Friendship Beyond Boundaries
01 October 2003

No wonder that an inter-national team has convened in Paris around a few concerned citizens working for an end to civil war in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, the so-called ‘Great Lakes’ region of Africa.

When Cameroon soccer player Marc Vivien-Foé died suddenly in the course of the semi-final of the Confederations’ Cup last July, a few days before the final between France and Cameroon, there were tears on both sides. He was an experienced player with personal friends in France as well as in Cameroon.

Stricken with grief, the teams even considered not playing the final. Eventually the game was held, ending with a golden goal by French star Thierry Henry, but there were no celebrations, and no whistling or booing. Winning or losing wasn’t the point of that particular game.

France keeps close relations with Africa, with many citizens’ initiatives to help the poorest. Like many others, our town sponsors a development project in Mali.

No wonder that an inter-national team has convened in Paris around a few concerned citizens working for an end to civil war in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, the so-called ‘Great Lakes’ region of Africa. The result has been a breakthrough in dialogue with the guerrilla groups which wouldn’t speak with the other parties to the dispute. Already several informal meetings have brought all the parties together. The political results may need much more time and prayer but this breakthrough, achieved outside the realm of official diplomacy, is already a factor of hope.

As you were
In July, a referendum was held in Corsica about giving the island a single administration instead of being governed as two départements (French counties). Both the right-wing French government and the Corsican separatist movement supported what was meant to be a conciliatory move between the loyalists and the separatists, a minority so sure that they are in the right that they make generous use of explosives to underline their points.

Unexpectedly, in spite of all the official support, the ‘no’ vote prevailed, by a small margin. Devolution, or any form of special status is ruled out for some time: the Corsicans have claimed their right to be treated like the rest of the French people. But with the bombings predictably resuming, how do we accommodate everyone in the same community?

Vive la différence
It’s not only the Corsicans who want to know whether French democracy means more than the rule of the majority: the Basques, the Bretons, the Alsatians and many more could pose the same question. The only solution is probably to acknowledge the diversity of those with regional identities, and their right to differ. This is difficult in a country where the last two centuries have seen the realization of the old integrationist dream and the near extinction of dialects–both as results of government policies. But, as General de Gaulle once said, it is still almost impossible to rule a country divided by more than 300 cheeses.

Land of the Gauls
If you want to understand some of the mysteries of France, the adventures of Asterix are recommended reading. They feature the eventful life of a staunchly independent Gallic tribe fighting the Roman invaders. The author, René Goscinny, the son of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants, offers detailed observations of French society, and sometimes of neighbouring countries as well.

He rather cunningly points at the complicated ancestry of the French, descended from both the supposedly anarchist Gauls and the over-organized Romans. For instance, most of the jokes about the Roman army refer directly to military service folklore, and the Roman taxman seems distinctly familiar. At the same time, the seemingly limitless appetite of the Gauls for good food and good fights is also derived from direct observation of 20th century France.

In one adventure, Asterix introduces his readers to his ‘first cousin once removed’, a Briton, who appears just slightly different, using a peculiar idiom–‘I say, rather amusing, old fruit, what?’

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