The ‘francophonie’ in Slovakia among diplomacy, literature, and culture

The French studies and the ‘francophonie’ at Comenius University celebrated their 100th anniversary on March 22nd, 2023, with a conference at the Faculty of Humanities in Bratislava. Diplomats, lecturers, translators, interpreters, researchers, and personalities linked to Franco-Slovak relations attended and discussed the impact of the ‘francophonie’ in the country’s diplomatic, literary, and cultural environments. Promoted by the Embassy of Switzerland and the Embassy of France with the Institut Français, the conference started with a speech by the University’s Vice-President, Jozef Tancer, who remembered the first steps of the ‘francophonie’ in Slovakia at the end of the Great War. The 1922-1923 school year started the in-depth study of French at the newly founded Comenius University. The conference was an opportunity to recall the political, cultural, and literary ties between Slovakia and the world of the ‘francophonie’. Even today, French is the most studied foreign language in the country.

France’s position in European trade and economy has contributed to the maintenance of French as the language of diplomacy and culture in both Slovakia and Europe. The Dean of Letters at Comenius University Marián Zouhar traced the positive relations between the First Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) and France. The French-speaking presence in Czechoslovakia in the interwar period helped strengthen political ties between Paris and Prague. This continued successfully after the war, up to and beyond the dissolution of the country in 1993. Language teaching corresponds to the expansion of a world, the dean recalls. To learn a language is to absorb a new culture to understand the world and various contexts. Pascal Le Deunff, ambassador of France to Slovakia, recalled that this year marks thirty years of relations between Paris and Bratislava. Language remains a capital ingredient for understanding each other in literature, culture, and diplomacy.

Even today, communication and culture – of which language is the union – can help facilitate peace processes and promote intercultural understanding. This was also a key theme of the speech by Peter Nelson, the ambassador of Switzerland to Slovakia, who recalled how important the ‘francophonie’ is in the diplomatic sphere. Switzerland has three major European languages – German, French, and Italian, the most widely studied on the continent. At the federal level, the Confederation recognizes equal treatment and dignity for all three. In 2023-2024, Switzerland is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, where the Alpine country strongly encourages the use of French. Igor Slobodník, the ambassador of Slovakia to France, explained that France has always attracted and welcomed Slovak students and researchers who over the years have studied and worked at the universities of Bordeaux, Paris, Lille, Bordeaux, Dijon.

In remembering the 100th anniversary of French studies at Comenius, teachers and professors, interpreters and researchers reported their experiences regarding the promotion of the ‘francophonie’ in Slovakia. Seminars, conferences, and scholarships to Slovak students and researchers in France have nurtured enthusiasm for studying French. Despite the declining enrolment of literary students at Comenius University, the ‘francophonie’ enjoys respect and curiosity in Slovakia. Even today, the study of languages can wide open young people’s horizons toward many careers. But if the university is primarily a place of humanization and intellectual exchange, the theoretical study of a language is not enough. One must also travel, speak, explore, and experience language and its nuances. To know a language is to know the “other”; it is a life force for culture.

Amedeo Gasparini

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Pubblicato da Amedeo Gasparini

Amedeo Gasparini, class 1997, freelance journalist, managing “Blackstar”, MA in “International Relations” (Univerzita Karlova, Prague – Czech Republic); BSc in “Science of Communication” (Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano – Switzerland)