President sets out goals for the Francophone community
Seventeenth Organisation de la Francophonie summit – Speech by M. Emmanuel Macron, President of the Republic (excerpts)
Yerevan, 11 October 2018
My first words will be for you, Prime Minister, to thank you for hosting us during these days in Yerevan, and also to thank you for the perfect organization of this summit, which comes at a major time in your country’s history.
You’re aware of the place your country has in French people’s hearts. In Paris, Marseille, Lyon and elsewhere, saying the word Armenia strikes an emotional chord with the nation. (…)
And Armenia, for France and the whole Francophone community, was also a voice, a voice that has just fallen silent, plunging our country into sadness and mourning – the voice of a giant of French song, a performer of genius who, better than anyone else, expressed our torments, our joy, the pain of time’s passing and the carefreeness of youth. (…)
As we all know, that singer, who represented Francophone culture all over the planet, was Armenian.
For a long time yet – and it’s the sign of one man’s genius –, our countries will look at each other through the prism of that treasure our peoples share, Charles Aznavour. (…)
Today, a family is gathered in Yerevan. A family spanning the planet, present on the five continents, in Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Oceania.
A family so diverse that it defies imagination. All of us who belong to it don’t have the same skin colour. Our gods don’t always have the same name, and some of us don’t believe in heaven. The climates where we live are so dissimilar that some know only a long summer and others harsh, snowy winters. Our songs don’t resemble one another, even if they are often sung in harmony. (…)
But this family – so multicoloured, so dazzling, so vibrant, diverse and coruscating – is a united family.
United above all by a language, this language that we each – with our accents, our turns of phrase, our distinctive features – bring alive in a plural way, but where we understand one another intimately; this language which belongs to none of us but is the property of us all. (…)
Our family is united not only by this language that is constantly being transformed but also by a certain vision of the world, the vision which our common language, through our non-stop conversation, has helped to shape. (…)
Finally, our family is united by its ideals, its hopes and its deepest aspirations. Its aspirations for fraternity, peace, freedom, human dignity and justice, which are the very foundation of our community. (…)
Presidents, Prime Minister, you’ve mentioned the direction the world is taking all around us. We see major transformations under way, and we see our international order being shaken.
Shaken by lies and a kind of insidious falsification of all forms of truth.
Shaken by the hate speech that is on the rise in every region of the world. Shaken by the break-up of the international order in which, in recent decades, we made progress and which we took for granted. Shaken by the retreat, the undermining on every continent of the basic freedoms we’ve always upheld, struggles for human dignity, gender equality and all our values. Shaken because multilateralism and the respect that goes with it are being challenged more or less everywhere. (…)
In every language, we’re accepting the worst atrocities and the most unacceptable regressions. In every language today, we’re accepting challenges to the independence of justice, the worst violations of women’s rights, the worst regressions in the international order that was gradually built by our predecessors.
Role of the OIF
The Organisation internationale de la Francophonie [OIF] must be the place for us to come together today and set things on the road to recovery. (…)
There are 84 nations in our OIF, from north to south, across every sea. And among those 84 nations, there isn’t one nation or a few which dictate principles from on high. It’s sometimes been done, perhaps too often. There’s no one nation whose destiny is to tell the truth about our principles, in particular democracy. And in saying this I’m looking at myself first and foremost, because France has often been criticized for this.
And it’s so true that the people who conceived and created the OIF were the first great African leaders whose ambition was to reconquer, reinvent this area of language and values by saying: but it’s ours! And its future is there, in your countries. But we’re going to play our part in this, we’re going to champion this demand; that’s the magnificent strength and vitality of the Francophone community. (…)
We all have a present-day demand to champion, an ambition to uphold. The one we inherit, the one our founding fathers wanted for us: that of a language that wants to give up nothing – on the contrary – and which constantly reinvents itself.
That of young people, because they’re the strength of the Francophone community. That of a requirement for values, democratic values. Not the values we’re used to carrying around, with words we say only at summits, which our peoples no longer believe in. No, our democratic requirement is vital, vibrant, because those values have been lived out in the street, first of all, by men and women in all our countries, because they often originate in revolutions – revolutions for independence or democracy.
Well, today it’s by using this as a yardstick that we must look at our Francophone community. Our summit today can’t be a summit like the others, when we see the direction the world is taking. That’s not possible. (…)
My first strong belief, my deep-seated belief, is that the OIF must recapture young people, must become a fully-fledged plan for the future. Yes, our organization must speak primarily to young people. We’ve sometimes been criticized for being too institutional. That’s often unfair, but not always unfounded. Our organization must reconnect with our peoples, speak to them, prove to them what it contributes. The people of the French-speaking world are young; let’s not forget them, let’s offer them a future through education, vocational training, employment, civic engagement, culture: that’s our main challenge. The OIF’s first battle in the coming years concerns young people, and especially young people in Africa.
The African continent is in the process of reinventing itself. Some would like to keep it in yesterday’s imagination, yesterday’s squabbles, yesterday’s divisions. But today the continent is one of the world’s youngest. Those young people represent an extraordinary opportunity. And the OIF has a battle to fight for them, the battle to deploy our language, our languages, which is also a battle for our values throughout Africa, the battle being fought bravely by the heads of state and government who are here, sitting alongside us. The battle against obscurantism, against forced marriages, against the oppression of women, against the decline of education, in particular of girls, and the battle for our values and this ambition.
The OIF will fight it in every area and by your side. And together I want us to make it a symbol of the future, of reconquest. The OIF must enable young French-speakers to get a better schooling, to enjoy better libraries and new technologies, must facilitate access to the best universities and enable young researchers to publish in the best reviews, and obviously – the first battle – enable all young children, especially girls, to go to school.
France will be by your side in this French-speaking family, and as you know, I’ve profoundly reoriented French development policy in that direction, and it’s a battle for us all that we’re fighting, against obscurantism and for this shared destiny.
Promoting French worldwide
Ladies and gentlemen,
Next, the OIF must regain a strong mandate to support our language and multilingualism. The French language and its dissemination are central to our organization. And when I say the French language, I’m talking about our French languages, whose epicentre, as I’ve often said, is neither on the left nor the right bank of the Seine, but probably in the Congo Basin, or somewhere in the region.
Our first duty is to move up a gear in our support for learning the language, for transforming the language and for the ambition we must harbour.
There will be more than 700 million people able to communicate in French by the middle of this century. And if we can handle it together, there will be many more. Under these circumstances, the French-speaking world will be a force in globalization, and we must use every tool to that end.
Our organization must also concern itself with the place of French outside the French-speaking world; among other things, it must campaign at UNESCO for the compulsory teaching of two foreign languages. This will benefit French – which is the world’s second most widely taught language after English – and of course multilingualism. But what we must really build together in this regard is an agenda of conquest or reconquest for the French language.
Our language isn’t established for all eternity throughout the continent, and given the challenge I’ve just mentioned, this fundamental educational challenge, today we must work to ensure we can do even more to promote French. First of all to make it even more the language of trade. The OIF must thus promote French even more effectively in the key spaces of international life where world-language status is forged: in the institutions of political governance, at the UN and in regional organizations like the European Union and the African Union. We must be able to talk, negotiate and propose initiatives in our language and make it an even stronger language of trade, business and diplomacy.
Secondly, what characterizes us is that we’re a language, we’re the language of creativity, and on this issue let me tell you this battle is one of the most important ones of the coming century. Many of us often talk in English at international summits; English has prevailed, like a few other languages depending on the region, as a very strong language of trade. But English has become a working language, I would say of consumption. Our language, French, is equally so, but it’s also a language of creativity. (…)
What brings us together is the fact that in our countries people have died for words and ideas. Nothing is more powerful. So fighting to make our language stronger today means fighting to put authors in a stronger position. And it means fighting so that in this new domain, the Internet, the French language plays an active part. I want to pay tribute in this respect to the battle our Canadian and Quebec friends are fighting on this issue; they have a lot of ideas. Bravo! We’re going to follow and support you.
I’d particularly like us to look at Canada’s ambitious plan to build a French-speaking digital platform on TV5 Monde. We must fight to defend our language on the Internet, we must fight to defend copyright on the Internet, and in our other forms of communication, everywhere, because it simply means fighting for those who create these ideas, who fight to defend them and have sometimes died for them. (…)
I’m arguing that we should organize a French-language writers’ conference, along the lines of what our Spanish-speaking friends do. As incredible as it may seem, this has never been done in the past 50 years. This conference should bring together the great writers and publishers, all those whose profession is the language, throughout the Francophone world. It should put authors back in the spotlight, and take note of the changed status of French, which is no longer just the language of France, and the major role every continent plays in literary creation. Our culture minister, who has dedicated her life to literary publishing, is particularly committed to this. Leïla Slimani, my personal representative for the Francophone community, had this desire, this idea, and will carry out this wonderful project alongside you. (…)
I think this fundamental battle for our language is a battle for multilingualism. Fighting for the French language and culture doesn’t mean retreating into our language, and our friends here – especially our African ones – know this perfectly well, living as they do in a multilingual environment. It’s about recognizing how much French is a language of exchange and translation.
In this way the OIF could take ownership of the debate about French as a “world language” and support initiatives such as the Dictionnaire des francophones, which we should conduct and promote together. And I’d like us to step up initiatives together. France has started doing this and we’ve put funding in place to increase the number of dictionaries which translate between the various languages of the Francophone world and French. There’s no Wolof-French dictionary today. Let’s get on and develop it; these languages are linguae francae and this is the case with so many other languages of the Pacific area, Africa and South and North America.
Château de Villers-Cotterêts initiative
I’d also be pleased if the OIF could support the initiative I’ve taken to renovate the Château de Villers-Cotterêts. We’re here in Yerevan and I’m talking to you about a town which is dear to me and at the heart of the region of France where I was born; we all owe this place a great deal, and I’m going to tell you why. There are at least two reasons: first, it was the place where Francis I’s ordinance was signed which decided that French among many other languages would be the language used for official acts and administrative legislation in France. This ordinance therefore created the conditions which made French the official language. The second reason is that it’s the town where Alexandre Dumas, the writer who inspired dreams on every continent, was born.
And so in this place, where such an important piece of legislation was adopted, I want us to make the Château de Villers-Cotterêts one of the Francophone community’s places, a space for discovering the multiplicity of Francophone cultures, a place where all the world’s French speakers will be able to contribute to our shared imagination, go to study, create and transform, because we’re a multilingual community, because we’re a community of shared understanding.
Finally – and this is the point on which I’d like to end my speech –, in a way the Francophone community is this open, universal place, a place of excellence where we can reinvent the fight for global public goods and reinvent multilateralism, for the two reasons I’ve just mentioned: because French has become a world language and because French is a language of translation and a lingua franca. French is non-existent if we confine it to one continent; French is non-existent if it refuses to be translated. It isn’t a language which squeezes others out, it’s one which takes inspiration from others and exists only in a world of translation. It’s a language which lives, progresses and develops only if we understand that it provides a place for shared understanding, respectful of the world, far from any hegemony, a place for continued reinvention and humanism striking new balances. That’s what French must be: a language of the universal, of translation, of writers, a lingua franca.
And it’s why the Francophone community has a duty today to defend global public goods. First and foremost: the environment. Together let’s make this battle a joint one. In this room there are only countries fighting, whatever resistance there is, for the environment and against global warming. Let’s work together for a global environment pact. Let’s work together to make further headway so we in no way succumb to the scepticism setting in.
Another challenge, one of our common goods, is human rights – protection against the most serious crimes, in particular. Here too, let’s work together to radically change our organizations’ rules, which have sometimes become obsolete. Together let’s push for the right of veto at the UN Security Council to be regulated; let’s prohibit its use when mass crimes are committed. We can no longer accept certain powers blocking the international community’s condemnation of certain intolerable situations. It’s for the Francophone community to fight these battles and so end paralysis, irresponsibility and cynicism.
The Francophone community must be a space where women’s rights are fought for, and I want here to welcome the work done by Michaëlle Jean, to whom I pay tribute; she has been very actively engaged in this battle.
The Francophone community must be feminist – and you’re right, Madam Secretary-General, to be uncompromising on this. The Francophone community must be feminist, Africa’s future will be feminist, as in Europe and elsewhere. And I want here to highlight President Essebsi’s courage. At a time when we’re experiencing the rise of obscurantism, the rise of those who’d like to shackle a whole continent to a warped interpretation of a religion, he stood up and, only in the last few weeks, courageously adopted basic legislation on women’s rights, the right to be free, and marriage and inheritance rights. Even though everyone else was afraid, even though obscurantists were saying not to do it, President Essebsi went ahead and we’ve got to support him in this battle. And we will, Mr President! (…)
To fight all these battles, I’d like us to set ourselves the goal of revising the OIF Charter. Joint discussions and proposals could be launched by the OIF leadership and the Armenian presidency to adapt our social pact to the new challenges of the 21st century, asking, re-asking ourselves important questions. What’s the right remit for the OIF? To become part of our Francophone family, should we content ourselves with a few commitments vis-à-vis the French language and respecting human rights, or should we pride ourselves on accomplishments, concrete achievements? Shouldn’t we be stricter with ourselves and try to strengthen our community? Shouldn’t we also take another look at the inflexible nature of our strategies and programmes, which are adopted for four, even eight years? Shouldn’t we find – as National Assembly Deputy [Jacques] Krabal is proposing – the means of giving greater visibility, greater influence to our parliaments and our civil societies? (…)
Those are just a few ideas, but I think collectively we’d benefit from waging this battle. (…)
Long live the Francophone community! Thank you. (…)./.