“Francophonie” versus “Anglo-Saxonia”

Posted by John Rosenthal

Le Figaro published an interview in its Wednesday (15 February) edition with Brigitte Girardin, The French Minister for Cooperation, Development and so-called “francophonie” or, roughly, “French-speaking culture”. The notion of “la francophonie” has hitherto been associated with the promotion of the French language, notably under the auspices of the International Organization for “la Francophonie” (OIF). But the French government is evidently now interested in instrumentalizing the latter for other purposes. Consider the following exchange:

Le Fig: How is “la Francophonie” holding up in the context of Anglo-Saxon globalization?

Girardin: La Francophonie has the wind in its sails. Its structures have been reformed and today, under the leadership of Abdou Diouf, a very respected Secretary General, the International Organization for French-Speaking Culture has taken on political objectives: the prevention of crises, laying the roots of democracy, and respect for human rights….

Le Fig: What is the place of France in this community?

Girardin: Our country is known for its attachment to humanist ideas and its tireless defense of multilateralism. The renaissance of “la Francophonie” represents an opportunity for exercising influence. We are not a country turned in on itself, nor focused on its identity, but rather a country that is a bearer of values of universal solidarity.

Apart from the odd mixture of boosterism and megalomania reflected in the latter response – a mixture that is in fact entirely run of the mill for French political elites and especially for the current government – what is most remarkable in Ms. Girardin’s comments is the suggestion that a cultural agency should be invested with a political role. “The Francophonie is not only the promotion of the French language,” Ms. Girardin added, “it is also a common will to bring one’s weight to bear in important international debates.”

As strange as such a suggestion may seem, France has of late discreetly booked a certain success in implementing it. Thus the so-called International Working Group that has been put in place to monitor the “peace process” in the Ivory Coast – and that recently sparked violent protests by seeming to pronounce the Ivorian National Assembly dissolved – includes among its members: the European Union, France, and… the International Organization for French-Speaking Culture. Ms. Girardin openly speaks of the newly-politicized OIF as a vector for French influence. Since the European Union, in the absence of any other member state having a strategic interest in the Ivorian conflict, can likewise be expected to defend the French positions, this means, in effect: three votes for France.

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