Uniting our Community(ies)
About half of the people who live in Jersey were born here, and in some quarters there is a reticence to discuss identity – and to adopt the language of nationhood – for fear that it is exclusionary to new arrivals. Certainly, care must be taken that by defining some ideal of ‘Jerseyness’ we do not alienate people with different views and backgrounds, nor impose an unwanted homogeneity on a vigorously diverse community. However, discovering and celebrating what people themselves value about the Island can help provide common focal points for our growing and increasingly-diverse population. Furthermore, nations which have a strong sense of national identity – Canada, Australia, the USA, New Zealand and Scotland, for example - are often among the best at integrating immigrant communities and giving them a strong sense of something they proudly now belong to.
Jersey has long enjoyed several linguistic and cultural communities (English, Breton, French) existing alongside the Jèrriais-speaking population. Particularly in the last two generations, these have been enriched by migrants from Europe, the UK, Africa and the rest of the world. The Board was very conscious that their task was not to define (or somehow ‘preserve’) a national identity, but rather to take a closer look at the many strands which now compose it, and the shared attributes which have the potential to unite us. For example, pro rata Jersey has the world’s largest Portuguese speaking minority. How can Portuguese and Madeiran culture be celebrated as itself part of Jersey, and Portuguese and Madeiran communities feel a sense of connection, belonging and pride in their adopted Island – as those from Brittany and Italy now do?
The Board recognises that it barely scratched the surface of this question, and indeed one of its findings is that a lot more research should be done on barriers to integration and on how Islanders – recent and longstanding – view themselves and their home. However, in the course of its interviews and discussions a few ideas emerged which could contribute to engaging and uniting our diverse communities. These included expanding the role of the Island’s Honorary Consuls, ensuring government documents are properly communicated to minority communities, and celebrating when migrants to Jersey gain housing and employment rights.
Most of all, though, uniting our communities requires establishing common reference points through citizenship, education, culture and sport (see below). A National Day could also provide a focal point to rally Jersey’s diverse inhabitants, with Liberation Day currently proving the most popular among the several candidates which the Board and reviewers considered.
The Parish Assembly is a distinctive feature of direct democracy in Jersey and provides an arena for grass-roots politics, within which a sense of engagement and involvement with the political life of Jersey can be fostered. The Honorary Police is one of the oldest police forces in existence, and embodies the best Peelian principles of policing by consent. The Parish Hall Enquiry system has been celebrated as a highly effective model for restorative justice, with minor offences dealt with at a community level in a way that does not necessarily criminalise first-time offenders. Meanwhile, the twice annual Branchage and the Visite Royale are both examples of important historic rituals that form part of Jersey’s Identity.
The Board highlighted these aspects of the venerable Parish system as examples of Jersey’s identity particularly worth celebrating. It also noted the value of the twinning system, which sees Jersey communities tied to others in France and (now) Madeira. It hopes that the Comité des Connétables can be supported to find new ways to enhance public engagement with the Parishes - and in particular the Parish Assemblies – including in particular ways to get young people and new arrivals involved. Many democracies are now experimenting with ‘citizens’ assemblies’; Jersey has recognised their value for generations.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Jersey's culture is its unique linguistic heritage. Historically, there were ‘les trais langues’: Jèrriais in the home and the fields, French in church, law and the States, and English for commerce and the military. These have now been joined by Portuguese, Polish and other tongues. The strengths of Jersey as a multilingual small island nation can be built on to reinforce identity, belonging and human capital.
Jèrriais is in the DNA of Jersey – a crucial historical aspect of our identity. To quote Professor of Linguistics Paul Birt, ‘There are few languages I know with such a richness of expression, some of her idioms are poetry… Jèrriais belongs to Jersey, and without it Jersey would, I believe, stop being Jersey.’ However, if we can agree that we should not allow Jèrriais to die, then we must fund its revival properly. Jèrriais should be an integral part of our Island Identity, promoted by Government, the States, businesses and organisations, and can be used as a unique selling point to those beyond our shores, also helping to differentiate us further from neighbouring countries. Teaching it in schools can embed a sense identification, pride and citizenship in Jersey school children, regardless of background.
French is also one of the crucial components of Jersey’s cultural heritage and identity. It is important for its own sake as the language of our nearest neighbour, and as a stepping stone to Jèrriais comprehension. Jersey has its own variety of French whose peculiarities it would be a shame to lose. The Board felt that as a participant in the international Francophonie organisation and parliamentary association we should be as proud of our Francophone identity as Belgium, Switzerland, Canada are of theirs. It also suggested we revert to using the centuries-old name of the Channel Islands - Îles de la Manche - rather than the recent Parisian invention of Îles anglo-normandes, which has usurped it.