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Archive for June 23rd, 2008

Greece: Press Conference of FM Ms. Bakoyannis

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Foreign Minister Ms. Dora Bakoyannis will make a short introductory statement, and the Q&A session will follow. Madam Minister, you have the floor.

Ms. Bakoyannis: Good morning. Our meeting today is in a way the inauguration of the practice of our having meetings of this kind more frequently. Meetings that will provide the opportunity for a general briefing on the progress being made on issues being addressed by our country’s foreign policy.

Two very brief introductory notes: First, there is no doubt that the negative result of the Irish referendum is creating concern. I would add, in fact, that it justifies a certain feeling of uncertainty as to what precisely the future holds for the further course and efforts towards building a democratic, effective – and thus stronger – Europe.

However, it does not justify a lack of will and resolve. We will have to carry out a quick assessment of all of the parameters of the new state of affairs so that we can move ahead with equally quick decisions.

Our objective must be to keep the European Union from relapsing into counterproductive navel-gazing; into inert introversion. In that sense, the first step that must be taken is the continuation of the ratification process by the 8 member states that have yet to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.

The second note: The result of the Irish referendum comes as yet another pending matter added to the more general fluidity that exists at this time; during what I would call a transitional period in our international environs.

The European Union is once again trying to find the stride that will enable it to face the problems and challenges of a particularly competitive globalized international environment more confidently and effectively; problems and challenges that are now being felt directly by European citizens in their day-to-day lives.

At the same time, U.S. presidential elections are just a few months away. And these are elections that – regardless of the result – will bring a change in the U.S. administration, with whatever that might entail vis-à-vis repercussions for U.S. foreign policy.

In the Balkans, how the Kosovo issue will develop – with the new state of affairs created by Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence – is of great importance. Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by a number of states in the international community, including the majority of our partners and allies in the EU and NATO. But, as you know, it has not been recognized by four EU member states.

The issue of Serbia’s progress towards its European and Euroatlantic perspective is also very important. Everything that happened and the developments we had before a during the recent election process in FYROM is cause for concern. We are awaiting the formation of a stable and effective government that will abandon an often extremist nationalistic rhetoric.

We will continue to pursue a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, to the benefit of bilateral relations, regional stability and cooperation; a solution that will benefit our neighbouring country’s European and Euroatlantic aspirations and the region’s stability.

Turkey is looking for a way out of a situation that has been created there by recent developments. At the same time, it is obvious that Turkey’s European perspective needs to be revitalised. This revitalisation can come only from Turkey itself, through substantial decisions to continue its reform efforts.

We are once again at a decisive turning point with the Cyprus issue. The general messages and good atmosphere in the contacts between the two communities justify a certain optimism. But the road to a solution – a just, viable and functional solution based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation – is not strewn with rose petals.

In the Middle East – despite some tentative signs of improvement – the political and diplomatic situation unfortunately continues to waver between suspicion and tension.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the midst of a very fluid time, a transitional period, that doesn’t look like it will end any time soon. It is in this international landscape that Greece will exercise a well-prepared, cautious, multileveled and resolute foreign policy. A policy of principles and realism, combining persistence in its firm strategic choices with any necessary adaptations on a tactical level for approaching given situations.

Our guide is the protection and promotion of Greece’s priorities and interests in a complicated and shifting environment.

That was my introductory statement on the current state of affairs. I also want to talk to you about a draft law being submitted by the Foreign Ministry, the details of which my colleague Mr. Kassimis will go over with you.

Just a few words about a necessary change of an administrative nature, within the framework of the operation of the Foreign Ministry. After 40 years of operation, it has been deemed necessary and imperative that the Foreign Ministry’s translation service be re-established on a modern basis.

Parliament will be presented with a new draft law for the Translation Service. The great increase in the number of languages for translation; a much greater number of users; the huge volume of translation work – which is growing from year to year – due to the EU enlargement and the large number of economic migrants; the wide use of notarized official documents for and from foreign countries; and the development of the new technologies – all of this has resulted in difficulties in the performance of translation work.

The Foreign Ministry’s draft law was based on a study of how things stand in the countries of the European Union and at the UN. It is aimed at reinforcing the work of its translators, providing state-of-the-art tools and quality control for translations, full computerization of the service and the monitoring mechanisms, decentralization through the creation of translation jobs in all of the country’s prefectures, reduction in cost for citizens, faster delivery times, as well as the provision of translation services and know-how for third countries.

Mr. Kassimis will go through all of the details of the new draft law, after our Q&A session.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Please begin the Q&A.

Mr. Kottaridis: Ms. Bakoyannis, given that Skopje has recently stated clearly that for a solution to be found on the name issue, Greece will first have to accept the existence of a Macedonian ethnicity and language, I would like you to reiterate Greece’s position on this. And second, what precisely are we discussing with Skopje in the wake of this?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Our position is clear. We are seeking a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue. I have repeatedly said that these negotiations have one subject and only one subject. We will not be dragged into a discussion that might in the end lead to the negotiations being diverted from their objective.

Mr. Kapoutsis: Madam Minister, is there anything new on the postponed NATO exercise in the Agios Efstratios region.

Ms. Bakoyannis: No, there is nothing new. Whatever the Defense Ministry has announced.

Mr. Kallarytis: Madam Minister, judging from the statements of the Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry recently and for some time now, it appears that we have initiated a bilateral dialogue with Ankara on the issue of the minority, and, in fact, based on mutuality. Is this the case? Is what the Turks are saying the case? What exactly are we discussing if we are discussing the minority?

Ms. Bakoyannis: First of all, let’s be clear on mutuality. Mutuality vis-à-vis respect for and implementation of policies for the protection of human rights is not an issue today, due to the simple fact that it is the duty of democratic states to respect these rights and implement the relevant policies.

Greece does this with regard to the Muslim minority in Thrace. It is implementing and deepening the policy of equal rights and equality before the law, with respect for the relevant principles and provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne. For its part, Turkey – not due to a rationale of mutuality, interrelations or correlations – is under obligation to do likewise.

It is obliged to do likewise for a further and very basic reason: as a candidate for accession to the EU, it has undertaken the obligation to comply with the principles, criteria and prerequisites, among which an important place is held by respect for religious freedom, and protection of minorities and respect for their rights. A rationale of comparison or correlation on these issues doesn’t hold.

Within this framework, Greece – as a member of the European Union, and also due to its special interest – is raising issues concerning the functioning of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Halki Seminary, Istanbul Greeks and their property, Imvros and Tenedos.

These issues are being raised by our side as a very serious parameter for further discussion of Turkey’s European perspective, and not just as bilateral issues. That is the framework, ladies and gentlemen. It is on this basis that we are confronting issues concerning the Muslim minority when Turkey raises them, in accordance with its policy, which we are all aware of.

Mr. Meletis: Madam Minister, I want to ask whether – at the meeting tomorrow and the next day – you will pursue a reference to the effect that resolution of the name issue is a prerequisite for the initiation of accession negotiations with Skopje. That’s one.

And the second: Based on your previous answer, what does it mean that the Foreign Ministry did not appeal the Court of Human Rights decision on the issue of “Turkish” associations in Thrace? Does it mean that we accept the arguments of the Turkish side?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Regarding your second question, your information is erroneous. Following a detailed study carried out at the Foreign Ministry, it was deemed that Greece will appeal the ruling.

As for your first question, the discussion, as you know, at the General Affairs Council was – as your correspondents in Brussels correctly reported – very intense.

The final text of the General Affairs Council is satisfactory. The drawing up and discussion of the text of the European Council conclusions is continuing at this time, and it is Greece’s view that it must be a text whose messages are clear.

Mr. Stavroulakis: Madam Minister, I would like your appraisal of the domestic political situation in Skopje following the elections. To put it a little differently: Can we communicate with Gruevski?

Ms. Bakoyannis: The election process in Skopje was completed – or looks like it was completed – with a re-vote in 187 voting districts in the country. I think there are two or three voting districts left, but nothing of real significance.

So the elections are being completed through a process that is not provided for by FYROM’s election laws. Like the competent international organizations and our partners in the EU, Greece has observed that the election process was marred by violent incidents that often led to flagrant irregularities.

At the same time, however, I don’t think that one can close one’s eyes to the fact of a very specific result; a result that points to VMRO and its head as being powerful factors in FYROM politics.

So we are looking forward to the forming of a stable government; a government, as I said in my opening remarks, that will be in a position to ensure a smooth course for and cohesion in our multiethnic neighbouring country, abandoning nationalistic rhetoric that can only cause problems.

Greece – now, as in the past – will be a responsible neighbour that believes in the need for a stable FYROM and sincerely hopes that the neighbouring country will take the necessary steps for ensuring its European and Euroatlantic perspective.

As you well know, manifest respect for the principle of good neighbourly relations is a fundamental element of this perspective. Needless to say, within this framework a mutually acceptable solution is of course a prerequisite for our working in this direction.

Ms. Adam: I want to ask two things. The first concerns Kosovo. Since the Constitution, most of the countries that have recognized Pristina are going to open embassies. Have the countries that have not recognized Kosovo – among which is Greece – received requests to open a liaison office with Kosovo, and what will you do on that count? That is the first question.

Ms. Bakoyannis: Ms. Adam, we’ve had a liaison office in Kosovo for many years now.

Ms. Adam: Whether it will be in Athens.

Ms. Bakoyannis: The liaison office in Kosovo has existed and been operating for many years now. It will remain as is. For it to be upgraded to an embassy, recognition will be required.

Ms. Adam: So there isn’t …

Ms. Bakoyannis: At this time, there isn’t.

Ms. Adam: A Kosovo liaison office in Athens. That’s what I’m asking.

Ms. Bakoyannis: No, we haven’t received such a request at this time. I thought you were talking about ours.

Ms. Adam: No, no.

Ms. Bakoyannis: We have our office in Pristina. It is a liaison office, as you know, that has been in operation for some time now. We haven’t received any such request for a Kosovo liaison office in Athens. If such a request is made, based on reciprocity we have no problem with accepting it.

Ms. Adam: My second question is broader. Have you perhaps gotten to the bottom of the mystery of how it was possible for invoices of one of your collaborators, Mr. Dragoumanos, to find its way into the personal file of Mr. Christoforakos and remain there – unpaid – for months?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Of course. Ms. Adam, we have provided all the explanations, and as you want to raise the Siemens issue in general with me, I will refer you to an 8 February interview I did with Kathimerini, where I said that the Greek and German justice systems must get to the bottom of the Siemens issue and shed light on it, because it is an issue that in the final analysis concerns the honour and standing of the country’s politicians. And after the whole case has been cleared up, if an investigating committee is required during the summer, an investigating committee should be set up.

Ms. Kourbela: Ms. Bakoyannis, as you discussed the Western Balkans at the latest Council, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask you how HIPERB funding in the region is going.

Ms. Bakoyannis: We are satisfied with the course of HIPERB, which is now moving ahead at a brisk pace. More specifically, in the private investment sector we have approved grants in the amount of €41 million, which is a 38% absorption rate.

In the public investments sector, we have already completed the Greek-Bosnia-Herzegovina friendship building in Sarajevo, while two other major projects are in progress. The upgrading of the Sagiada-Konispol-Sarande corridor in Albania, where the contractor has already been chosen for the SeeLight optic fibre network that will link university communities in Southeast Europe.

And the most important project of all, Pan-European Corridor X, is well on its way, and it is very important that our HIPERB enabled us to mobilise European capital – in addition to Greek capital – to realize the project, as the project is planned to be co-funded by the European Investment Bank, the European Commission. This is a development that guarantees the completion of this project of pivotal importance, which will link Greece with the Western Balkans and Europe.

Mr. Santamouris: Madam Minister, you said earlier that the Europeans must make a quick assessment and take quick decisions about the future of the EU. Rushed decisions necessarily in all probability lead to functional circles in the EU, possibly to concentric circles of member states.

The question is whether the dysfunctions present today are being confronted by a Europe of multiple speeds, and what is, for example, the implementation in the case of a decision of recognition of Kosovo by a Europe of different speeds.

And a second question, if I may. Mr. Ali Ahmeti, the winner among the Albanian parties in Skopje, stated in answer to a question from Eleftherotypia [Athens daily] that the solution to the name issue must be agreed upon and take into account the identities of all of the country’s citizens as well as Greek sensitivities. Do you think that is a satisfactory description of a solution that might be agreed upon? Thank you.

Ms. Bakoyannis: I think it is a satisfactory description because this statement describes a reality. Beyond that, with regard to Europe – look, there are issues that might be the subject of European decisions and issues that cannot be. There cannot be a European decision that will impose recognition of a state on a member state. That is the sovereign right of each member state, so the decision on recognition of Kosovo will be made by the Greek state. That’s one.

Now you are talking about reinforced cooperation. Reinforced cooperation has been implemented in many cases, such as the Eurozone and Schengen, which are two examples of successful reinforced cooperation.

The objective at this time is not to move towards institutionalised circles. No one in the EU is talking about that. The objective is for us to be able to achieve the agreement of the 27. We have experience with this. It is not the first time. If 26 countries ratify by the end of the year, which is a likely scenario at this time – I can’t rule out surprises, but this is one likely scenario – some extra time might be needed to find a solution to the Ireland issue.

I want to repeat what I said in the Hellenic Parliament yesterday, ladies and gentlemen. For Greece, a strong Europe is the most important thing there is in foreign policy. For a long time now, citizens have been taking the benefits of Europe for granted, particularly in countries that have been EU members for a long time.

The problems or, if you prefer, side-effects of globalization that are affecting citizens today can be better confronted by a strong, unified Europe than by each member state on its own. So Greece will remain at the vanguard of countries that will fight for even more Europe, for an even stronger Europe.

Ms. Spanou: I would like to come back to the issue of the invoice that was not paid by Mr. Dragoumanos, and he then had to resign. You said: we have given all the clarifications. But I remember from your interview in the Kathimerini daily that you had not given a specific explanation as to how this particular invoice was found in Mr. Christoforakos’ personal file, who did a particular job, as was later proven, for SIEMENS.

My second question is whether Mr. Dragoumanos had been contacted by Siemens regarding this unpaid invoice these past few months, as would happen with any other normal citizen. Thank you.

Ms. Bakoyannis: I already answered your question. If I had known that, I would have said so. I didn’t know. Mr. Dragoumanos took on the responsibility when the matter was raised. I was very sorry about that. I told him categorically. I paid the invoice. If you ask me about Siemens’ internal affairs, I am not in a position to know what happened.

Mr. Milakas: Madame Minister, every European government that dared to bring the European constitution to a referendum got a rejection from its people. What is going on? Are all our peoples blind and our governments enlightened or how can we otherwise explain the peoples’ rejection of the deepening of democracy and the rule of law?

Ms. Bakoyannis: I want to be absolutely clear. It is a very difficult thing to say “yes” or “no” to such a complicated and difficult treaty, like all treaties of the European Union are.

The result is that the people answer on issues that are of great concern to them at a particular moment. The “noes” that might be registered – even among political parties today – have different points of departure.

The “no” on the part of Mr. Alavanos cannot be equated with the “no” of the Irish people, who have a particular sensitivity on the issue of abortions and want abortions to be banned. I don’t think this is the position of `Synaspismos’ for example.

And I don’t think the `no’ of the Irish people, who are worried that maybe a more social Europe would impose stricter rules on the free market economy and competitiveness, could have anything to do with the `no’ of the Greek Communist Party.

What I want to say is that we must draw our conclusions through a more in-depth and accurate analysis of all available data.

It is our view that the Greek people are fully aware of Europe’s importance, its strength and the security it brings to them; our people are one of the staunchest Europhile peoples.

The effort to change the subject of the basic question and to focus – as happened in Ireland – on various individual issues that people are sensitive to or easily upset by – issues that have nothing to do with the Treaty – is a party activity or an activity outside political parties, but unfortunately its effects are detrimental to the people as a whole.

And let me add one thing. Ladies and Gentlemen, when the entire political leadership of Ireland, when all the political parties in Ireland are in favour of the Treaty, do you seriously think that in a democracy, the elected representatives of the people would do something they think goes against their peoples’ interests? I don’t think so.

I simply believe that in a yes-or-no logic – that is, the lowest common denominator – simplified answers to complicated questions unfortunately lead to the wrong conclusions.

Mr. Athanassopoulos: Madame Minister, following Athens’ decision not to consent to an accession invitation to Skopje at the Bucharest Summit, a series of events indicate something of a chill in Greek-U.S. relations. I won’t mention them, they are well-known to everyone and also include statements.

Against this backdrop, what do you expect from next Tuesday’s meeting with your U.S. counterpart Ms. Rice, and how concerned are you about this chill, given that the Cyprus issue is opening up again and given that last Friday gave us a first sample of the U.S. stance with regard to the approval of a resolution on renewing the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus? Thank you.

Ms. Bakoyannis: Greek-U.S. relations are good. They are good allied relations based on the historic friendship between two peoples, and at the moment they include multi-level activities in the economic, political, NATO and other fields.

Beyond that, there are issues on which Greece and the United States have different positions. One of these issues is unquestionably the Skopje issue.

We had previously also expressed our strong discontent with the decision of the United States to recognise Skopje under their constitutional name. We support a different view.

Beyond that, I suppose that during the discussion with Ms. Rice – the points of the agenda have yet to be finalized – we will talk sincerely, honestly, and in an unquestionably friendly atmosphere about all the issues of common interest, as is traditionally the case with meetings between Foreign Ministers.

Ms. Fryssa: With regard to Turkey. The competent Commissioner Mr. Olli Rehn said that the A?P trial will influence Turkey’s European perspective. On the other hand, the Slovenian Foreign Minister said that the two issues are not at all connected. What is our position?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Our view is that we hope for developments in Turkey, in favour of European principles and values, i.e., the democratic functioning of the country, and that our neighbouring country will not face a crisis that will trouble its friends and partners within the European Union.

Mr. Gilson: Madame Minister, following your recent trip to Cyprus, can you confirm the rumoured start of direct talks between President Christofias and Mr. Talat, and also a comment on whether you think there will be a direct reference to the Annan plan in the resolution on the renewal of UNFICYP’s mandate.

Ms. Bakoyannis: I don’t think that the latest draft on the UNFICYP mentions the Annan plan. I don’t think there is any connection, and this is why the Cypriot side expressed their satisfaction.

As to when negotiations will start between President Christofias and Mr. Talat, this is for President Christofias to decide, I have nothing to say.

Mr. Bogdanovski: From the Russian Press Agency. Madame Minister, on 26 June, an EU-Russia Summit Meeting will be held in Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia) and I would like to ask you what you expect from this Summit, and also your general view on the EU-Russia rapprochement.

Ms. Bakoyannis: Our view is well known, it has been noted on several occasions. Russia is a very important partner for the European Union.

Relations between Russia and the European Union have to be very close. We believe that very important preparations have been made, and countries with reservations, countries which had reservations until now have withdrawn their reservations, and I hope that this Summit will be crowned with complete success.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: I see it is now the turn of the international press agencies.

Ms. Flores (Spanish Press Agency): Madame Minister, with regard to President Sarkozy’s proposal on a Union for the Mediterranean, what are Greece’s expectations in this field – how does it want to participate and what role does it want to play practically?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Greece, along with other Mediterranean countries, has welcomed President Sarkozy’s proposal. We, in the Greek Foreign Ministry, have worked very hard, together with the French side and other partners, together with all our Arab partners, and I have carried out visits over the past few months so that we could have specific initiatives and specific actions to strengthen cooperation between Mediterranean countries and any other countries that wish to take part in this effort.

The interest in the Union for the Mediterranean essentially lies in the fact that we focus all our efforts on particular projects; projects through which we can achieve cooperation between North and South, and I believe they will be to everyone’s benefit. The first issue, which of course requires closer cooperation between all partners, concerns illegal immigration.

Mr. Hadoulis: (off microphone)… I was wondering whether you could give us a bit more information on the issue of the appeal regarding the “Turkish” associations. Such as, for instance, which decisions Greece disagrees with and whether it intends to appeal these decisions.

Ms. Bakoyannis: Allow me to ask you to wait until an announcement is made.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: We will finish up in two minutes.

Mr. Barakat: Regarding the situation in the Middle East and Greece’s position after all that is happening in the Middle East.

Ms. Bakoyannis: On the issue of Lebanon, as you know, the latest development allow for optimism that a more stable solution can be found on the problem of Lebanon.

Greece will take part in the Vienna conference, which will focus on the problem of Palestinian refugees within Lebanon, in order to support them financially, following the recent misadventures.

It is certain that the instability in the Middle East is cause for great concern, as you know, for all the countries of the European Union. There will be a very important conference in Berlin, where security issues will be discussed.

Greece is present – as you know— in all the discussions on the Middle East, hoping that the side that is seriously and responsibly seeking to bring peace to the region will prevail.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: One final question. Mr. Michail.

Mr. Mihail: Ms. Bakoyannis, since you digressed, allow me to ask a question on a different issue. Whether you believe that the current crisis within PASOK, due to the expulsion of Mr. Simitis from the party, benefits our country’s international prestige and our country’s profile abroad, given that Mr. Simitis is a particularly respected figure, at least in the European Union.

Ms. Bakoyannis: No major party, Mr Mihail, and no party in power can rejoice at crises happening within another party. It would be an incorrect and short-sighted approach. We hope that PASOK will be able to find its stride.

Mr. Malinov: From the Russian Press Agency. Greece signed an agreement in Moscow on the construction of the Greek section of the South Stream gas pipeline. How does Greece see its role in the region, with all these major oil and natural gas projects?

Ms. Bakoyannis: Greece believes it has a very important role to play in the field of energy. Thanks to this government’s decisions, our country has evolved into an energy hub.

There is, as you know, the agreement on the Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline, there is the agreement on the Turkish-Greek-Italian pipeline bringing natural gas from different sources in the region, from Turkey to Italy through Greece.

Of course, the agreement on the South Stream pipeline was signed, as you know, by Prime Minister Mr. Karamanlis and President Putin in Moscow.

I would like to add the particularly important role that Greece’s shipping can play in energy security. Greek shipping has now been equipped with modern ships for the transport of oil and either pressurized or liquefied natural gas.

All this makes Greece a significant actor. Let me add that we have signed natural gas agreements with Algeria and Egypt. We faithfully observe EU policy, in complete accordance with the Commission.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Thank you very much.

Mr. T. Kassimis: I would like to say a few words on the Ministry’s Translation Service. In order to give you the extent of its importance, I will simply tell you that in the first five months of 2008, the same number of pages – thousands of pages – have been translated as throughout the whole year of 2007. So there is tremendous rise in demand and an increase in the number of languages.

740 posts of sworn translators are being created – please do not write permanent posts, they are freelancers – in every prefecture of the country. The number and languages are based on statistical data on each prefecture’s needs gathered in the past 15 years.

Positions will be filled following a Panhellenic examination not only on linguistic knowledge, but also the level of knowledge on specific subjects such as medical, technical and other texts.

Journalist: Through an ASEP examination?

Mr. T. Kassimis: No.

Ms. Bakoyannis: They are freelancers and they have nothing to do with appointments.

Mr. T. Kassimis: They are freelancers, these are not appointments. It is something like notaries. We will introduce a quality control and review of translations.

The work flow will be computerized in the whole system and there will be an electronic archive of translations, which is very important.

A translation database will be created and access to EU and UN databases will be given to all translators. This was something the government ensured for all our translators.

Today, those who cooperate with the Foreign Ministry occupy permanent positions until their retirement. This means that no one’s job will be cut.

Their addresses and their personal information will be posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website and on each prefecture’s website, so that those who want to translate documents will be able to find those who translate in the languages they want, contact them and get their translations done.

A new section of translations is being created within the Foreign Ministry with 40 jobs, aimed at the provision of high-quality translation services for the government, the Presidency of the Republic and the Parliament, which means that they will be translators of legal, technical, and scientific documents.

They will of course be assisted by sworn translators outside the Foreign Ministry. That’s what I wanted to say.

The Translation Service will move as of September to the building of the old Secretariat General for the Press on the corner of Akadimias and Kriezotou St.

Mr. G. Koumoutsakos: Just a minute, excuse me. You will be handed out a note with more detail on the issue of the Translation Service.

Source: http://www.isria.info

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World Refugee Day: US Criticized for Failing to Help Iraqi Refugees and Iraqis Who Aided US Occupation

Over the past five years, the US has resettled just 5,000 Iraqis. Compare that to Sweden, a country of only nine million people, which resettled 18,000 Iraqis last year alone. And among the most desperate seeking asylum are those Iraqis who have been forced from their homes because they helped the US government in Iraq, serving as interpreters and civil society experts for the military, State Department and federal agencies such as USAID. .

Source: http://www.democracynow.org

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A BID to inscribe Breton and other regional languages in the French constitution has been thwarted after the Académie française – the elite body that guards over French culture – ruled that it was a threat to national unity.Under a bill to update the 1958 Fifth Republic constitution that is currently going through parliament in Paris, deputies voted last month for an amendment to include in the preamble the words: “Regional languages are part of France’s heritage.”

It would be the first time that Breton, Catalan, Basque, Occitan, Corsican and other minority tongues received official status, after centuries in which they have been at best neglected and at worst actively suppressed.

But the prospect aroused the wrath of the “Immortals” – as the Académie’s members are known – who woke from their normal somnolence to issue a ringing denunciation.

While paying tribute to the role of regional languages in “enriching” French culture, the sages argued that to elevate them to the constitution would have “grave consequences”.

“Above all, it would cast into doubt the principal of equal access for all to the administration and justice,” they said.

Noting that the proposed clause would actually precede Article 2 of the constitution – which states that “The language of the Republic is French” – the Académie said that “to place France’s regional languages before the language of the Republic is a challenge to simple logic and a denial of the Republic.”

Founded by Cardinal Richelieu in 1635, the Académie Française comprises 40 pre-eminent writers and academics – many now in their dotage – whose principal task is to write the definitive French dictionary. It is a Sisyphean task – when one edition is finished after many years, they begin on the next – and they are currently at the letter P of the ninth.

Immediately after the Academy’s statement was released last week, the proposed constitutional amendment was easily overturned by a vote in the upper house of parliament – the senate – which is dominated by conservative figures of both the right and the left.

Among those arguing against the change was the Socialist Michel Charasse, who asked why, of all France’s cultural heritage, only its regional languages deserved special treatment. “Why don’t we inscribe our historical monuments too? Or our food? Why not Auvergnat hotpot?”

Jean-Pierre Fourcade, a senator from President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said: “Today our children talk in telephone text. What we should be doing is defending French, not seeking help from the regional tongues.”

The row is the latest confrontation in the long-running culture war that has pitted centralisers in Paris – pejoratively dubbed Jacobins after the hardliners of the revolution – against defenders of regional identities.

For most of the last two centuries, national governments have done their best to stamp put local peculiarities – largely out of an atavistic fear that without strong central command the country would split into its original constituent parts.

As far as languages were concerned, this meant sending out teams of teachers to ensure that children from Nice to Lille spoke approved French. In Brittany, there were signs in classrooms that read: “No spitting. No speaking Breton.”

In the past 30 years there have been major strides in favour of regional languages and today there are schools that teach in Breton (diwans), Occitan (calandretas), Basque (ikastolas) and Catalan (bressolas). Statistics are unreliable, but there are probably some 300,000 people who can speak Breton.

Nonetheless, France has refused to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, on the grounds that it is against the 1958 constitution, and today Breton is the only living Celtic language that does not have official recognition.

Needless to say, regional campaigners are furious at the setback and are urging the government to insert a modified version of the language clause when the bill comes back for a second reading in the National Assembly.

“This rejection by the Senate may not be the death blow to our regional languages, but it extinguishes the hope born just a few weeks ago that France would go down the democratic road of plurality and cultural and lingustic diversity,” said Mona Bras, of the pro-autonomy party the Breton Democratic Union (UDB) “French laws will have to be brought up to date with what is happening everywhere else in Europe,” said David Grosclaude of the Institut d’Estudis Occitans which promotes Occitan, the language of southern France.

But the establishment newspaper Le Monde was sceptical, asking whether regional languages need constitutional protection to continue their renaissance. It drew a link with the film Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis – set in the Ch’ti dialect-speaking north – which has been seen by 21 million people.

“This film has done more for the regional language of the north than any legal text. With humour, and without a national drama,” it said.

Source: http://www.sundayherald.com

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Pages from a long literary life

As a translator, novelist and poet, Ramadevi enjoys a fulfilling life at the ripe old age of 78.

What can be more soothing for a person, in the latter part of life, than to sit back and reminisce on bygone days? Some people are indeed lucky to be blessed with very special memories, and Ramadevi is one such person who has had the fortune of meeting literary stalwarts in her lifetime. Today, at 78, golden memories and thousands of books are her best companions. Her life is full of interesting happenings but she modestly dismisses them, saying that she has achieved nothing that deserves to be written about.

Ramadevi

Writer Ramadevi at her residence (pic:author)

On entering her simple home, one finds piles of books and tens of trophies and awards all over the place, and little else. Books occupy even the clothes closet. She has a huge collection of nearly over 3000 titles of various languages from famous Kannada, English and Hindi authors. “I need to sort out my books and stack them in an orderly manner, which I am unable to do because of my age” says the thespian, “ these books are most precious to me, and I keep adding on to my library” she adds as she shows off her latest acquisitions.

A career blazer

Ramadevi started her career with the Government of Karnataka as a First Division Clerk in 1958 after a short stint as a high-school teacher at Shimoga and Arsikere. She did her M.A. (Psychology) from the University of Mysore and cracked the Rashtrabhasha-Visharadh exams too. During her service, she completed B.L. After 30 years of successful service she retired in 1988 as Deputy Secretary, Department of Education. She also served as Under Secretary in the Department of Kannada and Culture for five years during her service. She was the first woman to use Kannada as the official language and was honoured by the Government of Karnataka for the same.

Since her college days, Ramadevi was a voracious reader and passionate about writing too. Romancing thus with literature, she remained single. After retirement, she completed MA in Kannada from Mysore University and a diploma course in Journalism from Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan in order to sharpen her writing skills. Not wanting to limit her literary pursuit to Kannada alone, she pursued courses in French from Alliance Française and Bengali from the Central Institute of Regional Languages, enabling her to savour the rich literature of these languages.

Speaking of her literary career she says she started her writing career very late, though she contributed articles to magazines like Karmaveera, Bharati, Jeevana, Jaya Karnataka and Kannada Nudi, occasionally during her college days. Some of these were translations of Hindi articles. She could not pursue her passion seriously until after retirement, except for a few translation projects that she took up.

In 1980, Geetha Book House published her Kannada translation of the Hindi novel ‘Nayika’ of the famed Bengali writer Bimal Mitra. Another translation of Russian short stories for children which was published by IBH won her the Sahitya Academy Award in 1983. Ramadevi was also felicitated as ‘Makkala Bhavishyada Roovari’ at the Karnataka Makkala Sahitya Academy Sammelan held in Dharwar in 1985. All this encouraged her to take up writing seriously. She started penning poems and joined the International Poets’ Organisation headed by the famed Chaturbhasha poet Muddanna. Ramadevi published her first collection of poems ‘Hombelaku’ through Gorur Prathishtana in 2001.

Ramadevi has worked with literary organizations like the National book Trust and Central Sahitya Academy, and has written extensively for prominent publications like Prajavani, Janapada, Kasturi, Mallara and Karmaveera. Her Kannada poems and couplets have been published in various anthologies. She is also a very active member of Poets International, an association of international English poets. Her English poems have been published in their annual anthologies and in Biz Buzz and Samvedana publications too.

Reliving a golden past

The best achievement of her literary life, she says, is the task that she undertook for Dr Shivaram Karanth. “I once responded to a small ad in the newspaper in which Dr Karanth had called for people who can help him collect all his published articles, which were not available with him” she says, “and took up the challenge”. She launched a mammoth search in all possible places like the City Central Library, Dharwad University library , Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Gokhale Institute, B M Sri Prathishtana, etc and rummaged through many old issues of popular magazines and newspapers.

She was thrilled to locate nearly 450 articles of Dr Karanth in each one of them, and on varied subjects. “The correspondence that I had with him in this connection is invaluable” recalls Ramadevi. Dr. Karanth rewarded her by visiting her residence and felicitating her with a saree and gifting her copies of all the nine volumes of his published articles for which she was very instrumental. “I have all the works of Dr Shivaram Karanth in my library” she says proudly.

Ramadevi has also had the privilege of hosting Bimal Mitra, the Bengali writer, Gurnath Joshi, the renowned translator, Shakuntala Sirothia, the Hindi writer and Dr. Anupama Niranjan, the Kannada writer, at her humble home. All the correspondence in connection with her work with these stalwarts has been preserved by Ramadevi. Some of the letters of Dr. Karanth have been published in the book ‘Patra Vyavahara Mattu Naanu’.

78 and going strong …

Today, it is difficult for her to go around the city because of the traffic and her age, but she does attend literary meets that happen near her residence in J.P.Nagar. Ramadevi is a life member of the Gokhale Institute, B.M.Sri Prathishtana, Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Lekhakiyara Sangha, Attimabbe Prathishtana, Aithihaasika Academy and Vignana Parishat. As she is not computer savvy, she has to do all her writing manually and thus can’t do as much as she wishes to. Right now she has three manuscripts including the Kannada translation of Bimal Mitra’s ‘Muzrim Haazir Hai’ waiting for willing publishers.

Ramadevi’s indefatigable spirit deserves appreciation and encouragement. This modest achiever, for whom nothing was a barrier to realising her dreams, is truly an inspiration to young writers to develop and nurture their passion, and triumph against all odds.

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Children’s books in Arabic are a sad tale

A lack of good quality children’s books in Arabic means that parents are reading to their children from English books, said a publisher. Isobel Abul Houl, publisher for Jeroboam books that publishes children’s books in both English and Arabic, said: “There’s a lack of good children’s books in terms of illustration, quality and imagination, so the majority of children’s books in Arabic are often translated or they’re poor quality.” Isobel felt that there’s “a belief that books should be cheap but parents will happily pay Dh42 for a children’s book in English, but won’t pay this for the Arabic equivalent, because it’s perceived as too expensive. Why should it cost less money because it’s in Arabic?”

Festival

Isobel is also the Director of the first Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, which will take place in Dubai from February 25 to March 1, 2009, and director of regional book store Magrudy’s.

She said: “There’s not a lack of Arabic writers, but I think that authors and writing are not valued in Arabic. It’s not that there are no good writers in Arabic, it’s just that there’s no industry and no one’s going to buy the book if it’s written in the language.”

The festival has currently confirmed participation of 28 international authors, including Paolo Coelho, and will be running a series of workshops around the literature framework. It will be focusing on the themes of literacy and education through reading.

Translation

“The best way to be a good writer is to read. Reading translated books is not the same thing as reading something written in the mother tongue,” she said.

Isobel continued to cite the establishment of the Tarjem programme, launched under the Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation.

The programme has been designed to inspire translation – a high quality translation of the world’s bestsellers from a number of languages into Arabic. The programme, established in February, will facilitate the translation of 365 books into Arabic this year, and aims to double the number of translated works in the Arab world.

Isobel said: “I think there’s a lack of importance given to literacy and to children’s books in particular. It all starts when you’re a child – it’s too late when you’re 20 to suddenly start reading, or even when you’re five or six.

“You won’t have that lovely warm and cosy experience of reading that you can get if you’re exposed to children’s books. This is an area I really feel we need to work on.” .

Source: http://www.gulfnews.com

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Manga translation

Plus Anime Expo, kids activities in Japan, contests, & Auroranote in episode 69!

Anime producer and mega-online anime retailer Right Stuf, Inc. is pleased to welcome John Thomas – the translator of Dark Horse’s Blood+ novels and the media columnist for Portland, Oregon’s Yuuyake Shimbun newspaper – to episode 69 of ANIME TODAY.

In this new interview, Thomas discusses his career in Japanese translation and reviewing, the differences between translation and adaptation, the intricacies of translating novels versus manga, and some of the challenges that come into play when translating a property that spans multiple media (and domestic licensors), such as Blood+ and The Dirty Pair.

Also in episode 69 of ANIME TODAY:
–       Chad tells listeners “What’s Hot” in the world of anime and manga.
–       Shawne shares how listeners can up the drama with savings on Korean dramas and comedies from YA Entertainment.
–       Kris and Judy talk about things visitors to Japan can do with their kids in the “Anime and Gamers’ Guide.”
–       Rich and Nick announce the winners of the FUNimation Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid and the Viz Pictures’ Honey and Clover and Love*Com contests. Plus, they remind listeners about the EMMA: A Victorian Romance contest for a replica of creator Kaoru Mori’s Emma art and copies of the Emma graphic novels from CMX Manga, and they kick off a new contest celebrating the Viz Pictures’ release of Maiko Haaaan!!!
–       Liyin Liang, the convention chair for Anime Expo 2008, previews the event and shares details about its new location and shuttle service.
–       Marie checks out Takashi Hashiguchi’s manga Yakitate!! Japan.
–       And listen to musical clips from the JapanFiles.com CDs Short Stories and Play Life Enjoy Pop by Auroranote.

Have a question about anime and manga? Want to comment on one of the podcast’s segments? Call our Anime Today
Hotline at 1-800-338-6827, ext. 7424. You may hear yourself on a future episode of Anime Today!

Visit www.rightstuf.com and www.animetoday.com for this episode, as well as an archive of all ANIME TODAY episodes and extended liner notes. Listeners can also download and subscribe to ANIME TODAY via the Apple iTunes Music Store.
Meet other anime fans, talk with ANIME TODAY listeners, submit your suggestions for future episodes and more at the new

ANIME TODAY forums: http://www.rightstuf.com/ubbthreads/.

Visit ANIME TODAY on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/animetoday.

ABOUT ANIME TODAY
Released every other week, ANIME TODAY is the first commercially-produced podcast aimed at enthusiasts of Japanese animation and comics (“anime” and “manga”). Each episode features fresh content and gives listeners a glimpse into what’s new and what’s hot in the world of anime and manga. Segments include reviews of titles from all major anime studios, insights into the industry from anime producers, tips on traveling to and around Japan, interaction with listeners, contests, prizes and more.

“If you’re into anime and what’s happening in the anime market then this is the podcast for you!”

– User review on iTunes

ABOUT RIGHT STUF, INC.
Currently celebrating its 21st year in business, Right Stuf, Inc. was one of the first players in the U.S. Japanese Animation (“anime”) industry, as both an anime producer/distributor and a retailer. Right Stuf works to promote knowledge of its own products, as well as the anime and manga industry, in general, through its online storefront at RightStuf.com and a variety of media including podcasts and special publications.

Nozomi Entertainment, Right Stuf’s production division, is dedicated to the highest quality releases. True to the Japanese word that inspired its name, Nozomi’s focus is on “what fans want.” By focusing on a limited number of anime properties each year, the Nozomi production team ensures each release receives the care and attention to detail it deserves.

From anime classics like Astro Boy, Kimba and Gigantor to modern comedies, dramas and favorites such as The Irresponsible Captain Tylor, His and Her Circumstances, Gravitation, Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars, Ninja Nonsense, To Heart, The Third: The Girl With the Blue Eye, Emma: A Victorian Romance and Maria Watches Over Us. Right Stuf and Nozomi Entertainment produce quality programming for fans of all ages and interests. For more information, visit www.rightstuf.com and www.nozomient.com.

Source: http://www.activeanime.com

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The eternal present tense

Tarif Khalidi’s new English edition of Islam’s sacred book offers valuable perspectives, says Ziauddin Sardar

We look for two things in any new translation of the Qur’an. How close does it get to communicating the meaning of the original, that inimitable oral text, the very sounds of which move men and women to tears and ecstasy? And does it offer something more: a new perspective, perhaps; or an innovative rendering?

Tarif Khalidi, a professor of Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut, scores high on both these criteria. He manages to capture the allusiveness of the text, as well as something of its tone and texture. While being faithful to the original, he succeeds in conveying linguistic shifts, from narrative to mnemonic, sermons to parables. And there is an innovative component: it is the first translation that tries to capture both the rhythms and the structure of the Qur’an.

The best way to demonstrate its newness, and how close it is to the original text, is to compare it with an old translation. The translation I have in mind is Khalidi’s predecessor in the Penguin Classics: The Koran, translated with notes by NJ Dawood. First published in 1956, Dawood’s translation has been republished in numerous editions. It has been a great source of discomfort for Muslims, who see in it deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones. It is the one most non-Muslims cite when they tell me with great conviction what the Qur’an says.

The change can be detected with the name of the sacred text itself: we move from “Koran”, the older anglicised form, to the new “Qur’an”, which is now accepted as the correct Arabic transliteration and pronunciation of the word. This is not just a trivial matter of linguistics; it signals a shift from the old Orientalist way of presenting the Qur’an in English to a new inclusive way that takes Muslims’ appreciation of their sacred text into account.

Subtle differences in chapter headings signal significant change. The opening chapter of the Qur’an in Dawood is “The Exordium”. In Khalidi, and indeed universally among other translations, it is “The Opening”. Dawood translates Az-Zumar (chapter 39) as “The Hordes”, suggesting bands of barbarian mobs; Khalidi renders it as “The Groups”.

While Dawood’s translation presents the Qur’an as a patriarchal, sexist text, Khalidi brings out the gender-neutral language of the original. A good example is provided by 2:21. In Dawood we read: “Men, serve your Lord.” In Khalidi, it becomes: “O People! Worship your Lord.” Dawood’s translation of the famous verse 2:25, frequently quoted, is largely responsible for the current misconception that Muslim paradise is full of “virgins” – despite the fact that the Qur’an explicitly denies any carnal pleasures in paradise. This is because we find “men” in Dawood’s translation in the garden of paradise who are “wedded to chaste virgins”. Khalidi renders it correctly: “In these gardens they have immaculate spouses.”

The old Penguin translation uses rather obscurantist images throughout to give the impression that the Qur’an is full of demons and witches. For example, in 31:1, Dawood has God swearing “by those who cast out demons”. Khalidi translates the same verse as: “Behold the revelations of the Wise Book.”

So this translation is a quantum leap ahead of the old Penguin version. But it also has a rather special character. Khalidi is not interested in providing the context of the verses of the Qur’an. We therefore do not always know who the Qur’an is addressing at various junctures or who is speaking to whom in its internal dialogues. Here M Abdel-Haleem’s translation (OUP, £7.99), published in 2004, is more useful. Neither is Khalidi all that concerned with providing the reader with help. Footnotes, for example, would have been useful for occasional explanation of what is happening in a particular passage. Instead, he takes a rather unusual attitude to the Qur’an. It is “a bearer of diverse interpretation”, he says; and its ambiguities are deliberately designed to stimulate thinking. Let the reader be “patient of interpretation” and read at will. All that is needed is to approach the text with sympathy.

Khalidi wants the reader to enjoy the experience of reading the Qur’an. Of course, he wants to communicate the majesty of its language, the beauty of its style, and the “eternal present tense” of its grammar. But he also wants the reader to appreciate the Qur’an’s unique structure, how the language changes with the subject matter, how it swirls around and makes rhythmic connections. He wishes to show how each of the seven tropes of the Qur’an (command, prohibition, glad tidings, warnings, sermons, parables and narratives) registers a change in the style of its language. A lofty ambition, but one he pulls off with some success.

The shifts in style are presented in two ways. Linguistically, Khalidi moves from literal translation, rendered in clear prose, via the use of heightened language to deeply poetic renderings. Physically, the layout of the passage changes, so each style looks different on the page. The narrative passages, or sections dealing with social and legislative affairs, appear in a prose format. The dramatic and metaphysical sections are arranged in poetic style.

This translation manages to give a glimpse of the grandeur of the original. Khalidi’s poetic sections will be compared with AJ Arberry’s The Koran Interpreted (OUP, 1964), widely considered to be the most poetic of all translations. While I still prefer Arberry, Khalidi compares very favourably.

But, for the life of me, I cannot see why poetic translations cannot number the verses consistently and consecutively. Like Arberry, Khalidi provides verse numbers on the side margins non-consecutively. There are a couple of other unforgivable omissions. In the main text, the chapters have no numbers. While there is a short glossary, there is no index. I found the translation very difficult to navigate.

These omissions notwithstanding, this is a magnificent achievement. And Penguin, which had a rotten image among Muslims thanks to Dawood’s translation, has redeemed itself.

Source: http://books.guardian.co.uk

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