The return of lingua franca

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue Nov 26 21:43:36 UTC 2002

On language choice and the politics of seating arrangements...


French language saves NATO blushes over Kuchma.

Nov 22, 2002
Reuters English News Service
(C) Reuters Limited 2002.

By John Chalmers

PRAGUE, Nov 22 (Reuters) - French may be losing out to English as the
language of diplomacy, but it came in handy at a NATO summit on Friday to
snub Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who has been accused of smuggling
arms to Iraq. Kuchma turned up in Prague for the alliance's meeting
despite blunt warnings to stay away. He even attended a gala evening whose
guests included U.S. President George W. Bush.

But by using the French names for the 46 nations in the Euro-Atlantic
Partnership Council (EAPC) - and arranging them alphabetically - Ukraine's
leader was kept apart from the leaders of the "United Kingdom" and "United
States" on Friday. Kuchma found himself next to the president of Turkey,
seven seats away from British Prime Minister Tony Blair of "Royaume-Uni"
and more than 30 away from Bush of "Etats-Unis".

"This is the first time I've seen a meeting like this arranged
alphabetically in French," a NATO official said, although French is one of
the alliance's two official languages. "It's a very neat trick: the point
is that he's not sitting next to the United Kingdom and the United
States," said another.

NATO had told Kuchma he would not be welcome at the meeting after
Washington said it believed he had approved the sale of a Kolchuga early
warning radar system to Iraq on the basis of taped conversations it said
were authentic. Kuchma has repeatedly denied the charges. The Kolchuga,
whose name means chain mail in Russian, could complicate any U.S.-led
attack on Baghdad and threaten the safety of allied pilots patrolling
Iraq's no-fly zones.

Laada Bilaniuk
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Washington
Box 353100/Denny Hall M32
Seattle, WA 98195-3100

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