Message from Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, on the Occasion of the International Day of la Francophonie
20 March 2021
Each year, International Day of la Francophonie is an opportunity to celebrate the French language and the values that it embodies; values of peace and diversity, which mirror those of UNESCO.
The French language is in constant evolution: from the medieval “françois” of Villon to the colourful orality of Rabelais; from the elegant classicism of Boileau to the lyrical Romanticism of Lamartine and, more recently, the French of Léopold Sédar Senghor, Aimé Césaire and Ahmadou Kourouma, it conveys an immense variety of visions of the world. In the words of Felwine Sarr, French today is the “link between the individual and the universal”, connecting men and women across continents through a shared attachment to their language and its beauty.
With this Day, UNESCO is mobilizing alongside the International Organization of La Francophonie to defend linguistic diversity and multilingualism. This is a central issue for the respect of human rights, and for building back a better world after the pandemic.
Indeed, la Francophonie is a global issue, covering subjects related to culture, heritage, information, the dissemination of science, as well as education. When we estimate that 40% of students do not have access to education in the language they know best, we can see the importance of multilingualism in bridging the educational divide broadened by the pandemic.
Future years look to be fruitful and promising for la Francophonie. By 2050, it is set to bring together approximately 750 million men and women, mainly in Africa. This is not only a major opportunity, but also a great responsibility, because we must open up a range of possibilities to this future French-speaking generation within a horizon of justice and equality.
By 2050, the world will certainly have changed, as will have the French language. Because, as Victor Hugo once wrote: “Languages are like the sea, they move to and fro incessantly. […] Languages and the sun do not stand still. The day when they become fixed, they are dead”.
On this International Day of la Francophonie, UNESCO therefore calls upon each and every one of us to defend the humanist values embodied in the French language, to keep alive this common heritage through reading, writing, music and cinema, to share it, and, in doing so, to make it thrive.