Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Broederschap: Pleidooi voor verbondenheid / Fraternité: Retisser nos liens, by Frans Timmenmans

Third section in full:
Dutch original:
Het is alsof je op een pad loopt dat zo oneffen is en zo veel valkuilen heeft, dat je blik zich versmalt tot de plek vlak voor je voeten en je verder niets meer waarneemt, alleen die ene plek, zodat je niet in een gat stapt of over een losse steen struikelt. Onze blik versmalt, onze geest versmalt, onze aandacht is alleen nog maar gericht op het hier en nu, op de volgende stap. We zien niet meer wat er om ons heen gebeurt, maar we vrezen het ergste vanwege de schaduwen die we nog niet in onze ooghoeken zien opdoemen.

French translation:
C'est comme de marcher sur un sentier tellement inégal et tellement truffé d'embûches que le regard se concentre sur l'espace situé juste devant nos pieds et que nous ne percevons plus rien d'autre, seulement ce petit espace, de façon à ne pas tomber dans un trou ou à ne pas trébucher sur une pierre descellée. Notre champ visuel se restreint, notre esprit se rétrécit, notre attention n'est plus focalisée que sur l'ici et le maintenant, sur le pas suivant. Nous ne voyons plus ce qui se passe autour de nous, main nous craignons le pire à cause des ombres que nous voyons tout juste poindre du coin de l'œil.

My English translation:
It is as if you are walking on a path that is so uneven, and has so many pitfalls, that you concentrate on the spot just in front of you and you don't notice anything else, just that one place, so you do not step into a hole or stumble over a loose stone. Our view narrows, our mind narrows, our attention is only focused on the here and now, on the next step. We do not see what is happening around us, but we fear the worst because of the shadows that we have not yet glimpsed [French: that we just glimpse] in the corners of our eyes.
Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch foreign minister, is the First Vice-President of the European Commission, and one of his staff kindly gave me a signed copy of the French translation of this pamphlet for my birthday. In fact my Dutch is still better than my French, so I bought the original text off Amazon and read it instead, cross-checking with the French where I wasn't completely sure of it. (For example, in the paragraph quoted above I think the Dutch original of the last sentence is less well expressed than the French translation.)

Timmermans is one of the unsung heroes of the current EU setup - he is capable of emotional yet coherent speeches, and also works as a political fixer behind the scenes - notably, he negotiated the migration deal between the EU and Turkey, which most commentators said could never be agreed, and then that it would never last once it had been agreed (it has). Of course, because he is not as flamboyant as his boss and generally handles complex issues competently, he is barely noticed in the British media, which is solely interested in negative coverage of the EU. Yet he is the second most important person in the European Commission, and the highest ranking EU official from the political Left now that Martin Schulz has returned to Germany.

The pamphlet has one of those titles which cannot easily be translated into English. "Broederschap" fairly obviously equates to "fraternité"; but the English words "brotherhood" and "fraternity" are not synonyms, and are both freighted with very different connotations. The "fraternité" of the title is a direct reference to "Liberté, égalité, fraternité", France's national motto, whose Dutch stock translation is "Vrijheid, gelijkheid en broederschap"; it's telling that when we refer to it in English, we tend to stick to the French original.

The sub-title is different in Dutch and French. The Dutch original is perhaps best translated as "A call for connection", but "verbondenheid" also has connotations of commitment, of the state of being connected as well as the act of connecting, which can't easily be summed up in English. The French subtitle could be translated "Renewing our links" but that misses both the imperative mood of the verb, and the fact that "retisser" literally means "to reweave". If I were to advise on the eventual English translation, I think I'd recommend "Fraternal values: (re)connecting", which is far from the literal meaning of the Dutch or French titles but I think closer to the intended message.

And what is that message? Writing at the end of 2015, in the immediate aftermath of the Paris attacks, Timmemans argues forcefully for a revival of fraternité/broederschap or perhaps "solidarity", as a guiding pricple of politics; he points to the risks of growing anti-Semitism, and of divisions in society exploited by the far right; of the difference between migrants and refigees, but the obligation to show humamity to both; of the difference between borders and walls, between identity and barriers; and he calls for an active engaged citizenship on the basis of shared values. "Jammeren helpt niet." "Rien ne sert de se plaindre". "Whining achieves nothing." It's a pretty clear manifesto, delivered directly from both heart and brain, and I found a lot to agree with.

I wonder if anyone will bother translating it into English?

Tags: bookblog 2017, dutch, eu, french

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