Some food for thought (and some more lazy blogging). Via Ariel Zellman’s blog I came across this little gem which can be found in Stuart Kaufman’s Modern Hatred: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War
A Beginner’s Guide to Ethnic Politics
1. If an area was ours for 500 years and yours for 50 years, it should belong to us – your are merely occupiers.
2. If an area was yours for 500 years and ours for 50 years, it should belong to us – borders must not be changed.
3. If an area belonged to us 500 years ago but never since then, it should belong to us – it is the Cradle of our Nation.
4. If a majority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must enjoy the right of self-determination.
5. If a minority of our people live there, it must belong to us – they must be protected against your oppression.
6. All of the above rules apply to us but not to you.
7. Our dream of greatness is Historical Necessity, yours if Fascism.
History has always been (mis-) used in political debates. Basically, every social group constructs a set of historical ‘facts’ which then are used to justify any kind of ‘political action’. The constant repetition of these ‘facts’ create history. Usually different “versions” of history exist and most of the times these versions seem incompatible even though they might be two sides of the same coin.
A few weeks ago the German EU presidency proposed a common history book to be used in schools across the EU. Obviously the reactions were rather mixed. But, given the problem with (nationalized) history in general, such a book could truly help building a common identity and make people aware of different viewpoints. Moreover, it would reveal the different constructions of history .
Clearly, the existing Franco-German history textbook (that proved to be rather successful in practice) served as an example for this initiative. It might be still too optimistic to think of a common EU history book but why is it not possible to develop regional history books for a start? Or at least another book for two countries (preferably neighbors or “arch enemies”)…?
Certainly Eastern Europe would be an ideal choice for the next project, so I hope some education ministers in Eastern Europe read this article via eurotopics (btw a page I highly recommend!):
The hostilities between the countries of central Europe have arisen because the people there don’t understand the history and culture of their neighbours, writes Emese John, an MP for Hungary’s Liberals: “Our culture of remembrance is based exclusively on national history books. They bear the marks of the battles of the past thousand years and describe wars and conflicts solely from a national perspective. We live on such a tiny fragment of the world that our roots have become entwined and our branches touch each other, yet we still fail to see the common interests in our joint history – because we haven’t sought them… To discuss only matters pertaining to Hungary’s fate is narrow-minded and leads nowhere. One of the great matters of national interest today is how we can profit from this growing and increasingly fast world. It’s very important to confront the past, but to do this we need to borrow our neighbours’ glasses so we can see better.”
Every now and then a little language war breaks out in the EU institutions. Spain lobbies for Spanish to become one of the official working languages (at the moment: English, French and German) because it is one of most spoken languages worldwide. Germany (sometimes together with Austria) claims that German became more popular after the EU Enlargement. Italy, a big and proud country also wants its language to be considered….Usually not much is happening after attempts like that. And normally these lobbying activities are also quite diplomatic…..
But now the French really exaggerated it. Following a translation mistake a while ago, it seems that Maurice Druon (a member of the Academie Francaise who was also awarded with a K.B.E!) is heading an emergency task force to save French as the universal language in the EU (which is to a certain extent English). And his arguments are really convincing:
“The Italian language is the language of song, German is good for philosophy and English for poetry, French is best at precision, it has a rigour to it. It is the safest language for legal purposes.” He argued that French should be “the authoritative” language as it is both related to Latin – in which Roman law was written – as well as the language of the Napoleonic code.
Obviously, there is quite an extensive list of songs, poetry, philosophy and literature written in all languages and it is really disgrace if such an educated man like Mr. Druon makes such a simplistic statement. Indeed, French is routed in Latin but this is also true for Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. And besides Roman law and the Napoleonic code we have (fortunately) other legal traditions as well….
It is still working! 68 years after the original radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles. Listen to the original here: RTBF, a Belgian public television station repeated the exercise. This time without aliens invading planet earth but with the political destruction of Belgium. In the version of (french-speaking) RTBF, Flanders, the dutch speaking region declared unilaterally its independence. According to newspaper reports 89% of the viewers believed the hoax which is of course the result of two years of preparation. Even international media (BBC, The Independent, Spiegel) reported about this rather special TV event.
Obviously, Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was not amused and was quoted with this statement:
In the current context, it’s irresponsible for a public television channel to announce the end of Belgium as a reality presented by genuine journalists.
But the truth is that Belgium has a huge unresolved problem regarding its federal structure and the two biggest language communities. Vlaams Belang, a nationalist/conservative/xenophob party (Slogan in the last election campaign: “Secure, Flemish, Liveable”) has been very successful in the last years promoting Flemish independence and managed to double its seats in local municipalities from 439 to 800 in the 2006 elections being now one of the biggest parties in Belgium.
But thanks to the ‘cordon sanitaire’ of the other parties a public discourse about this issue is still a taboo. Maybe the brave journalists really get a public debate started that helps to reunite the French and the Dutch communities….well, wishful thinking I suppose.