In Luxembourg on October 25, 2007 before the members of AFFIL (Association des Français en fonction dans les institutions internationales au Luxembourg), La Francophonie secretary general Abdou Diouf gave a conference entitled “French in International Organizations: the Challenge of Multilingualism.”
At the beginning of his talk, Mr. Diouf told participants that his decision to speak to them about multilingualism in international organizations was due to the fact that “it is an essential part of protecting and promoting cultural diversity, a major challenge for the future in this age of globalization.”
The secretary general attempted to clear up a common misconception from the get-go. “Some might interpret International Organization of La Francophonie’s (OIF) focus on cultural and linguistic diversity as a cover-up for an apparent obsession to exclusively defend the French language. By defending the French language, we intend, more generally speaking, to promote the spread of all languages,” asserted the secretary general. By way of an example, Mr. Diouf noted his organization’s work in the French-speaking world to promote the partner languages of OIF member countries. Among other things, he mentioned the instrumental role OIF played in the adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
Mr. Diouf then explained the French-speaking world’s ambitions, actions, and expectations in its fight to preserve linguistic diversity, first of all evoking “the conviction that a language cannot be boiled down to its function as a mere means of communication between people.” Continuing in the same vein, the secretary general declared, “A language is also and above all the expression of a culture, a way of life, of values, traditions, beliefs, and it transmits a certain world view.”
Based on these observations, Mr. Diouf believes that the time has come to weigh the consequences. “The consequence, first of all, that multilingualism and multiculturalism go hand in hand and that the disappearance of the former, in the long run, can only lead to the disappearance of the latter, with the added risk of exacerbating identity-related claims. And the consequence that we will see languages lose their purpose in some essential fields of human activity such as interstate relations, research, trade, finance, and higher education.”
The secretary general then noted that it is the duty of each of us—i.e., international organizations, states, and individuals—to preserve, respect, and foster diversity and plurality. He believes that “the European Union has an important symbolic role to play in the eyes of the rest of the world and that it would lose a great deal were it to succumb to the sirensong of one sole language.”
“Conscious of what is at stake, conscious of the bargaining power that the 14 states that are both OIF and EU members can have—notably since the eastward expansion of both institutions—the Francophonie, with the help of Luxembourg and the French-speaking communities of Belgium and France, has put in place a specific action plan,” he continued. “Our goal,” he stressed, “is to help EU states train their own experts on and in the French language in their permanent representations and missions with the European Union in Brussels, at the central and regional government levels, and in their national business schools and diplomatic institutions. Twelve thousand beneficiaries are involved in the program every year. Similarly, we have a duty to safeguard the role of French in all major international organizations, be it the United Nations or regional organizations, particularly in Africa.”
Recalling that at the last United Nations General Assembly, of the 68 Member States or observers from La Francophonie to speak at the highest level, only 28 did so entirely or partially in French, the secretary general declared, “Multilingualism within international organizations also depends in large part on the political will of states to take this tack. In this respect, we are expecting great things of the guide adopted by the heads of state and government at the last summit of La Francophonie in Bucharest.”
In this text, Mr. Diouf explained, “they undertake to use French in international organizations as often as possible, without depriving themselves of their own languages when they have official or working language status. They also undertake to defend, including by means of claims and protests, our common language’s status as an official or working language in these same organizations.”
Mr. Diouf went on to declare, “It is now up to each of our Member States to take the appropriate measures to see that this guide is implemented effectively if we want to move beyond statements of intent.”
To learn everything Mr. Diouf had to say about the issue of French in international organizations, you can read the full version of his speech here (in French).