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 Home > Event-related > European SF > FSE-ESF 2006 > Babels-el Reports on Athens ESF 2006

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Report on Mobilisation for Athens ESF 2006

(Date: 24 May 2007)


Mobilization for the 4th ESF

This report is an effort to evaluate the mobilization action of the Babels network so as to cover the need for translation and interpreting at the 4th ESF.

1. Ways of mobilizing interpreters

2. Mobilization in Greece

3. Mobilization in Western Europe

4. Mobilization in Eastern Europe

1. Ways of mobilizatinγ interpreters

After several meetings, the coordinating team of Babels-el decided that interpreters would be mobilized in following ways:
a. Poster and pamphlets
b. Information through e-mail
c. Meetings in Athens
d. Meetings in other cities
e. Reach-out activities in places where we could track interpreters and language learners that would be willing to help (departments of foreign literature at universities, private and public interpreting and translation schools, professional interpreters).
f. Reach-out through telephone calls
g. Informing people about the network in every event of the Greek Social Forum
h. Participation in events and festivals of the political groups of the Greek Social Forum.

2. Mobilization in Greece

Mobilizing interpreters for the Babels network and the formation of the Babels in Greece began in June 2005, two months after the formation of the coordination group. With the help of pamphlets and posters we began the information campaign at the Antiracist Festival at the beginning of July, and we went on at the Synaspismos Youth Festival. In the meantime, new members where added at the coordination group mainly from the Master Programme of the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens.

In September a decision was made on the institutions where a coordinated information campaign should take place. The first to mention were the Universities and especially the departments of translation and interpreting as well as the schools of Philosophy. More specifically, an information campaign should take place at the schools of Philosophy at the universities of Athens, Thessaloniki, Rethymnon, Ioannina, Patras, as well as at the interpreting and translation department of the Ionian University. At the schools of Philosophy in Athens and Thessaloniki universities, apart from the foreign language schools, there are also master programmes in translation and interpreting. Professional interpreters and translators should be also informed, as well as private schools for translation and interpreting and foreign language institutes.

The next step was to locate—through the organisations that participate in the Forum and through the Babels database—those who would help us to inform the students. After the exam period of September, around the middle of October, just when lectures had began, we send pamphlets and posters to various organization members and to Babels network members in Thessaloniki. As far as we know, the first pamphlets and posters did not reach their destination.

The reason for this unsuccessful effort was primarily the weakness of the Babels network. Although there were some members of the network in Thessaloniki, there was not a Babels coordination group who would inform and prepare interpreters. Furthermore, the members of the organizations who took the paphlets and the posters thought that it was too soon to talk about an event that would take place in April of the following year.

At the School of Philosophy in Ioannina we send pamphlets and posters and the members of the various political organizations helped distribute them.

Although there were some members of Babels in Corfu, they were not willing to hold a meeting and inform the students about Babels and the Forum. So again members of the political organizations had to deal with the distribution of the material.

At that initial stage, we were not able to find anyone to help us in Rethymnon.

It was not until the end of November that we were able to send brochures and posters in Patras. By that time, it was rather evident that the Forum would be scheduled at a different date. There followed a time of uncertainty and all activities were temporarily suspended. Consequently, those posters and pamphlets never reached the university.

The information campaign at the school of Philosophy in Athens was undertaken both by Babels coordinators of the coordination team and the students associations.

After the European Preparation Assembly in Vienna, where it was decided that the ESF would take place on 4-7 May, new posters and pamphlets had to be printed. They were ready at the beginning of February, which practically coincided with the university exam period that normally lasts till the end of February.

As soon as the exams finished, we sent again posters and pamphlets and at that time our effort was more successful. Posters and brochures were given out in Patras, Thessaloniki, Athens, Rethymnon and Corfu.

At the middle of February there was a Babels-el meeting in Athens, where 20 to 25 network members were gathered and for the first time we tested the ALIS alternative interpreting system. Since then, there were interpreting sessions twice a week for the preparation of the new members.

At the same time, we tried to contact the representatives of immigrants’ associations in Athens and we invited them to inform their members of Babels. We contacted representatives of the Albanian, Turkish and the Kurdish communities. However, our efforts did not bear any fruit because immigrants face severe financial difficulties, work long hours and they are unwilling to offer their services for free.

In March, Babels-el coordinators went on a trip to Crete —visited Rethymnon and Iraklion—to inform the political organizations that resided there about the issue of translation and interpreting. However, people’s response was rather limited.

Several efforts were made to hold a Babels meeting at the University of Corfu and the plan was to find someone residing in Corfu that would inform the students on the exact time and day of the meeting and motivate the translation and interpreting students to participate in the meeting. Then, a Babels coordinator-interpreter would travel from Athens for this reason. However, this effort did not come off, because neither students nor members of political organizations were willing to help, in spite of the fact that in Corfu there were several Babels members.

Another attempt was made in Thessaloniki where the ESF planned an event and two guests were invited. They asked for Babels-el’s help on interpreting and we thought that it would a good chance to mobilize the interpreters who live at the city. However, due to a misunderstanding with the organizers, the Babels interpreters did not interpret at the event and Babels-el missed the chance to inform the participants about the network.

In the middle of April, the ESF organizers managed to hold an event at the School of Philosophy at the University of Athens and we were finally able to inform the students about the Babels network.

Apart from the efforts to mobilize students at the universities, we tried to contact interpreters’ associations but the Babels professional interpreters told us that there were no such associations or even if they were, they were inactive. They added that the best way to contact was in person through friends and people we knew.

As for the private schools of translation and interpreting, we put posters and distributed pamphlets and some Babels coordinators that had prior contact with these schools informed the students about the network.

Babels-el informed the Greek Association for Deaf People of the Babels network and the way they could register and participate. Our proposal was twoforld; to look into the possibilities the Social Forum offered in networking with other associations in Europe and as interpreters of the sign language. The association responded positively and some of its members attended some of the seminars of the Forum and offered interpretation in the Greek sign language.

Conclusions. The mobilisation effort in Greece has been incomplete and sketchy for many reasons. First of all, the organisations comprising the Greek Social Forum, even though they supported financially and encouraged the formation of the Babels network in Greece, did not realise that the network had no power to mobilise interpreters on its own. The network has neither the necessary mechanisms nor the experience to carry out such a broad mobilisation. Consequently, except for our efforts to inform students, the students’ associations would have had to take the strain to mobilise them. During the first phase of the mobilisation, up to the end of 2005, perhaps due to the divergence and the recurring contentions within the Organising Committee for the European Social Forum, no effort was made to inform people of Babels or the 4th ESF itself. This fact, along with the change of date and the examination period in January, was decisive for mobilisation in the universities. Besides, Babels-el informed the Organising Committee that the new date would create several implications because from the beginning of May until the end of June a lot of conferences take place in Greece. This would result in many interpreters giving their preference to paid employment rather than voluntary work – a fact that was consequently confirmed.

On top of that, the organisations and networks of the Forum did not seem to realise the special significance of timely mobilisation for the Babels network. In our opinion, mobilisation for participation in the Forum is entirely different from the mobilisation for participation in the Babels network, since the latter is relevant not only to the presence of the participant but also to his/her qualifications. Most of the interpreters were not professionals but rather bilinguals, people with foreign language skills and translators. To fundamentally correspond to the needs of simultaneous interpreting, they would need at least three months training. When the Forum mobilisation finally began, it was too late for the Babels network to molilise, let alone prepare the new members of the network.

On the other hand, the inability of the Babels members to develop bonds in a local level–except for Athens—has also got an explanation. In my opinion, it is due to the prevailing belief in Greece that most initiatives should be decided and organised “centrally” by the main Babels office in Athens. People seemed unable to grasp the fact that Babels is a horizontal network that depends on self-organisation. Anyhow, it was impossible for Babels office to organise situational preparation sessions in Thessaloniki or in Corfu without the help of the people residing in those areas.

Consequently, during the last two weeks before the Forum, new people kept coming in the offices stating that they were willing to help, but there was no time for them to be trained and practice their interpreting skills. Thus, most of them were daunted by the booth, and preferred to participate in the translation team instead.

As far as our contacts with the immigrants’ communities were concerned, we consider that they did not take our requests seriously. The idea of offering their services for free and spending so many hours doing situational preparation was completely absurd to them. Considering the difficulties they face on a daily basis, we feel that they should be offered different motivation.

With regards to professional interpreters, even though we tried to inform as many as possible, and no matter how hard we tried to ensure their participation, we did not know until the last minute whether they would offer their help or not. This is due to the fact that when offered paid work, they would give preference to it, a fact confirmed in many cases.

3. Mobilisation in Western Europe

The mobilisation and the selection of interpreters from Western Europe that would take part in the 4th ESF was determined by the condition that all interpreters would have to have retour into English, or at least into French. Additionally, Greeks residing abroad would have to be mobilised as well as interpreters with passive knowledge of Greek. Nevertheless, even though the preparation for the 4th ESF began relatively early (on 9-10 April 2005 there was a European knowledge transmission Babels meeting in Athens where the Babels-uk reported all their conclusions on the organisation of 3rd ESF), we believe that the mobilisation was incomplete even in the countries that had already organised a social Forum.

As far the British booth goes, the Babels-uk coordinators had requested that Greek to English interpretation would not be done solely by the English booth as it was impossible to find enough English native interpreters with Greek as passive. The coordinators of the Greek booth agreed to it and confirmed that the Greek booth would try to cover a part of interpretation. Babels-el translated the poster of Babels and subsequently sent it to Babels-uk. Except for few sketchy efforts in the Edinburgh university and the University of Leeds, where Greek students study translation and interpreting, there was no other “outward” effort to mobilise interpreters. Babels-uk relied on the database of the already registered interpreters.

No significant steps were made in locating interpreters with Greek as passive in France and Italy as well, even though a lot Greeks are studying in various Italian cities and there are universities with very important translation departments, as in Trieste. In Spain, there was no coordinating team, and following the efforts of the Babels-el, a Babels team was set up that responded in time and offered help.

4. Mobilisation in Eastern Europe

At the Preparatory Assembly in Prague it was decided that there would be no official languages at the 4th European Social Forum. This meant that the speeches did not have to be delivered only in English, French, Spanish, German or Italian; every speaker would be given the chance to speak in the language of their choice.

As a result, interpreters from many different countries would have to be mobilised, even from areas with no Babels coordinators. With a few exceptions (such as the Czech Republic), in most Eastern European countries there were not Babels coordinators. To fulfill the needs of the Forum we had to trace interpreters with the following languages: Serbian, Croatian, Russian, Turkish, Romanian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Bulgarian, and Albanian. Unfortunately, the ESF is not so widely known in some of these countries or some of the SF organisations failed to realise how important it is to find interpreters.

A specific remark must be made to the case of the Turkish interpreters. Despite the personal emails we sent to the members of the Turkish Social Forum, none of them responded in time. The only reply we got was that it was impossible to find the 30 interpreters that we needed. In the meantime, Babels-el tried to mobilise the Turkish-speaking interpreters registered in the database, who were only three. Just a few days before the start of the Forum, some members of the Turkish SF who had arrived earlier informed us that they would be bringing along “their own” interpreters to help Babels. We never saw any of those interpreters, and to make things worse, during the Forum angry seminar organisers kept bursting into the Babels’ offices to complain about the lack of Turkish-speaking interpreters. In a discussion we had later on with a Turkish interpreter we had found through the database, we were informed that the Turkish SF had reassured them that Babels-el had found all the interpreters that were needed and that Babels-el never asked for their help.

Except for the case of the Turkish SF, which is an exceptional one, Babels-el managed to travel to Romania with the help of the Greek SF. There, we managed to make some contacts that did not bring immediate results. Nevertheless, we managed to find all the necessary Romanian-speaking interpreters with the cooperation of the newly-established Romanian SF.

As far as the Russian booth goes, we tried to cover the needs of the Forum with interpreters coming from Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as from Moldova and Ukraine. The interpreters from Moldova and Ukraine did not manage to enter the country due to visa problems. As far as the Russians were concerned, we tried to select equal number of interpreters from Moscow and St. Petersburg. They both seemed to have different coordinators, who did not manage to collaborate and make the necessary arrangements. Later on, we were informed that there is competition between Moscow and St. Petersburg coordinators, which caused trouble and serious delay in Babels-el’s selection process.

As far as the Hungarian booth was concerned, at the last minute we were offered some help by members of the Hungarian SF, and after a few problems we eventually managed to get some Hungarian interpreters to Greece.

The interpreters from other parts of Eastern Europe were selected mainly through the database and with some help from contacts.

Conclusions. Mobilisation in Eastern European countries was incomplete. The Organising Committee of the 4th European Social Forum offered all the possible help it could offer in that geographical area. However, we believe that members of the European Social Forum (both Western and Eastern Europeans) should realise how important mobilisation is in those areas and take some active initiatives in this direction.

It might sound obvious but it is extremely difficult for the organising country to mobilise everyone. This effort is even more difficult when it is made by a Babels group that has not developed the network of interpreters in the hosting country.

Trips like the one that we went on in Romania will have to happen in many other countries that do not have their own coordination. This initiative should also be strengthened by the SFs of each country interested in developing such a network.

Anastasia Lampropoulou


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