1 December 2003

In an unusual public statement to the French daily "Le Figaro," former U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Ceullar criticized the decision taken to close down Information Centres in Paris and other European capitals. He added a new conceptual dimension when stating that such a decision abandoned French as the other working language. "It reflects the conviction that the language of official relations must be English just like Latin was during the Roman empire." He regretted lack of effective action by the French Foreign Ministry, stressing that even with electronic communications it will be an illusion to believe that Brussels, which is "only half Francophone" could replace offices in another European capital.

Two years after an announcement was made -- more like a promotional act than a management decision -- confusion, lack of planning and disregard for basic professional or human consideration continue while the deadline of December 2003 approaches. As reported earlier, the office in Brussels is not yet available. The National Officers in Athens and Rome stood their ground declining an offer to move (they are National offices, after all). There is talk that the Greek government is working out an arrangement to keep the office. The German government -- which resisted from the beginning -- is likely to do the same. The French government, a permanent member of the Security Council, may find out that it has to stand up for "l'exclusivite francaise," particularly after the admonition of the former U.N. Secretary General. Following are some extracts of Le Figaro 17 November interview:

1. On the decision to close U.N. Information Centres in Paris:
"I regret this decision. Admittedly it is not aimed at Paris alone. But although the Spanish, who are witnessing the closing of their Madrid office, can only complain, France has the right to express its opposition. At the United Nations, there are six official languages only two working languages: English & French. Each official document must be published simultaneously in these two languages. The reality is totally different. The English is distributed immediately, the French text follows a day or a week later. Therefore the decision by the U.N. Secretariat to leave Paris is far from being neutral (the exact translation: The abandoning of Paris by the U.N. is therefore not neutral). This initiative expresses the conviction (the belief) that the language of official relations must be English just like Latin during the Roman Empire.

2. How could France remind the U.N. of its commitments?
Few months after my election as Secretary General in January 1982, I visited Francois Mitterand who complained that the U.N. was neglecting the French Language. I answered him "it's your diplomats who give in (surrender?) to the English language. It is the Africans who defend the French language." Today, I'm sorry that the Quai D'Orsay does not react more vigorously to the closing of the Parisian office of the United Nations. Language is a dimension of patriotism, to fight for French is to fight for France. Quebec reacted, it saved its language.

3. On strengthening French culture:
The effort must start in France. It's necessary to bring back to the French people their taste for literature. In my youth, my Parisian classmates used to recite Moliere & La Fontaine by heart. The other day, I 'plunged' into the literary supplement of Le Monde only to discover that, once again, it devoted four pages to Anglophone books.

4. On the organization of French-speaking countries:
It has to do with a bureaucratic machine that does not, unfortunately, offer the services which the language needs. In Peru, neither the French Lycee of Lima nor the Alliance Francaise have sufficient financial means. In Paris, when I hear the Franglais of the television hosts, I find (realize? think?) that France does not do enough to protect its language. I'm 83 years old but I never used the word o.k., even in English.

5. On cultural identity:
France must commit to an excessive fight. For a language expresses a spirit, a psychology, a vision of the world. The hegemony of the English language leads forcibly to intellectual domination thus a political one. Hence the debate triggered by UNESCO's plan to have a convention defending cultural identity. The Americans oppose it because they know well that cultural diversity preserves political diversity. Look at what is happening with Spanish. As a result of the influx of the American Latinos, the United States is experiencing for the first time in its young history, the competition of another language in its own territory (exact translation: This language stems from the breeding grounds of American Latino who furthermore are at the gate of the U.S. The result is this: For the first time in its young history, the United States knows, on its own territories, the competition of another language.

6. The U.N. Secretariat defends its decision by claiming that a large office will be in Brussels, a Francophone city?
First of all, Brussels is only half French speaking & then I want to tell my English speaking friends who are fascinated by technology that the Internet cannot, always & everywhere, replace the information provided by people of flesh & blood. Finally, at the moment when the U.N. needs so much to find public opinion support, its an illusion to believe that Brussels could efficiently replace not only Paris but also Lisbon, Copenhagen or Athens.