Please find below the final version of the report on Babels at the IC meeting in Copenhagen. It has been amended and anotated by the various Babelistas present in Copenhagen as well as some IC members, notably Jason Nardi. Judith has been the main driving force behind this report, warm thanks to her for that !
Babels at the IC meeting in Copenhagen on 22-25 th September 2008
Babelistas present at the meeting : Bigwood Nicola, De Vera Maria, Hitchman Judith, Lopez Joel, Moris Dominique, Rios Carmen, Seither Gregoire, Souto Manuel, Zalamea Felipe.
Report written by Judith and Gregoire
1. Babels declaration at the IC
Prior to the IC meeting, a discussion had taken place on the Babels list in order to decide whether or not we should volunteer to interpret in this meeting, considering the fact that the IC has decided, as far as the WSF in Belen is concerned, to hire professionals and restrict communication to 3-4 'colonial' languages.
After some discussion, it had been decided that Babels would go to the meeting as a full member of the IC and would volunteer to offer interpretation. A draft of a declaration had been discussed on the list and Judith Hitchman was asked to read it in the name of Babels, during the IC plenary session.
Following the events in Malmö, in the face of the difficulties Babels encountered in its communication and relation with the Nordic OC and after the strongly worded declaration made by Babels during the Assembly of Social Movements, a number of Babelistas present in Malmö (Gregoire, German,Yan, Maria, Cathy, Pietro, Irma, Barunka, ....) met the night before the IC meeting to discuss this declaration again and integrate the various comments made by people on the list. The resulting text was then again commented and completed during a meeting of the Babelistas present in Copenhagen.
2. Selection of interpreters
Once Babels had agreed to provide volunteer interpretation, a call for volunteers was sent out for Copenhagen. The conditions were :
a) already have been selected for Malmö ESF, (to save costs)
b) being able to stay on after the ESF
c) have the right language combination.
The team was selected out of 200 responses, a gender-balanced mix of ages, origins and levels of experience, as well as a high level of both commitment and team spirit. Anyone who replied to the call received a personal response from Judith.
The resulting Babels team for the IC meeting was really good, with 3 people per booth, for French, English and Spanish, and also people having the combinations allowing them to cover Portuguese from the floor.
As Judith was somewhat concerned that we might not have all the technical support, rooms etc. organised, she spent quite some time before the meeting checking and double checking with the organising team in Copenhagen. But the Danish SF really went out of its way to make sure that things were well organised.
The local organisers even brought us in fruit, biscuits and chocolate to eat in the booths…a lovely touch, much appreciated by us all. We had money to cover our bus fares and our evening meals (breakfast was at the hotel and lunch at the centre). So thanks a lot to Thomas Eisler and Kris Schroeder for all their help with the logistics.
On Day 1, the team arrived at the venue à 8:30 to discover that none of the equipment had been set up yet, since it had only been shipped from Malmö the night before. No plenary session was planned for this morning, all IC members meeting in the various commissions.
After talking to Moéma, we quickly decided to go around the various commissions (meeting in separate rooms in the building) in order to see if anyone needed whispering interpretation. Most Babelistas ended up doing this, the remaining Babelistas then started to assemble the booths, together with the NOC technicians. That went very well and the booth and the equipment were fully functional at lunchtime, well before the plenary.
Doing whispering in the various commissions also allowed the Babelistas to follow the debates and in some cases even participate in them. Particulary interesting was the meeting of the finance commission, as it gave us an insight on what is being projected as far as interpretation costs for Belen are concerned.
In the afternoon, the IC members met for a plenary essentially devoted to introducing each of the 100 or so persons present, before returning to the commissions. ALIS equipment worked flawlessly in the plenary meeting and all interpreters returned to their whispering posts in the commission. We toured the commissions repeatedly, asking if anyone needed interpretation, and that was considered very positively by everyone present.
Judging by the numerous informal contacts made during the commissions and in the cafeteria, the overall attitude towards Babels among IC members is fairly positive. We had many questions regarding what had happened in Malmö, people wanting to hear ou point of view, having heard the NOC previously. We also had the chance to talk to NOC members who participated in the meeting (Sarah and ...) and clarify some points that had not been perceived clearly in the Malmö tohu-wabohu. In all these encounters we repeated the points formulated in the final Babels declaration in Malmö.
3. Babels speaking at the IC plenary
The two points in the agenda for the IC meeting that concerned us, were the WSF in Belem in January 2009 and the Document on strategy for holding a social forum.
Both were on the agenda for the second day.
The presentation of the facilities for the WSF in Belem was impressive - lots of buildings will be erected specially for the WSF and obviously the local authorities see this as a way to advertise the state of Para. The budget involved will be huge, as it costs nearly a thousand dollars alone to fly from Rio to Belem, and river transport cannot be used for fear of "pirate attacks" (sic).
The interpretation budget is equally huge : one million dollars to pay for professional interpretation, but all this money will only "buy" 100 interpreters, covering 22 rooms x 3 sessions/day.
After the presentation, Judith left the booth and took the seat at the table and read the prepared statement. The statement read was the following :
« Why does Babels exist ? Because we want everyone’s voice to be heard - not just the usual educated elites who understand and speak one of the main colonial langages – and to contribute to creating a truly open space, in harmony with the WSF Charter.
Social Fora should be fully open to all progressive movements and individuals who adhere to the charter of Porto Alegre.
A fully open space is not possible without broad linguistic diversity
Restricting communication to a very limited number of « widely spoken » languages (EN/FR/ES/PT) is submitting to a world shaped by colonial forces and effectively shuts out people who are not educated enough to speak those languages.
Money is political : given the limited budget of social movements and considering the fact that professional interpreters charge around 600 $/day as well as transport and expect expensive accommodation, not to mention the better working conditions they demand, we believe that relying exclusively on professional interpreters for Social Fora is not a solution in accordance with the ideal of linguistic diversity.
By making a decision to reduce the provision of interpreting to 5% of all seminars, will only the more powerful organisations receive interpretation ? Where will we find interpreters for indigenous languages ?
Babels was not consulted, or asked to submit a budget for Belem. We offered to become involved last April. Every Organising Committee is a sovereign
Local entity, but remains within the WSF charter and process.
The only way to ensure a massively multi-lingual event is by mobilising and training volunteers – particularly in the case of minority languages
Babels has been a full member of the IC and the Social Forum process since Florence. We are not a provider of services, we are a political organisation whose aim is to ensure empowerment by enabling everyone’s voice to be heard so that everyone can participate in the debate.
One of the declared aims of holding the next WSF in Belem is to showcase indigenous peoples and their cultures. The WSF charter supports this, as does the Babels charter, which clearly advocates the right of people to express themselves in the language of their choice, the language of their own culture.
Babels, as has been demonstrated in Athens, is able to co-ordinate interpretation in over 30 languages to cover some 100 seminars a day within a reasonable budget (under 100,000 euros in total). In Belem there is a one-million dollar budget dedicated to 22 seminar rooms, and 3-4 languages only.
However, it has been shown in Malmo, this requires intensive communication and co-operation with the corresponding organising committee, full political, logistic and financial support, and also a lead time of 6 months, prior knowledge of logistic issues, and real integration in the decision-making process.
Babels has not been called upon to organise interpretation for the WSF in Belem. It is now too late to do so, as we need a minimum of 6 months to mobilise interpreters, buy tickets, organise logistics, accommodation etc, and most importantly we need full commitment of the WSF organisers to provide the necessary logistics in time.
A wide variety of views have been expressed on this subject within the 9000-strong network of Babels, some dissenting, but in any case, it is clearly now too late for Babels to be involved in Belem.
Nevertheless we are willing to continue working with the WSF process in the future, should they wish it and agree with us on the above points ».
This declaration was met by considerable applause from a majority of the members of the IC, and many supportive remarks were made as to the importance of language diversity and the role of language in the communication process.
Christophe Aguitton, Pierre George and Leo Gabriel made a number of remarks supporting our point of view and stressing the importance of both indigenous languages, equal access for non colonial language speakers and grassroots movements. They also fully agreed that only volunteer interpretation can guarantee these conditions.
Jason Nardi, member of the IC communication commission also supported Babels and insisted that the language issue should be explicitly discussed and stated. He suggested that the IC needs to push this issue more and - as communication commission member - volunteered to take it forward. He proposed setting up a working group on language issues that would enable to involve more people.
It was pointed out that there was nothing stopping NGOs from coming with their own interpreters as volunteers, thereby increasing the possibilities for covering more seminars.
Judith explained that such a choice only reinforced the logic of access to interpretation for rich NGOs, to the detriment of diversity and accessibility as already stated. She also tried to explain that it is not an option to have some paid interpreters working side by side with volunteers for several reasons :
- - It is not acceptable, not only by AIIC rules but also for ethical reasons. Why should some interpreters get paid, and some not ?
- It is falling into the trap of neo-liberal logic of pitting the for-profit economy against an alternative form of solidarity economy (one of the aims of the Forum per se is to create another economy in another world possible, isn’t it ?).
- Many members of Babels are professional interpreters. It is not up to us to say that they should or should not accept the work on offer for the Belem, but it does mean we may in certain cases be creating a conflict between paid/voluntary work for the same people.
There is a clear reticence on behalf of a few long-standing members of the IC to accept our point of view, but also even clearer support from the more open organisations who now constitute a majority.
The debate was cut short by two points : one was that, as Moema explained, the decision had already been taken and the other was that, when asked if we, Babels, would be prepared to reconsider our decision, we said it was too late to organize anything properly.
So in short, most people in the IC agree theoretically and ideologically with Babels, but the decision had already been taken.
The second point of the agenda where our input was important was on the document on « Guiding Principles for organising a WSF Event ».
In this document as presented to the IC by Vinod, a single line was dedicated to the importance of languages and interpretation.
Babels again defended the high importance of interpretation, translation as essential tools for communicating in our diversity and many different cultures. A modified text was then presented by the Communication Commission and accepted the following day. It reads :
« Translation, Languages, Communication.
Promoting diversity in the WSF is a political decision, but also poses challenges, for example in the case of languages. The presence of many languages in the WSF event has to be seen as a political necessity and ways to face such a challenge has also to be political rather than merely technical
The organising committee should reflect in time on the linguistic/translation and interpretation needs of the WSF. The necessary measures and decisions should be taken well in advance of the forum in order to get efficient and affordable translations throughout the forum’s events and in order to have equal treatment for all participating movements and to take into account the needs of minority languages.
Utmost attention should be paid by the organising committee to the process of communication, intercommunication and documentation, before, during and after the event, with aims of mobilization and quality in preparation and holding self-organised activities in the event and the effectiveness of their outcomes.
In particular :
Before the event : Create inclusive spaces, physical and on-line for working groups linked to the organisation committee preparing the event. Stimulate organisations willing to hold activities in the event to upload to sites provided in the WSF context in order to help collaboration between the self-organised activities. Provide ways for organisations registering activities on the event website to clearly link to such associated spaces.
During the event : provide a properly functioning media centre, total support to non-profit and alternative media stimulating them to share production of coverage, provide maximum access to internet for participants, and also infrastructure and support to organisations setting up interconnections with organised groups that are willing to participate remotely in the event.
After the event : Stimulate participant organisations to publish outcomes of their participation in the event site and create spaces to develop further interconnections and collaborations around these outcomes »
This amended text was adopted and included in the overall document guidelines for organising WSF events. Although both the question of interpretation and communication are dealt with together, it does clearly state our position.
Babels, via Joel, Gregoire & Judith have also agreed to participate in the Communication Commission of the IC.
During a meeting of this commission, Leo Gabriel asked if Babels could help muster volunteers for translation of WSF process documents in the runup and during the Forum, as well as on an ongoing basis.
We clearly explained that Babels works on the basis of projects, and that we are open to projects being submitted to us at all times, but that they need to be validated by the wider Babels community.
Considering the on-line newsletter for which we are asked to provide translation help, we said it should be possible to find, among the Babelistas, a dedicated team of people willing to assist the WSF process by helping with translation in the period before the Belem WSF. This would not affect the decision by Babels to not provide interpretation for Belem.
We also were contacted by members of the Coorditrad group of volunteers (who do translations of reference texts for ATTAC and other organisations within the SF process), who would like to work more closely with Babels-Transtrad (especially since many Transtrad volunteers are also members of Coorditrad). Here again we explained them the process for submitting a proposition to Babels.
The conference ended on the evening of the 24th.
Signed : Judith, Gregoire, Joel, Nicola, Maria, Felipe, Dominique, Manuel, Carmen