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Comment :Let the majority prevail

Sometimes, when you consider the realities, the charm and beauty of a potential partner

cannot be reason enough to engage in a relationship. Thus, several hundred students

from the Institute of Technology set an early end to what was supposed to be a future

love story: They rejected French as the medium of instruction in their classes and

asked for English instead.

The news of the students' protest was even worth a mention in many foreign newspapers.

But not so for the French-language local paper Le Mekong which on seven lines reduced

the number of protestors to some dozens. According to Le Mekong, the students even

asked the francophone organiszation AUPELF to "implement faster the envisaged

support: materials, teachers..." etc.

Of course you can look at subjects from many points of view as in the way a friend

might tell you how well his soccer team just played without mentioning a word about

its actual defeat. It is only natural that people do not like to mention their team

came second. But, ultimately, they have to simply accept the facts and not act like

sulky children.

In the case of French as second or third language in Cambodia, I have my doubts that

the responsible authorities will accept the reality and adapt their policies.

Although I personally admire the French language and literature, I do not have much

sympathy for the way the French like to impose the beauty of their tongue on other

people. The proponents of francophonia should not forget the history of their language

in France.

It was not that many centuries ago that, by a Royal decree, the language spoken in

a limited area around "l'Ile de France" suddenly became the national language.

Students throughout France were suddenly taught French under duress and punished

for falling back on their mother tongue. This way, several dialects disappeared under

the denomination of "Occitan". And what seemed to work for the introduction

of French in their own country seemed appropriate to other parts of France's colonial

empire.

The supporters of French as first foreign language in this country may leave the

linguistic past out of the picture but they just cannot ignore the interest of hundreds

of Cambodians who flock daily to the numerous English schools, outnumbering by far

the few who volunteer for private French lessons.

They should not forget either that in this part of Asia, English is used as a means

of communication between nations. A French language island does not make much sense.

Lastly, the standard bearers of francophonia should acknowledge that the students

who took to the streets of Phnom Penh expressed their own will.

After a decade of enforced Russian teaching, the institute is not in the mood to

switch to another medium of instruction that turns out to be a disadvantage once

the students graduate and look for work.

Of course nobody expects the French to halt their efforts to preserve the status

of their language in this part of Indo-China. But the least one can expect is that

the response to the real needs of these countries should prevail over a strategy

to intergrate another nation in the community of francophone countries.

Otherwise, any support will only be seen as serving self-interest and not doing very

much for a young Khmer generation, eager to make the best of its situation and showing

a lot of self-confidence.

- Beat Gruninger

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