Commentary: Decolonization of Culture


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Globalization is the direct outcome of instant communication. The advent of cyberspace, with all its rewards, has the tendency of homogenization, leading nations and individuals to lose character and personality.

Because of the impact of globalization, young people in Seoul, South Korea and other youth at another region of the globe, say Argentina, are wearing the same brand of jeans, biting into the same kind of McDonald’s sandwiches and singing the same rap songs. It is indeed thrilling to see the world shrinking into a global village. This homogenization of tastes, however, offers the opportunity to the multi-national corporations to broaden their markets and reap ever-expanding profits.

Although many East European countries are gleefully embracing the fruits of globalization, countries of Old Europe, especially France, are worried about losing their identity. France has been fighting desperately to preserve the purity of its language in the media, resisting the use of anglisized expressions, especially the impact of the American culture in its many manifestations.

This struggle to preserve national identity has been going on for some time in France and it is one of the main topics of public discourse.

Recently a satirical novel was published in France touching some raw nerves. Many circles in France, preoccupied with the loss of national identity, have received this novel with great enthusiasm, because it has hit the spot. The novel is titled, The Return of the General, by Benoit Duteurtre, making an allusion to the return of General de Gaulle, symbol of French orgeuil (pride) to fight the
impact of globalization and to return the French people to the good old days.

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The reaction, and the fight broke out with the bastardization of French oeuf mayonnaise and the general, upon his return, restores order and makes “the world safe for mayonnaise.”

The novel begins with a simple yet symbolic issue and develops into a generalization afflicting the lives of the modern French people. “The oeuf mayonnaise saga is a homage to the Gaullist aphorism about irreducible individualism of the French: how, he once groaned, “could anyone govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?” (Salad Cream, by Suhir Hazareesingh, TLS, May 21).

DeGaulle’s shadow still lurks in the deeper sanctuary of the French psyche.

DeGaulle also taps into the intense resentment often felt in France at America’s military, economic and cultural hegemony.

The issue is not only resentment against American influence; it is rather the fact that globalization is similar to a one-way street, with stronger nations imposing their influence on relatively small nations, proud in their cultural traditions and particular values.

If nations as big as France worry about the loss of their national identity, how much more do the fragile nations, in this case, Armenia, have to worry?

During the Soviet era, education was taken very seriously. Besides the pseudo-science of Marxism-Lenism, which was the laughing stock of teachers and students equally, students received a solid educational background, equipped to compete with any country. Independence brought confusion and chaos to the educational system. Aspiring to be integrated into the European structures, Armenia subscribed to the Bologna Convention, which still is not well defined in Armenia and thus has been wreaking havoc. The Bologna Convention, which tries to homogenize the educational systems of participating countries, has not been fully absorbed in Armenia.

Now comes a new threat with a draft law, which the Minister of Education Armen Ashotian has proposed. The draft law, which has been sent to the parliament for adoption, intends to reintroduce into the public schools a medium of instruction other than Armenian language.

There is an outcry against this decision in Armenia. This is like superimposing globalization over provincialism, which is rampant today in Armenia’s educational system. The Armenian language has suffered tremendously and distortions on store signs, news media, and even in literature have been plaguing the country for a long time.

One parliament member, Anahit Bakhshyan, has stated: “Currently, it is not the reopening of the foreign language schools, but rather the poor level of the Armenian language at our schools that is a threat.”

The president of the Public Council, Vazgen Manoukian, has offered an even harsher criticism: “The minister of education says, ‘I cannot raise the quality of education, I must bring schools from abroad.’ This must be considered ridiculous, if not tragic. …We were trying to take a step forward, but this project is a step toward an abyss. Many scholars have concluded that it is essential that the child obtain basic education in his/her mother tongue and only then learn foreign languages.”

The fight is not against learning foreign languages; it is against substituting Armenian state schools with foreign-language schools.

Armenia is still adjusting to its newly-acquired status of an independent nation and copying ready-made models seems the most palatable option, which in the long run may compromise the national identity of the country.

This issue is not a satirical case like the one in the French novel — it is a real issue, which cuts deep into our national psyche.

We hope criticisms and the national outcry will yield some results soon and this race toward embracing alien cultures without scrutiny would be halted immediately. A sober reassessment will result in the decolonization of our language and culture.

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