Welsh government. Both Thomas and Pronntaigh gave brief insights into their papers in speeches to the conference. The low point was the closure earlier this year of the the Basque newspaper Egunkaria by the Spanish government on alleged ground that it had links with the oulawed Basque terror group ETA. These allegations are bitterly disputed by Egunkaria which was one of the founding members of MIDAS. Journalist Jose Maria Pastor said that the closure of the paper by the Madrid central government was a clear indication of the crackdown on the Basques by Madrid. The editor of the paper is in prison and his deputy has been released but is unable to leave the country. Allegations of torture by the Spanish police have been made. Pastor thanked Midas members for their show of solidarity especially the Catalans who produced a copy of the paper in Catalan, shortly after the police moved in, to show their protest at its closure. A new Basque newspaper is being produced on a smaller level at the moment. Pastor indicated that the Spanish government was doing everything they could to surpress the Basque languages and to a lesser extent its people. Midas has bitterly complained about the closure both to the Spanish government and to the European Union and they are now planning to write a letter to the European parliament. One of the key members of Midas are the Catalan newspapers who were represented in force at the convention. With over seven million speakers in Cataluña, Valencia and the Balearics they are enjoy major success. Their papers are also in the mainstream of Spanish journalism. As the European Union spreads east, Midas, has been welcoming a series of new members from the newly independent former Soviet Republics. They have their own regional languages but also embrace a large number of Russian speakers. Both sides were represented. In Finland there is a mix of languages also with Swedish still being widely spoken along with the actual Finnish language. Delegates from Midas visited the Helsinki based Swedish language paper Hufvudstadsbladet which sell in the region of 55'000 copies daily. The aim of Midas is to impulse minority languages across Europe and it was a curious mix. The President of the organisation Toni Ebner is from the German speaking Tirol in Italy where he runs a newpspaer in German. There were also a representative of a German newspaper in Denmark and a Danish newspaper in Germany, and a Hungarian language paper in Romania.