Interview to Małgorzata HANDZLIK
Member of the European Parliament (PPE).
By Lapo Orlandi, Radio Radicale – Italy.
LO: We’d like to start knowing how Miss Handliz arrived to the Esperanto community and what does she think about the potentiality of Esperanto regarding to the European Union situation.
MH: Since 20 years me and my family have been somehow attached to the Esperanto and we are esperantists. And actually, how it has started is that my husband’s matriculation exam was done in Esperanto. Thanks to Esperanto we could find, we could know all Europe and not the official.. (1.40), meetings, but say somehow from the behind how the union and how europe looks like. It’s knowing esperanto and people who can speak this language help us to join many events, many things. Of course Esperanto is not one of the languages behind which there is the army, the money, the governments. But who stays behind Esperanto, are the people who really believe in the idea of speaking Esperanto, who can communicate easily, who find friendship with one another. It’s not a dead language: there are books, there are newspapers, there are web pages in Esperanto. That’s why in the europe where there so many languages specially in the european parliament, with 20 official languages, Esperanto could become a language, say a language, a bridge language helping to communicate. Many time we get translations in many, in all those official languages and then english or french version is somehow actually translated differently. If we had esperanto it’s one language then such a situation could be avoided. Not mentioning of course the costs, which could be reduced by the european union. To talk about the chances of, I don’t know, esperanto becoming an official language, or how I put in the ideas, we cannot say it right now whether there are big chances or not, but at least we can try to do something in this matter.
LO: Speaking about economical aspects of languages, one thing that is not well known exactly by the european citizens in which there is not much awareness is exactly the fact that the costs that are behind the european multilingualism, and especially at the european parliament level, and on the other hand the advantages on the economical point of view for the countries who are anglophone, who speak english as a native language, such as US and UK, to have the dominance of their language as the global dominant language. It would be, I think, very interesting to conduce, to realize an official study by the european parliament on these costs, both for the citizens, the costs of multilingualism for the citizens, and the economical advantages for the english-speaking countries and maybe, being a member of the internal market and consumers’ commission, this could be a first engagement in the campaign for linguistic democracy within Europe that Miss Handlizig could run, don’t you think this could be something which could be interesting, on the political point of view, for you? I mean to have the EP, and maybe the Commission for the Internal Market, to study and to evaluate those costs.
MH: I believe it’s a really really good idea what you are talking about, and such report should be probably produced by the european parliament or by the commission, but I think that it’s more for the cultural committee actually to perform such a report or to start that the report comes out and actually I’m there a substitute member and I will work on this issue, I’ve already thought about taking in the consideration and somehow starting for making such report.
LO: And it would be also interesting of course for the people of the European Union that the connection between the risk of extinction of many european languages, as reported by Unesco, and the spread of English as the global language could be in some sort brought inside the european institutions as an issue on which to work and on which to do some resolutions, for example, by the European parliament.
MH: The main idea of the European integration is diversity by unity. The crucial idea of the European integration says that we should act together, that’s what the Union means actually, but at the same time it is that we shall preserve who we are and what cultural background we have. If what Unesco says in the report could come true eventually it wouldn’t be good. It’s really some sort of scary if it really could happen because then we can imagine that polish people, polish students, for example, could read pantadeush, which is national litterature, in english. So maybe then esperanto could become the answer meaning that it is a language which takes from many languages, so everybody can somehow say that it is his or her own language. I believe that every nation has tried to express its ideas, in its language, its own language. For example Sweeden could be a really good example in this matter, although many of that people, almost everybody, can really speak English almost perfectly in Sweeden, still they attempt of course to preserve their Swedish language, their Swedish culture, and they are not going to withdraw from that.
LO: Let’s go back to the language as a matter of power and to the army which are behind the languages: one sort of strange fact that is arising in the last years is that in the English speaking countries media, in very important english media, in american media, such as for example the Economist or the Indipendent or the Guardian or Newsweek, there has been a lot of discussing about the fact that english as a language is becoming the instrument of a worldwide empire and of a worldwide colonization of other countries
MH: Ok, but english and american english are two different languages. And as far as I know, but I’m maybe a little bit wrong in this statistic, there are around 20% of people globally of course who can speak english, so I think it can be a little bit an exageration saying that it is a language which is dominating. I think much more people can speak spanish, and do speak spanish.
LO: The curious thing was that in english, in american newspapers there was this big campaign of information, let’s say so in the papers of the colonial countries, colonial like linguistic colonization, in those countries there is this debate, while in many other countries which are supposed to be colonized, linguistically colonized, this debate has not been so far and so visible. Why do you think that in many countries the feeling of beeing under pressure by the dominance of english is not so strong as it is in the countries where this sort of colonization is produced? For example we do not speak a lot about linguistic conolization in Italy, I don’t know what is the situation in Polland, maybe you have a big debate on that in Polland…
MH: No, we don’t…
LO: so, for example in your country what is the situation in public debate?
MH: I think it’s a really good idea if people learn languages, doesn’t matter whether it’s english or another language, because then they widen their horizons, they are more open-minded, and they are more friendly to other people who speak different languages. Nowadays in Polland learning languages is very very popular, of course english would be the most, the language which is the most popular according to statistics, and this is good actually, because before we were forced actually to learn russian. In Polish law, of course nowadays, we have an act which says about the preservation of Polish language, and if you have for example somebody made an english word somewhere in his/her a company, it should be substituted by Polish. But not always it worked as we used to it was.
LO: For example, you’re an expert in the educational field, I mean I see it from your cv, one thing which is happening for example, which has happened in Italy, which is incredibly happening even in France in these days, is that there are laws of reform of the educational system which impose english as a foreign language for all since the first year of primary school and there is not much of debate around that point. You were saying that in Polland you feel free to learn the language you want as in opposition to the period in which the obbligation was to study russian, but what happens if it was imposed to study english, or imposed by fact to study English, since the first year of primary school, wouldn’t it be just the same kind of imposition as it was for russian in the late years of the russian dominance in Polland?
MH: In Polish schools there’s not such obbligation, you can actually choose, parents can choose between english, german, french or another language and I don’t think it can turn into the same situation that was in Polland because still I think that in Italy people do it if they want to do it, I mean, it’s not imposed probably like it was by the russians…
LO: Yes, it’s imposed by law…
MH: So, if the situation is as you have described it, then you are probably right and the question should be asked whether it’s correct that everybody, and specially little children, are forced to learn actually only english, why not german, why not other language, you’re right. Of course on one hand it’s good because it will help those children start knowing the countries which are english-speaking countries, get to know their culture, their history, their people much faster, much better, but you’re right on the other hand, it is a discrimination, a sort of.
LO: and for example, do you know, have you ever heard about the linguistic orientation in esperanto, the method which was elaborated, for example by the Paderborn University in Germany, which consisted in teaching one year, two years of esperanto as a model of language and after that going on teaching the foreign language of the choice. This has been proved to be very effective as a method of teaching foreign languages. What about trying to have this method experimented and having, for example, the european parliament pronounce itself on the necessity, on the need, on the possibility of experimenting on a big european scale this method, in the member countries
MH: Ok, the experiment about which you are talking, of course has shown and shows really great results and it shows that first learning esperanto can later on help really really good in improving other languages. In my country, Bielscobiau is the county from which I come from, we made this experiment actually on the basis of experiment of the University of Paderborn, we made such experiment in one of the high schools in my region, my home town. We took two classes of students, one was from the beginning learning only esperanto and then french, and the second class was just starting with french. And after a year of learning esperanto and french, and or french only, the result were amazing really, and they were really really totally different and turned out that students who took first esperanto had a really better knowledge of french then those students who only performed with french. So, if in the european union we could start with something like that: the students first learn esperanto and then perform on another foreign language, it could be really really good and many people could probably speak better foreign languages, but I don’t think it’s in the power of the european parliament itself.
LO: Yes, but I mean, for example the european parliament could suggest to the countries which are members of the european union to use this method rather than for example teaching foreign languages at a very early age which could be in conflict with the learning of the national language. I mean, as an altenative of the current trend in the european linguistic policies, which is to teach very early foreign languages, and many times it’s basically english, and the alternative could be as a general framework to use this methodology so that it could be the foreign languages could be taught a little bit later on when the child will already have a strong knowledge of his own language, so to avoid the risk of conflict between the two languages and of even disappearing of the national language in the long time.
MH: Of course the idea is good and we can start thinking about performing such action, but of course it demands some time in preparation, and it would take time to force government for a change.
LO: For example it could be possible to constitute a group of members of the european parliament who are interested in all these issues, a sort of parliamentary intergroup maybe not official because the intergroups are already set, but a sort of not official intergroup of members of the european parliament interested in all these issues, so that they first may be informed of all these topics and then work to inform the parliament and the european countries of all these aspects, would you like to be one of the organizers of this group, for example with the members of the european parliament elected in the radical italian list, like Marco Pannella, Emma Bonino and others?
MH: Actually I already made a few steps towards the idea, the realization of the idea of which you are talking, of course the formal intergroup is too late to start something like that, but informally yes, actually I had already a few meetings with people and I’m discussing these things, how we should start performing on esperanto in the informal intergroups, so it’s actually already step taken. It won’t only actually be a group on esperanto, but more on language equality and then esperanto will be one of the aspects on which the intergroup should perform.
LO: We spoke until now about things that could be done at the level of the european parliament, what is the situation inside your party, the party in which you have been elected in Polland and the european group, which I think is the popular group and what could be done inside the polish party and the european party to foster the equality of languages and esperantists’ compaign.
MH: I think that nowdays we are at the stage when everybody specially old member states are getting used to ten new member states. And so far in the oldest member states, the problems of language equality were not that maybe urgent, because there were only 15 member states. Of course nowadays there are more language problems here, then I think it’s too short time to say that everybody can realize what the real problem is. But after some time I’m sure that everybody in our political group, in my own party will realize of this problem of language equality and then for sure we will find the solution.
LO: Maybe you could organize a seminar to inform your group and your party.
MH: For sure. We would like to bring to the public that, in the european union, there is the problem of the language and of equality, so your idea is perfect and for sure it’s gonna to be one of the steps that the intergroup, I’m sure, will take.
This message was edited by: %s on %s LapoOrlandi, May 25, 2005 – 12:49 PM[addsig]