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Francophone Balkans? ‘Outsider’ Membership in La Francophonie and Other Language-Based International Organisations

Naturally, most of the members of La Francophonie are those countries where French is the primary language, an official language, a colonial legacy left by French or Belgian colonisers, or is spoken by a substantial majority. Keen observers will notice that the above map shows some members that one would not typically associate with the Francophone world. The Balkans/southeastern Europe in particular stand out in this regard. Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, and Romania all belong to the organisation. In these countries, French has traditionally been the secondary language of education instruction rather than English. Interestingly, a full 24% of the Romanian population understand and speak French (both prior to and since the Ceausescu regime, Romania and France have shared close cultural ties, and with Romania now in the European Union, one would expect the mutual interaction to increase even further). Moldova has also joined La Francophonie due to its geographic and cultural proximity to Romania. As well, non-Francophone countries in Africa such as Cape Verde, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe have entered La Francophonie as full members purely out of geographic (and thus economic) convenience. Surrounded by at least nominally francophone countries (with the exception of Egypt, which traditionally has had a francophone elite despite no real casual use of the language in the country otherwise), it’s simply good business to do so.

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