La Francophonie—O Canada
The Balkans have endured more than their share of conflict. Nearly one hundred years ago a political assassination in Sarajevo triggered the First World War. During the Second World War, German forces faced some of their toughest resistance in the Western Balkans, while Italy’s campaigns in the early days of that conflict ran aground in Greece. More recently, the 1990s saw the disintegration of Socialist Yugoslavia, producing some of the worst fighting on the European continent since the 1940s.
But times change, and the changes can be striking. Now characterizing most of the region is an absence of conflict, prompting many states in the area to seek and gain partnership in the European Union, NATO, and other multilateral organizations. Many now see the area as ripe for investment. Canadian funds, no exception, have and likely will continue to find their way into the region.
Also arriving, on 27 September 2006, was PM Stephen Harper. The Francophonie Summit, starting in Bucharest on the 28th, guaranteed Harper, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, would make their way to Romania. But what did Harper bring along on this, one of his very first ventures among world leaders? Conflict and tensions?
Those who have come to believe that Canada stands for compromise, peacekeeping, and a commitment to alleviating conflicts around the world may wish to make a study of Harper’s performance at La Francophonie. According to reporter Allan Woods, it was on 29 September that “Harper found himself fighting against what French President Jacques Chirac called ‘a great majority’ of the 53 member states at the conference when he took a stand against a statement of sympathy for the civilians in Lebanon because it made no mention of the Israeli civilians displaced, injured or killed in the month-long war” [cited in Allan Woods’ ‘Harper’s Defence of Israel Sparks Political Flap,’ CanWest News Service, 30 September 2006. Story posted at http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=3355d60e-659c-48c5-9421-6440e38888d5&k=10021
According to various news accounts, what happened was that Harper ultimately vetoed an Egyptian amendment, which would have deplored the effects of the recent Middle East War, which saw some 1,500 Lebanese civilians killed. Harper’s objection? He said the war, its effects, and the needless deaths could and should all be singled out, but not at the expense of failing to remember the suffering endured by the Israelis.
Among those upset by what Harper had done was Lebanon’s Minister of Culture. Tarek Mitri, in reacting to Harper’s veto, observed this was the same prime minister who at the start of the war decided Israeli responses were “measured.” Mitri also argued that many nations had come to condemn Israeli actions as violations of human and international rights, which is something, he noted, Harper may wish to consider. “I hope that the prime minister of Canada has seen the possibility of reflecting a bit on what he said at the beginning and which could have been said differently…It was a bit clumsy on his part but I don't want to get into a political conflict over what a prime minister said a month and a half ago,” said Mitri [cited in Norman Delisle’s ‘Harper’s Response to Israeli Raids ‘Clumsy’ Lebanese Minister, CP, 29 September 2006. Story posted at http://www.canada.com/topics/news/national/story.html?id=bb3a91ef-02b7-4b9a-953a-44726b70ce78&k=50624
Quebec will host the next Francophonie summit in 2008. But at this present 2006 meeting Premier Charest would go on record saying his province has strong ties with the Lebanese people, and insisting he would make no comment, no comment whatsoever, when asked about Harper’s performance.
Posted by Stan Markotich
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