25 March 2011

The (draft) European Council conclusions commend and task the Hungarian Presidency

As you could see, we try to avoid turning this blog into a Presidency propaganda site – the number of readers lately suggest that you agree with us. This is our personal and honest account of the events as we see them from inside.

Still we can’t help giving way to a moment of pride as the efforts of our colleagues start to bear fruit. How far the Presidency has gone is clearly visible form the highest source, i.e. the conclusions of the European Council, which greet the Presidency achievements and entrusts it with further tasks.

We know that the ultimate test of any presidency is how it reacts to unexpected events. Well, we had plenty of them – probably the most tumultuous presidency for decades. What is shocking, is that many have criticized the action (or sometimes non-action) by some EU actors, but the Hungarian Presidency has never received any criticism for its handling of the crisis (or its share of the answer), only approval. True, in CFSP the communication burden is not on us, but the policy work does rest on our shoulders: in areas of Energy supply and security, in migration, border control and asylum policy, in pushing through decisions on enhanced funding for the region, it is the Presidency who has to deliver. We are not going to bore you with the details, so we have put a list into the footnote*. But let’s look at the summit conclusions on Libya/Southern Neighborhood instead:

What we see is clear praise for the diplomatic efforts of the Presidency for negotiating with the countries of the Southern Mediterranean region (see recent trip of Mr. Martonyi to Egypt here) and for the record speed in imposing sanctions (see here the first round, then extensions here and here.) Clear tasking in the area of Migration (Frontex) and development (EIB and pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin).

On the economy, what can be known already also shows an appreciation for the Presidency’s work. The European Council endorses the execution of the European Semester, which is based on the Commission’s Annual Growth Survey as well as the conclusions and synthesis report prepared by the Hungarian Presidency.

The European Council also welcomed the result of the work of the Hungarian Presidency on the 6-pack, namely the general approach which now allows us to negotiate with the EP. A clear task is also given to close those negotiations by June 2011.

Finally, the European Council underlines the importance of bank stress tests. Here, the Presidency saved the day in February when the EP was threatening to reject the appointment of the Chairperson of the Banking Authority. With a delay in the appointment procedure that was thankfully averted, the Authorities would probably not be able to carry out the tests so soon.

And you have not even seen the conclusions on Japan and energy security yet . The temptation is great to quote from them, as we know that most journalists have it already, but still it would be a gross violation of our mandate. As soon as they become public, we will update this post with more details :)

*First of all, the conclusions proudly mention that the EU “has reacted swiftly to implement the sanctions imposed... The European Union stands ready to initiate and adopt further sanctions, including measures to ensure that oil and gas revenues do not reach the Khadafi regime.”Indeed we have already blogged about the incredible speed with which the Presidency pushed through the sanctions (see here) with full cooperation of the MS. There were four rounds of sanctions and we can’t exclude new ones coming…

In the next point the conclusions mention civil protection and humanitarian operations. These are run by the Commission, under the political guidance of the Presidency and EEAS (e.g. activation, negotiation with the countries – see here and here). The EU is represented in Libya by the Hungarian Embassy, where our colleagues are making almost superhuman efforts under rather dangerous conditions.

On migration, the “European Council welcomes the recent visit of the Presidency and the Commission to Egypt as part of a first phase of consultations to promote a comprehensive approach to migration” – indeed the Hungarian diplomacy is fully mobilized and working on this behind the scenes. “Agreement should be reached by June 2011 on the regulation enhancing the capabilities of Frontex” – another priority in our programme.

On funding, the summit was clearly tasking the Presidency, saying “the ceiling for EIB operations for Mediterranean countries undertaking political reform should be increased by 1 billion, without reducing operations in the EU’s Eastern neighbors”. Negotiating this with the European Parliament will be our task.

Then, “the proposals on pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin should be adopted without delay” – here our customs experts have been leading tough negotiations in the Council, another thing we have to deliver.

24 March 2011

Visual messages at European Council press conferences

Waiting for the press conferences to come tonight, it may be interesting to take a look at previous arrangements:

After the extraordinary European Council on the 11th of March, Kovács and Kováts have followed closely the press conferences of Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy. Here are some observations on the logistics.

All three delegations have been allocated a Council meeting room for their own press conferences, next to each other on the 20th floor. (Actually France is in the middle flanked by the UK and Germany on two sides.)

Let’s take Mr. Sarkozy first, who definitely received the most attention on 11 March. The French briefing room was even more packed than usual, overflowing with the international press. The first surprise came already in the morning that the French President has stopped at the VIP entrance for a “doorstep” statement to the press. If our memory serves us well, this rarely happened in the past. (Add to this that Alain Juppé had no time for a press conference the day before after the lunch of foreign affairs ministers, so one can imagine the excitement.)

So, here are the three pictures, where we try to single out a few details in a very subjective way that somehow caught our attention:

Position of speakers: both Sarkozy and Cameron are standing, while Merkel is sitting. Merkel has a spokesperson at her side, while the two men are standing alone, dominating the podium. In case of Merkel, the spokesperson moderates, giving the floor to journalists, while Cameron and Sarkozy solve this themselves (all three are extremely professional, very much at ease of course).

Sign: In case of Cameron and Sarkozy the sign says “European Council”, while in the German briefing room it says “extraordinary European Council”. The German sign was the only one that we saw where this distinction has been made. This is for purists, of course, but from a legal and procedural perspective an extraordinary EC has distinct characteristics.

Picture: Background is always blue, but in the German briefing room a map of the EU with stars marks each capital. In the UK and French rooms no map or any other decoration.

Flags: behind Sarkozy the French flag is placed a bit closer to the audience than the EU flag. The opposite is true for Cameron. The EU flag is placed a bit in front of the UK flag – we don’t know whether this is a nice gesture for the host or just a random placement of objects. (The use of EU symbols has been established by a declaration attached to the Lisbon Treaty, but the UK never signed up for this declaration as far as we know.) There is no flag behind Chancellor Merkel, but printed at the front of the podium. (N.B. after the euro summit, the French had all the flags of the eurozone MS, a very nice gesture.)

Security: The Chancellor and the President have paths leading up to the podium blocked, while there is a surprising lack of visible security around Cameron. He is engaging more directly with his audience, practically standing among them. (Of course there is enough security in the room, plus a gentleman with the famous red suitcase.)

Although we should not read too much into these little details, they do say a bit about the distinct national styles of communication. (And this post shows how deeply ingrained nation brands are into our minds. Or how much idle time we have during the waiting game....)

The tweet that moved the Euro

We are excited to be at a summit again, the climax of our life in the Brussels Bubble. Although this bubble has been pierced by the protests taking part just outside the Justus Lipsius building: while leaders are preparing to adopt the Competitiveness Pact (renamed the Euro Plus Pact), trade union protesters outside are raising signs saying “No to the Competitiveness Pact, no to austerity”. (By the way, Hungary has also said no to the Euro Plus Pact for completely different reasons, and we do support its implementation) To the protesters, the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy answered through his twitter page: “To the people demonstrating outside, I say: We take your worries seriously. What we do is not about dismantling social protection.”

This is a sign of the new reality driving media during summits: the tweets by Van Rompuy (http://twitter.com/euHvR) - some of the newswires reporters have jokingly complained to Kovács and Kováts, fearing for their jobs if @euHvR carried on tweeting out the results.

But the surprising fact is that it is not only the Brussels press corps reacting, but even world markets. This has been clearly illustrated by a strange event that took place at the last Eurozone summit on the 11th of March. While we were all playing the famous “waiting game” a tweet has appeared from @euHvR claiming “We have an agreement on the pact for Euro”. (You can read the original tweet’s screenshot on Dirk’s blog: http://blogs.fd.nl/brussel/2011/03/spooktweets.html )

Some people have picked it up and re-tweeted, but in a few moments the tweet was deleted and replaced by another, softer version that read: “Update from ongoing meeting: Agreement in principle on the Pact for the Euro, but still discussing the other elements of the package.”

We have looked at news sent out by one of the leading news agencies. They have quoted the original, later deleted tweet of Mr. van Rompuy in their breaking news – and markets reacted! According to another report that night, the “euro hit $1.39, up 0.8 percent on the day. Short covering played a significant role in boosting the euro zone single currency throughout most of the session, strategists said.”

The incredible power of a tweet merits a closer look at the hands that are writing those tweets.

As it is clear from the AFP blog post by Yann, a regular contact of Kovács and Kováts, the tweets are actually written not by Mr van Rompuy himself, but his spokesperson, Dirk de Backer or his deputy Jesus Carmona.

This EU tweeting project started at the 2010 October European Council meeting under a rather unlucky constellation of stars. An #EUCO hash tag has been set up and all tweets containing that code were shown on two giant screens set up during the summit meeting in the Atrium (one of the reasons for covering the famous carpet – see our post here). Eurblogger Jon Worth has quickly seized the opportunity and published a short post on it, while some Twitter users have jumped on it and started commenting on the Italian premier, Berlusconi. It has created some powerful images and several comments. (See the subsequent post by Jon Worth here or the BBC report here.)

To the credit of the Council Press Team, the mixed comments did not discourage them and now the #EUCO hash tag has proven to be a success, just like the Twitter account of Mr van Rompuy.

The number @euHvR followers have exceeded 10.500, which is a nice result in such a short time.

Even though it is dwarfed by the more than 7 million followers of Barack Obama, in the Brussels world this is quite an achievement*.

Yann quotes Dirk de Backer saying that one of the reasons they started to tweet for Mr van Rompuy, was to give first hand information to journalists and analysts, thus pre-empt any rumours. Well, they have definitely changed the dynamics of the European Council information exchange. So tonight, we keep looking at those tweets from @euHvR, and if we are lucky, we may get a Haiku on the euro**.

*What makes @euHvR’s following even more valuable is the fact that many of them are serious opinion multipliers, being journalists, bloggers or think tanks. While to our knowledge President Barroso does not tweet, President Buzek of the European Parliament has approximately 5.500 followers (for detail, see this WSJ post). Yves Leterme, the successor of Mr. van Rompuy as Belgian prime minister has slightly more, almost 15.000 followers. To our knowledge the Brussels dignitary with the most followers is Neelie Kroes (more than 16.000). Neither Kovács nor Kováts has been able to break the 500 limit (yet)

** He did tweet a special Haiku last year: In de winter klinkt het gekras van de kraaien Ijler dan anders

UPDATE: This latest tweet hopefully didnt move the markets - Malta and Cyprus out of the euro zone

22 March 2011

Culture wars inside the Hungarian Presidency (Dalida II)

The multicultural working environment in Brussels produces interesting clashes of cultures. (Kováts still remembers the fight between a Portuguese and a German colleague on project planning.) We wonder if these little clashes come from the inherently different working attitudes of different nationalities or is it only a case for deep stereotyping. Probably both, but this is what makes Brussels so interesting. (Here is a good take on Brussels multiculturalism in politics.)

But now, we have come under attack from an unexpected angle, i.e. from our own ”Italian faction” within the press unit of the Hungarian Permanent Representation (We have two colleagues who have mastered the Italian language and feel strongly attached to the country of Adriano Celentano).

There is already disagreement between Kovács and Kováts on the question of French vs English (see our post here). On Sunday, we blogged about Dalida and on how she connects Egypt to Europe. And we linked to her famous song “Paroles, paroles” that she performed together with Alain Delon in French.
But we seem to have forgotten about a sensitive point. Dalida was not only singing in French and Arabic, but in Italian, as well. Our ”Italian-opposition” claims that the original version is ”Parole, parole” and it is an Italian song. Before this would poison the remaining months of the HU Presidency, we must set the facts right.

Here is the original song, not by Dalida, but by Mina, Adriano Celentano and Alberto Lupo:

Dalida sang the translated version with Delon in French in 1973. She did sing the song in German (Worte, nur Worte) as well, so here it is, just in case:

20 March 2011

Our link to Egypt : Dalida

In the heat of the Lybian events, we tend to overlook that an important referendum took place yesterday in Egypt. It is definitely not for us to have an opinion on the arguments of the yes or no camp, instead we were just happy to see the democratic debate taking place before the vote. Although there seem to have been some signs of violations during the vote (reports of Christians not allowed to vote, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reports of multiple violations and there was the ugly attack on El Baradei), still this was probably the cleanest election in Egypt for decades. (For details on alleged violations, see the Twitter hashtag #egyunfair ).

The blog by Sarah Carr Inanities has strongly opposed the referendum. Another good site, The Arabist has published a more independent take on it. Both are definitely worth reading.

Finally, the outcome was a huge majority of 77,2% for the Yes side. The results and their significance will be debated in the coming days. EL Baradei, Amr Moussa, the Wafd Party and the Christian community have all campaigned for a No vote, while the yes was mostly backed by the New National Democratic Party (former party of Mubarak), the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. (Factsheet here) At the same time the No votes seem to have had a clear majority in Alexandria, which was regarded as a stronghold for the Muslim Brotherhood.

We will keep an eye on the developments, but for the time being, this is Sunday and here is some music that links Egypt to Europe:

It may not be clear from this well-known piece, but Dalida was born and grew up in Cairo (in an Italian family, her original name was Iolanda Cristina Gigliotti). She learned Egyptian Arabic on the streets of Cairo and sang some of her great hits in Arabic:

Born Italian, growing up in Cairo, but becoming a great star in France with a lasting influence on European pop culture: who else should we listen to these days? (En plus, we like her music...)

16 March 2011

The state of French in the Union (Brussels Pidgin English II)

In our previous post, we wrote about the Pidgin English dominating Brussels (Brussish, anyone?). In our second (and probably not last) post on the subject, we try to dig a bit deeper into reality.

When it comes to actual (not official) working languages, the European Commission is predominantly Anglophone (with a strong variation across Directorates-General), while the European Parliament administration in Brussels has also become “English-speaking” since 2004. Now that Kovács and Kováts have temporarily become part of the Council as the spokespeople for the Hungarian Permanent Representation, we have come to an interesting discovery: the Council which we thought to be a fortress of the French language is clearly dominated by English. (We are not saying that French has disappeared, but English is clearly the lead language.)

Nothing illegal is happening, French remains an official working language in the Council, but for everyday interactions, at meetings and during drafting of documents, English is the “langue véhiculaire” in roughly 80% of the cases (our estimate from personal experience).

Some delegations fight hard to stop the advance of English. According to some reports, German delegations have a standing order to use German (see here, footnotes 24 and 25 on page 314, we wonder if it is still valid) and French civil servants are instructed to speak French only.

Le Comité Pour la Langue du Droit Européen (CPLDE) has launched a campaign in 2007, arguing that French is by nature the language of law and legal analysis. (Here is a rather sceptical take on it by EUObserver.) Maurice Druon of the Académie Française made it clear: "Toutes les langues sont égales et toutes les sensibilités nationales sont dûment protégées. Cependant, en ce qui concerne l'interprétation des textes, il vaut mieux être certain de ce que l'on écrit. L'italien est la langue des chansons, l'allemand est bon pour la philosophie et l'anglais pour la poésie. Le français est une langue plus précise et rigoureuse. C'est la langue la plus sûre pour les questions juridiques... la langue de Montesquieu est imbattable"*.

The French Sénat has passed a detailed resolution on the subject, calling for the respect of multilingualism. (It is a great source of data, for anyone interested in the subject.)

Until now, these are that facts on the ground from our perspective. But here we come to a serious point of debate between Kovács and Kováts. Kováts thinks that anyone working in Brussels should make the effort and learn French asap. French should be used at meetings and in writing, even if some participants may have difficulties, but this will push them to improve their skills. Kovács is more pragmatic and feels that we should accept the fact that English has become the global language of choice and perhaps even cherish that this resolves an otherwise probably irresolvable question. Our debate mirrors a wider debate going on in Brussels on this issue, so in our next post tomorrow, we will lay down some arguments pro and con. (Incidentally, Kováts has advanced much-much further in the language of Montesquieu than Kovács has, which certainly colours our different points of view, but it would be simplistic to consider that to be the sole explanation.)

* For the francophonely challenged: 
A translation of the text in the original, Euratciv article can be found under http://www.euractiv.com/en/culture/group-pushes-bolster-french-language-legal-supremacy/article-161623

13 March 2011

Japan on our mind – Sunday music

Kovács and Kováts have finished work at the European Council Saturday morning at 4:30 am (meeting was over after 1 am, then came the press conferences and then writing our report to send back home).

One big lesson we learned in the diplomatic world is that the life of diplomats is made up of mostly unglamorous reporting and reading of reports by others (alas, not all reports are as exciting as the wikileaks-wires...)

After a few hours of sleep, we have been watching with shock the events unfolding in Japan. Sundays we always post political music on this post, but today we make an exception and post two songs on Japan.

The first is a touching prayer in song by Japanese-American singer Madi Sato for her family in Sendai:

The second is of a rather different kind. We have been thrilled to find out that Alphaville is on tour, with an appearance in Hungary on June 10 as well! (Even though we will surely not make it there because of the Presidency..)

Here is their now-classic debut single “Big in Japan”:

(FYI: the title phrase was used to describe Western celebrities failed in the Western world, but more successful in Japan. It is interesting to browse the list of such bands on Wikipedia, along with the “Small in Japan”, whose list notably includes Britney Spears and Akira Kurosawa.)

11 March 2011

Communicating the achievements of the Presidency?

Yesterday the Council has adopted the extension of Libya sanctions, which we feel has been a great diplomatic success for the Hungarian Presidency (technical details below and in the coming posts). The negotiations on the sanctions has been all over the international media during the last few days and yesterday there was a wave of reporting when we broke the news of the final decision early afternoon. The wires (DPA, AFP, Dow Jones, etc.) have reported it extensively and most leading media outlets have picked it up (from Le Figaro to the BBC). For a few hours, the mobile phones of Kovács and Kováts would not stop ringing, which brought further reports all over the world from Algeria to Azerbaijan.
One of the most sought after information was the names of those 5 entities and the one individual to come under the sanctions. Kováts had to stonewall and repeated “Sorry, I can’t disclose this information” at least a hundred times. (As we promised, this morning the names were published in the Official Journal of the EU, here you can read them. This is how yesterday’s secrets become public knowledge today.)
The Council has also decided about enhanced cooperation on EU patent with 25 countries on board. A probably even bigger diplomatic achievement for the Hungarian Presidency to manage the file and hold together the 25 member states (up from 12 just about a month ago) while not alienating Italy and Spain. (After 50 years of struggle, this is quite a start for the Hungarian Presidency.) Here is a good article on it from the Financial Times.
What was rather intriguing is the fact that in Hungary where one would expect enhanced interest to EU affairs during the Hungarian presidency, these news have hardly appeared. Most journalists in Brussels tell us that the Hungarian public is surprisingly interested in negative foreign media coverage of the country. But it seems that positive coverage or simply the daily nitty-gritty of the presidency work fails to raise any interest. As our mandate covers mostly communication to the foreign press, we shall not try to explain the reasons for this limited interest. (What is in our mandate is to liaise with the Hungarian press corps in Brussels, who are rather numerous for a “medium-sized” country and extremely professional.)
The filtering through of information to the media and public in the country of the presidency remains an intriguing question, any comments welcome. (We should not try to explain it exclusively with the media law, that would be far too lazy and off the mark.) We will try to look into the experiences of past presidencies on how the Brussels reality is filtered through domestic lenses and takes sometimes surprising twists and turns.

Under the Buttonwood tree in Brussels, part 2. (or 1.5)

As we blogged about it earlier, European Councils represent the apex of information exchange in the life of Brussels journalists and spokespeople in the sense that for long hours they are all crammed into the same building waiting for the outcome of the meeting and discussing the developments in the meantime.

The crescendo of the process, if you will, is the time of the formal press conferences after the meeting. Everyone hurries there and listens to what the big guys have to say (PC remark: „guys” int he plural can mean women and man together.

We will devote today’s coverage in part to covering the press conferences afterwards and looking for curiosities and differences among them.

We have a particular mandate tonight to do so, as well. As you know, Hungary is not a member of the Euro zone, so we are not represented at the discussions. Formal and informal diplomatic exchanges do exist of course (for example Van Rompuy will meet PM Orbán on Saturday), but to decrease the „fog of war” increase our knowledge, we will be covering several of these press conferences, namely the main one (Van Rompuy and Barroso), Germany, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Ireland.

So if you are interested to find out more about the national characteristics of major press conferences (and also what they will have to say about the euro) stay tuned for our posting Saturday early morning. A few pictures of the big three in advance below, spot the differences...

8 March 2011

North Africa: will it prove or disprove the Clash of Civilizations?

Kovács and Kováts are preparing for the extraordinary European Council this Friday and think that the current events in North Africa may put the most popular political theory of the last decade to the test. No, not the end of history, although we are great fans of Fukuyama, but the more enduring and controversial idea by the late Harvard professor, Samuel P. Huntington. (Here is a critical and here a rather positive obituary of him, showing a totally different picture of the same person.)

Most of us remember or even read his highly influential article (Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993) followed by a book (1996, this time without the question mark). His arguments were complex, but boiled down in political memory to one thing: “The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Huntington has estimated that Arab demographic explosion and Islam will make North Africa and the Middle East the greatest source of global conflict for the next generations. “Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”

The emotions surrounding this subject were visible when a debate has erupted during the last few days by a Nicholas D Kristof article in the New York Times. (Kristof is by no means an extremist, he had written some great columns on the revolutions in North Africa.)

Reading the above, it is no surprise that after 9/11 Huntington has gained a celebrity status with many commentators, which lasts until today. (Being an expert himself, he later regretted some of his predictions, as self-fulfilling – Kováts remembers having read this somewhere, but can’t find the source now. If you can help us, please comment!) But many have criticized his simplistic taxonomy and lack of attention to internal divisions within Islam and socioeconomic factors.

The developments in North Africa in the coming months and years will put Huntington’s theory to the test again and we hope it will fail this test. As Kristof wrote: “In Egypt and Bahrain in recent weeks, I’ve been humbled by the lionhearted men and women I’ve seen defying tear gas or bullets for freedom that we take for granted.”

The stakes are high. János Martonyi, Minister for Foreign Affairs predicted in his article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Saturday, 05/03) that the future of the world and Europe depends to a large extent on the economic, social and political system chosen for themselves by the more than 1 billion Muslims.

How should the EU react to all this? The EU’s strengths lie not in crisis management operation (although it does make efforts) or military interventions, but in policy making. First reactions involved coordination of evacuation and humanitarian assistance. But beyond this urgent and immediate “fire-fighting”, we need to find answers primarily in energy, migration, development, trade, foreign policy and more. This is what the EU, Hungarian Presidency included, should jointly deliver.

In order to do this, first we need to revisit our own approach. Many demand actions from the EU that is not in its power. And many of these demands for action are contradictory to each other. As János Martonyi puts it in his FAZ article, fears and hopes, need for stability and longing for change, interests and values clash with each other when we look at revolutions. The risks are obviously there, but the main question is whether we believe that there are universal human rights even if the cultural context may be different. This should shape our messages to the people of North Africa.

Considering the conflicting demands from the public, defining our policy approach will be a rather complex task. As Huntington puts it in another of his very controversial remarks: “Hypocrisy, double standards, and "but nots" are the price of universalist pretensions. Democracy is promoted, but not if it brings Islamic fundamentalists to power; nonproliferation is preached for Iran and Iraq, but not for Israel; free trade is the elixir of economic growth, but not for agriculture; human rights are an issue for China, but not with Saudi Arabia; aggression against oil-owning Kuwaitis is massively repulsed, but not against non-oil-owning Bosnians. Double standards in practice are the unavoidable price of universal standards of principle.”

6 March 2011

The Singing Revolution - Sunday Music

Libya is on everybody’s mind today. Revolutions are bloody events, often with hate and revenge. But we know of one exception. In the Baltic states singing was the weapon of choice against the Soviet Union in 1989-91. Kováts is even lucky to be old enough to remember these events. (A family friend has brought a Lithuanian pin and he went to school with it the next day to the envy of his classmates.)

The Singing Revolution and the Baltic Way relate to the freedom struggle of the Baltic states in general. The actual events behind the phrase are those June nights in Tallinn, when people started gathering and singing Estonian songs. “We sang all night and everybody went home early in the morning. It was emotionally so strong that the next day there were even more people. The day after, there were even more people. People took out their hidden flags. They had these flags hidden for 50 years and now they took these out and started to wave them.”(Artur Talvik)

These night singings culminated on 11 September 1988, when a massive song festival was held at the Lauluvaljak just outside Tallinn. Almost 300,000 people came together, which means a quarter of the whole country’s population was there. Here Trivimi Velliste made the first public demand for the restoration of independence.

To feel the emotion here is the trailer of a US documentary:

The Estonian Song Festival remains a regular event (every 5 years) with incredible turnout. Worth watching this second video:
Finally a historical remark. Most Western European countries together with the USA have never recognized the annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. Here is an interesting resolution by the European Parliament, the „Habsburg report” from 1983. The first country to re-recognize the independence of the Baltic states was Iceland in 1991.

3 March 2011

Brussels Pidgin English

Brussels Pidgin English (I)*

Pidgin is a simplified language that develops as a means of communication between two or more groups that do not have a language in common. Although Wikipedia does not yet know about it, it is time to add another form of Pidgin English to the existing list: the Brussels Pidgin English or „Brussish”.

Brussels Pidgin English is spoken in the Brussels EU district to discuss the never ending flow of EU affairs. This interaction usually works fine until a native English speaker appears on the scene (usually a British or Irish colleague). Here, the conversation often stops and people slowly disperse. They will reconvene in a few minutes at another corner to carry on in pidgin, while keeping an eye out for approaching native speakers. (A great example is the Dutch guide for what the British mean when they speak, as described here in one of the masterpieces of a previous resident Charlemagne, or here in more detail.)

One particular feature of Brussels Pidgin English is the use of eurojargon, that may sound funny and inspires articles but comes naturally to inhabitants of the bubble; avoiding idioms and using only a core vocabulary (rather like Special English in Voice of America), thinking up ingenious ways of murdering the language of Shapespeare, from “Hunglish” to “Spanglish”.

Volumes have been written about the incredible domination of English, but here is one that we recommend to all, who want to understand why English seems to be unstoppable in Brussels. (Including why we write this blog only in English – another compromise to our everlasting shame). In his book, “Empires of the Word” Nicolas Ostler tracks the "growth, development and collapse of language communities". By understanding why certain languages became global, while others vanished against all their military or trading powers, we may understand better our everyday interaction in Brussels.

Of course, it is not the first time that a special form of expression develops in this town. It may be the Belgian weather (la drache nationale) that helps these dialects grow, like mushroom. Brusseleir (or marols or bruxellois) is the traditional dialect of the Brussels locals, spoken today by only a handful of people. Hergé the author of Tintin comics (whose fictional detectives Thompson and Thomson inspired Kovács and Kováts, see our starting post) has used this dialect to create the Syldavian language. (Which may be the new official language in Belgium.)

We wonder what Hergé would make of this new form of English developing in Brussels. (And what would Captain Haddock say about Eurocrats? Bashibozouks?)

*this post is intended to inspire debate, we will continue here with our take on multilingualism in Brussels