Last edited by JulieBoeri
Fri, 03 Oct 2008 07:48 CEST [diff]

Ali's Report... to be incorporated in the different reports (selection, visas, etc.)
Tr/Kr booth Malmö preliminary report (Ali)

Numbers OK

This time a sufficient number of interpreters was provided for the turkish booth (this had not been the case in Athens). This was due to the fact we had a long list of volunteers lying ready in the Babels database. It would be interesting to find out how so many volunteer interpreters for TR/KR found their way into the Malmö volunteers list.

Kurdish was present along with Turkish:

Another positive and interesting development was the fact that the team from Turkey also included interpreters in Kurdish, which was probably the only minority language (with Sami perhaps) actually translated during the Forum, most other languages being national or ‘colonial,’ if not Imperial.

In other words, the team from Turkey was one of the rare teams to implement one of Babels declared principles, ie., the provision of interpretation for indigenous or minority languages.

Selection process

Lack of selection process, training & preparation

We were three or four coordinators, myself (Ali), Barish, Eren and Mehmet Kuzu, with Barish and Eren being particularly active. I had hoped to gather u at some meeting to discuss how we were to work and coordinate, but our different activities prevented us to do so.

In the mean time, while each of us was working on preparing a provisional list of volunteers for our booth, Barish took the initiative to make up a list of people to contact out of the Babels candidate list. Left with a ‘fait accompli,’ we waited for seminar programs as we were told to do by the Babels central coordination group, but not quite knowing when and how to deal with selection in a proper and fair way or with training and preparation.

Then suddenly we received a panic message telling us we only had a few days to confirm the list of interpreters ready to come. Barish was off on a trip in Anatolia and could not be reached, so before we could actually all consult each other, Eren picked up from there, taking the initiative to directly contact the candidates to confirm their commitment. He followed things from there until final selection, regularly updating our list of candidates. This had to be made hastily, without sufficient prior testing or training.

Finally, with little time for testing or training, we ended up with sufficient numbers, but with some questions about preparedness.

Quantity OK, Quality:?

Thus, we arrived in Malmö with the numbers, but we (or at least I) didn’t quite know how we would ensure quality. Things were complicated by the fact that now that we had the numbers, there were practically no functioning booth (as we all know), and when there were, they were occupied by interpreters of other languages.

In one case, one of the kr interpreter team got so frustrated as having to wisper during a seminar with a majority of tr/kr listeners while interpreters of other languages were working in the (relative) comfort of their booths, that they ended up storming one of the said booths, which happened to be the German one. Apart from frustration, this abrupt behaviour was probably due to the fact they only spoke kr and tr and could not find the polite words to explain their plight.

All this way for nothing!?

Generally, tr/kr interpreters were doubly frustrated since they had no way of testing themselves in normal conditions. Not only because of technical dysfunctions in the booths, or because they found themselves with more interpreters than needed or not enough, but also because some of the programmed seminars did not take place, or turned out to need other languages.

This was especially true for beginners, but experienced interpreters who had come as activists and who were looking forwards to be a part of what to them was an important event were also disappointed and frustrated at not being able to be of any use, leave alone testing themselves. As a result, we still haven’t been able to make a proper evaluation of our volunteers’ skills, even after the Forum.

Like other interpreters, those of the TR/KT booth had problems reaching the different seminar sites in time, and when they did reach them, they found that the seminars started quite late, if they started at all. Many had to spend a long time in trains or buses to reach distant accommodation. As for the food, it made really them miss home.

Visa Problems

One of the most frustrating and stress causing process however was that of the obtaining of Visas. The Swedish Consulate treated interpreters from the TR/KR booths pretty much like the organising committee: like slaves!

It was a process of psychological torture, with Consulate employees playing cat & mouse with the interpreters, telling them to bring a long list of documents in the morning, and another but just as long list of documents in the afternoon (the previous list having turned out to be obsolete). Most interpreters did not know whether they would obtain their visa until the last minute, some almost having to cancel and renew their tickets, because they couldn’t confirm their reservation within deadlines.


Despite all the frustrations, Malmö probably will remain an experience for many of the interpreters of the TR/KR booth. Many have made new acquaintances, some have seen their limits, while others may have discovered a vocation. We will hopefully have a clearer view on these matters, within the mail group Barish created quite early in the selection process.

Towards 2010

As a booth, we now have a basis that we can work to consolidate, hopefully without waiting for the last minute (an only to current practice over here). This would involve early training and lexicon preparation.

But 2010 will involve more than that. We will need coordinators for all the other languages. That is, if the ESF organising committee chooses to work with Babels. It is already clear that Babels will have to work hard to convince them. One of the complaints most often (over) heard or read between the lines, has to do with quality. Contrary to what seems to be the case generally in social or other forums, the Turkish organisers take interpretation quite seriously, but the result of this – to say the hard truth - is that they hesitate to rely on Babels.

As for working with Alis, it is going to be ten times more difficult to convince the organisers on this matter after the Malmö disaster. This may well turn out to have been a suicidal event for Alis. Besides questions of systemic reliability, there is the problem of overcrowded radio frequencies in Turkey, most of them overlapping on each other in a rather anarchic physical environment.

To come back to Babels, there are some contradictions and inconsistencies that need to be faced. There are also questions relating to attitudes and overreacting.

Take the case of the Malmö declaration. We were all mad and it is quite natural to use excessive language in such cases, informally. It is also quite clear that Babels had to make a strong statement. However, the words of an official declaration must be well weighed. It was somewhat intrepid to use the word “lies.” It didn’t quite occur to me at the time, although it did cross my mind. They may well have been a misunderstanding, the organising committee perhaps simply referring to travel and accommodation costs. A less indicting term or phrasing could have been used to better profit, presenting a better case for Babels.

On the other hand, Pietro is very photogenic and spoke well on the video, however, can we really say that Babels is made up of ‘professionals’.

And are all Babels volunteers actually activists? How many are just after some interpreting experience (no problem as far as I’m concerned), if not plain tourism.

Take the Copenhagen declaration. It mentions the provision of interpretation for indigenous or minority languages. How true is that? How many minority languages were interpreted in Malmö? To my knowledge, only Kurdish, and ironically together with Turkish, the very language of a country consistently (and until recently quite rightly) criticised for its repression of this language. As for the other standard languages that were interpreted, complaints were voiced about the quality of the interpretation made even by volunteers who claim to be professional.

Babels needs to reconsider how it presents itself. We must be able to hold our own promises. Either we promise less, or we do more to stand up to what we promise. A mixture of the two is probably closer to the solution. We need to be clearer on what we want and can do. We don’t have to do everything, but we can do something(s). Finally, as utopians, I recommend we all read ‘Animal Farm,’ just to get an idea of what another world can be. And to remember that good intentions don’t necessarily lead to heaven.

So where do we go from here? Despite all its setbacks, Babels remains a remarkable experience as far as I2m concerned. It has its network, its own experience and legacy. I was quite impressed by the training material, not to mention the involvements of those who struggle to keep it going. I think Babels is doing pioneering work, and that there is a lot to be learned from it.

On the other hand, it is a pity that social movements, and particularly unions – who actually created the activity of (then consecutive) interpretation, should now be so indifferent to it. The Istanbul ESF may be an opportunity to turn things round. There is a simple reason for this. Turkish organisations are too dependent on interpretation to take it for granted. To take advantage of this, we need to properly evaluate what Babels can shoulder and what it can’t.

Perhaps we could envisage a more modest and less assertive contribution, with organisations that can afford it bringing their own interpreters, which could be included in the volunteers’ list (as was the case in Malmö, thank god for the interpreters), and Babels concentrating on providing the rest of the participants – not necessarily professional – but alternative, experimental interpretation that can still be of a minimum quality, opening up new dimensions in interpretation, but warning also the users of the risks involved. In other words, raising the right expectations.

If we can send a clear enough message on what we are trying to do, people will be ready to accept us as we are. I also think at least some professional interpreters will be more at ease and more willing – I mean those who are open minded enough – to give Babels a hand under those circumstances.

Well so much for now.

Ali Ottoman

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