The German Plot Against French!

An interesting post at Language Log, about the position of minority languages/dialects in France. Traditionally, France before the Revolution was more of a geographical expression than a state in the modern sense, to adapt the famous phrase about pre-Bismarckian Germany. Highly diverse regions, with little in common except allegiance to a distant Parisian king; the revolution changed all that, or more specifically, the 19th century did, with the army’s numbered, nationally-recruited regiments, the uniform school curriculum, the administrative structure of prefects and subprefects all answering to the same ministry in Paris.

So, the very idea of a minority speech is quite a difficult one for a state that is still very, very centralised. Just how difficult this is for some people can be measured by the response of Jean-Claude Monneret, a member of the Academy, no less:

… [T]outes les langues n’ont pas la même dignité. […] [O]n ne peut mettre sur le même plan ce qui est une grande langue de culture et un dialecte appauvri. Existe-t-il un Rousseau en occitan, un Tocqueville en basque, un Balzac en ch’ti …, un Stendhal en breton, un Montesquieu en catalan? (“All languages do not have the same worthiness. […] We can’t put on the same level a great language of culture and an impoverished dialect. Is there a Rousseau in Occitan, a Tocqueville in Basque, a Balzac in Ch’ti …, a Montesquiue in Catalan?”)

And you thought you couldn’t have colonialism in one country. Of course, Montesquieu and Rousseau lived before the Revolution, so didn’t do their army service or go to one of Jules Ferry’s schools by definition. And Rousseau was Swiss; so what kind of French did either of them actually speak, as opposed to writing? I don’t know; but this seems incredibly anti-scholarly, as if we just assumed Shakespeare spoke BBC English.

Cette question des langues régionales en Europe est aussi à penser dans le cadre d’une géopolitique bruxelloise d’inspiration germanique. Il y a aujourd’hui en Europe des groupes d’intérêt qui militent pour un reformatage de l’Europe sur un modèle politique impérial. La manoeuvre qui consiste à encourager la reconnaissance de toutes les langues minoritaires n’est qu’un leurre, une stratégie oblique qui vise en fait à déconstruire, à détricoter les nations européennes autres que l’Allemagne, qui toutes incorporent des groupes d’appartenance linguistiquement minoritaires.

Ainsi, subtilement, on ne s’attaque pas frontalement aux États, mais on commence par une reconnaissance linguistique. C’est très «démocratique», ça semble n’engager à rien. Mais à partir de là, c’est le toboggan.

(“This question of regional languages in Europe should also be considered in the context of a German-inspired geopolitical initiative in Brussels. Today in Europe there are interest groups who agitate for reforming Europe on an imperial political model. The manoeuvre of encouraging the recognition of all minority languages is just a decoy, an oblique strategy that in fact aims to deconstruct, to de-knit European nations other than Germany, who all include groups belonging to linguistic minorities.

Thus, subtly, one doesn’t attack the member states directly, but one begins with linguistic recognition. This is very “democratic”, it doesn’t seem to amount to anything. But after that, it’s a slippery slope.”)

Wow. That’s pretty damn crazy…but the interesting bit to me is the assumption that Germany is linguistically homeogenous and a centralised, unitary state. To believe that, you need to know absolutely nothing whatsoever about German, German history, or the current German state. It is not difficult to find bits of Germany where you might need to ask people to speak hochdeutsch; it’s happened to me. And Germany is the most federal state in Europe after Switzerland; even the Wilhelmine empire was so federal that each Land had its own army, even if this didn’t mean much in practice as only the Prussians had a general staff.

Particularism is still a major force in German (and EU) politics today; the minister-president of Baden-Wurttemberg practically ran his own foreign policy through the European Convention, as I recall. So what planet is this guy on?

Italy’s Roma: just how bad?

Very unhappy article in the Guardian today about the Roma situation in Italy:

Last week, Silvio Berlusconi’s new rightwing Italian administration announced plans to carry out a national registration of all the country’s estimated 150,000 Gypsies – Roma and Sinti people – whether Italian-born or migrants. Interior minister and leading light of the xenophobic Northern League, Roberto Maroni, insisted that taking fingerprints of all Roma, including children, was needed to “prevent begging” and, if necessary, remove the children from their parents…
Continue reading

Pushing the envelope

It’s getting harder to attach much meaning to G8 theatrics.  After George Bush and Dmitry Medvedev did their smiles for the cameras, it’s been one hot button after another in the US-Russia relationship.  Condi Rice in Europe first to confirm the deal on an anti Photoshopped Iranian missile radar system in the Czech Republic and then on to Tblisi with very sympathetic noises to the Georgians over the tension with Russia via Abkhazia.  And today the White House announces

The President will welcome President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci of the Republic of Kosovo to the White House on July 21, 2008. The President looks forward to meeting with President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Thaci during their first visit to the United States as leaders of an independent Kosovo.

Leaving no doubt about the US willingness to pursue the implications of their recognition of Kosovo.   At what point do US-Russia relations head more in the direction of UK-Russia relations, where the ill-feeling is much more explicit?

Slovakia has a new currency

Notwithstanding the Lisbon holdup, the European Union today confirmed the capacity of selected aspects of the project to move forward unhindered as the Commission and Council agreed on a January 2009 entry date of Slovakia to the eurozone.  The crown will convert to euros at 30.126 to 1 — which is the current rate, although the Slovak government had pushed for a higher value of the crown to get in one last monetary tightening to combat inflation before the monetary policy tools are gone.   It’s an awkward time to join as the euro could easily become the all-purpose scapegoat for rising inflation, although based on previous experience, Slovak consumers would be well-advised to watch the price conversions extremely closely.  Converting those big number crown prices to smaller number euro prices leaves scope for “rounding up” — a once-off price increase that would be coming on top of existing pressures from oil and food.   Nevertheless, Slovakia’s macroeconomic fundamentals look comfortable (especially compared to e.g. Hungary), leaving the country with an economic profile somewhat like Ireland used to have.   Nostalgia.

Serbia has a new government!

It took just 57 days, which by Serbian standards is pretty quick. It’s a strange beast, with Milosevic’s old Socialist party riding shotgun on a coalition of pro-Western liberals and technocrats, but it’s actually less insane than what they had before. In order to make it work, they had to pass a Law on Government authorizing a whopping 28 Ministers or Ministry-level positions… it was the only way they could keep all coalition members satisfied.

The new PM is Mirko Cvetkovic. I knew him slightly when he worked as Deputy Minister for Privatization a few years back. He struck me as intelligent, hard-working, focused, and tough, but also as stubborn, gruff, and not inclined to suffer fools gladly. Those are just one man’s impressions from several years ago, so take them with a grain of salt.

This is the most liberal government Serbia has had since Zoran Djindjic was shot back in March 2003. (I don’t include Djindjic’s hapless successor Zivkovic.) It’s worth recalling that when Djindjic was shot, his approval ratings were in single digits… which is one reason his killers thought they could get away with it. I’m just sayin’.

The new government inherits various problems that will be tiresomely familiar to anyone interested in Serbia, and one big new one: how to handle the issue of Kosovo independence. Should be interesting to watch.

Finally, via Eric Gordy, here’s the “form your own Serbian government!” game. (You don’t have to read Serbian: it’s pretty self-explanatory.) I think they made it too easy to win… but then I suppose a realistically hard version would take around 55 days to play. I also think this could be turned into a real tool by some clever young political science grad student somewhere.

Anyway, congratulations to the new government, and good luck.

[Update: Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers. If you’re interested in Balkan stuff, check out our archives. This is a group blog, so if you like something, most of the individual authors have home blogs — you can find mine over here.]

Media pluralism in the EU and *cough* responsible blogging

Some European MPs sure love to control everything, as Alex’ post Horrible European Surveillance Proposals already demonstrated. It may be old news to some of you, but check out this motion for a European Parliament resolution (pdf) by Estonian MEP Marianne Mikko entitled Draft report on concentration and pluralism in the media in the European Union (2007/2253(INI)). In her proposal Mikko makes some sensible suggestions, but then comes this:

O. whereas weblogs are an increasingly common medium for self-expression by media professionals as well as private persons, the status of their authors and publishers, including their legal status, is neither determined nor made clear to the readers of the
weblogs, causing uncertainties regarding impartiality, reliability, source protection,
applicability of ethical codes and the assignment of liability in the event of lawsuits,

followed by

9. Suggests clarifying the status, legal or otherwise, of weblogs and encourages their voluntary labelling according to the professional and financial responsibilities and interests of their authors and publishers;

The explanation:

The development and acceptance of new technologies have led to the emergence of new media channels and new kinds of content. The emergence of new media has brought more dynamic and diversity into the media landscape; the report encourages responsible use of new channels. In this context the report points out that the undetermined and unindicated status of authors and publishers of weblogs causes uncertainties regarding impartiality, reliability, source protection, applicability of ethical codes and the assignment of liability in the event of lawsuits. It recommends clarification of the legal status of different categories of weblog authors and publishers as well as disclosure of interests and voluntary labelling of weblogs.

Now, for my question. Have weblogs really become so important (in Europe) that their authors pose a threat to media pluralism? Or is former old school journalist Mikko merely concerned about the competition from new media? Discuss, if you like. By the way, thank goodness we are not living in Iran.

Full disclosure: My real name is Guillaume van Turnhout, I am vaguely centrist and I am voluntarily declaring that I have no outspoken covert agenda, neither politically nor commercially. I am sure this will be of great comfort to AFOE readers who, in any case, are already totally aware of the banality of my blogging existence. Hat tip for this post goes to Sargasso.

Beach reading: Postwar, by Tony Judt

About halfway through this. It’s a history of Europe, 1945 – 2005, and it’s a great roach-killing doorstop of a thing.

It’s good, though. And it’s easy to read in installments of 10 or 15 minutes at a time, which is important for me at this time in my life (small children).

I like that it manages not only to tell me stuff I didn’t know — that’s easy enough — but to tell me stuff I knew already, arranged in a way that is clear and makes sense. A sample: Continue reading

Horrible European Surveillance Proposals

What fuckery is this? It looks like the French government, having failed to impose an awful record-industry inspired snooping act at home, is trying to policy-launder it through the European Union. The so-called “3 strikes” law foresaw that ISPs would be required to cut off service to anyone who was found downloading or distributing copyrighted material three times – which of course implied that the ISPs would be expected to filter all traffic by content, a wildly grandiose, authoritarian, and insecure idea. (Wonderfully, Nicolas Sarkozy outsourced his Internet policy to a committee led by the owner of a chain of record shops; a little like putting the manufacturers of candles in charge of street lighting.)

But the legislation failed in France; so here it is, coming straight back via the European Parliament. The odd bit, though, seeing as it’s a French idea chiefly backed by the EPP (=European Conservative group), is that it’s being pushed by the British Tories in Brussels – half of whom don’t believe there even should be a European Parliament. Specifically, according to Heise.de (German link), it’s the Tory MEPs Malcolm Harbour and Sayed Kamal. Kamal is responsible for possibly the most egregious tagnut of a clause in the whole thing, which would permit essentially unrestricted telecoms surveillance for the (naturally undefined) “security of a public or private communications system”, and Harbour for the copyright/content-sniffing bit.

This raises some interesting questions. For a start, let’s get this out of the way: here are detailed instructions on who to phone and shout at. There are more at the bottom of the ORG post referenced above. You have until the 7th of July.

But since when has EU-sponsored mass telecoms snooping and censorship been the policy of the Conservative Party? Perhaps fortunately, they’ve been out of power since the Internet has been an issue, so this has never really been tested; David Cameron certainly didn’t say anything about this, the lying turdwit.

Kosovar independence in the General Assembly

Following up to my earlier post, some discussion of the international reaction to Kosovar independence.

At the moment, 43 countries have recognized Kosovo’s independence. (I’m defining “country” here as “member of the UN General Assembly. Sorry, Taiwan.) Since the UNGA has 192 members, that means that more than three quarters of the world’s countries have not recognized Kosovo.

Is that good or bad for the Kosovars? Continue reading

Lisbon ratification crisis escalates

Day 1 of the French presidency of the European Council is off to a bad start.   It now seems that both the Czech Republic and Poland will have constitutional struggles over the treaty, with presidents who had been assumed to have mainly titular powers deciding to exercise their right not to sign approved legislation and therefore prevent ratification.    Also today, Nicolas Sarkozy postponed his visit to Ireland in a couple of weeks which was supposed to be part of the stocktaking of what went wrong.  Whether the postponement (with its unconvincing “heavy schedule” excuse) is a direct reaction to the Polish delay or simply a way of getting out an awkward trip is not clear — but the prospect of the trip with its undertones of pressure to ratify was galvanizing Lisbon opponents in Ireland. 

It’s interesting to recall that a leaked British memo from a few months ago revealed that the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs had always viewed the French presidency of the Council as a potential loose cannon in the ratification process, so perhaps some quiet advice was sent to the Elysee over the last few days along the same lines.  One other trend seems clear: there was an apparent Franco-German gambit that eastern European countries would be sympathetic to the argument that Lisbon is necessary to accommodate any further enlargement of the EU.  So far, they’re not buying.