French-speaking nations meet for summit

27th September 2006, Comments 0 comments

BUCHAREST, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - A two-day summit of French-speaking nations being held for the first time in an eastern European country will centre on new communications technologies and education, and stress the need for a multicultural conception of the world.

BUCHAREST, Sept 27, 2006 (AFP) - A two-day summit of French-speaking nations being held for the first time in an eastern European country will centre on new communications technologies and education, and stress the need for a multicultural conception of the world.

The 11th summit of the International Francophone Organisation (OIF), which opens here on Thursday, will be attended by the heads of state or government of 33 countries and the foreign affairs ministers of 30 others.

The organisation, which has 53 member states and 10 with observer status from across five continents, is not only a cultural organisation, but somewhat like its British-led counterpart, the Commonwealth, is a political body which supports peace, democracy and human rights and has multilateral cooperation agreements.

Secretary General Abdou Diouf told AFP the summit would also make clear its attachment to cultural diversity in opposition to the "single concept of the world" held by the United States.

"We consider that culture is not a commodity to be traded. I have the impression that the notion of culture from a US standpoint is understood to mean entertainment rather than the expression of peoples' souls and identities," said Diouf, the former president of Senegal.

"Language is not neutral," he added, and defending the French language is a "combat" for linguistic diversity "so that we do not live under a reign of hegemony and a single conception of the world," he stressed.

Historically dominated by its African member states, -- France's former colonies with the notable exception of Algeria which is not a member although its 16 million French-speakers make it the second largest Francophone country in the world after France -- the OIF is now becoming more European with 14 of the 21 new members who have joined since 1991 coming from eastern Europe.

Something which is raising some concerns.

"As the Francophone family gets bigger, the oldest members ... are getting worried," said Jean-Didier Somda, a delegate from Burkina Faso's foreign ministry.

But Diouf said that on the contrary the more members "the better... particularly in order to defend our language in international organisations and notably at the European Union.

"When Romania and Bulgaria join the EU, then 13 of the EU's 27 members will also be Francophone members which will help get our message across," he said, adding "the EU is the organisation which gives the most amount of aid to the South."

It is no accident that this summit will be held in Romania where French has been an obligatory school subject since the 18th century.

"Romanian children start learning French in kindergarten and many families want to put their children in school where they can learn French," said Cristian Preda, secretary of state for Francophonie.

French is studied by 88 percent of Romanian schoolchildren either as their first or second foreign language, behind English, and there are 70 French-Romanian bilingual schools across the country.

This enthusiasm for French can be explained not only by the proximity of the two languages which both have Latin roots, but also by the historic links between the two countries and the fascination Romanian intellectuals have always had for France and its culture.

"At the beginning of the 19th century the boyars -- members of the old Russian nobility -- sent their children to study in France while educated Romanians made it a point of honour to speak French," explained art historian Cezara Mucenic.

But when Romania fell under the totalitarianism of communist Soviet Union, many were imprisoned for simply borrowing a book from or taking lessons at the French Institute in Bucharest.

"On March 3, 1950 I went to the French Institute. Two days earlier, the Communist Party had decided to close all Western cultural centres and to imprison anyone who went there. I borrowed a book, began to read it in the street and was arrested," recounted historian Serban Papacostea.

French is spoken by 175 million people around the globe and is the official language in 29 countries either alone, as in 12 countries, or together with another one.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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