webofevil: (Default)
Caught out saying the wrong thing in Parliament? Blame Hansard! Although there have been galling examples of this over the past couple of years, the maxim dates back further. Here's a textbook case from Canada in 1971:
Opposition MPs accused Prime Minister Trudeau of having mouthed the words "fuck off" at them in the [Canadian] House of Commons. When pressed by television reporters on the matter, Trudeau would only freely admit having moved his lips... Trudeau mentioned the words "fuddle duddle" in an ambiguous answer to questions about what he may or may not have said in Parliament.

There is a popular misconception that "fuddle duddle" was coined as a euphemism by the Hansard reporter who prepared the official transcript of Trudeau's words for that parliamentary session. However, Hansard did not record the exchange. In any case, Trudeau used it during a media scrum in the immediate aftermath of the parliamentary incident itself, leaving little time for a Hansard transcript to be consulted or even prepared.

An unofficial transcript of the CBC clip is as follows:
John Lundrigan: The question I raised to the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada was that the government should introduce some new programs to lift the unemployment burden over and above what has been announced since last March. The Prime Minister interrupted me in a way that you wouldn't expect on the street, by mouthing a four-letter obscenity which I've challenged him to verbally place on the record and I don't think he's done so since. And I certainly didn't expect this kind of behaviour from my Prime Minister of Canada, having worshipped and really adored men like John Diefenbaker and Mr Pearson and a lot of other people in the past. This to me is really inexcusable and, well I guess we're just going to have to grin and bear it, along with the Lapalme workers.

Lincoln Alexander: He mouthed two words, the first word of which started with F, and the second word of which started with O. And he said it twice to John Lundrigan, the member from Gander-Twillingate, and he also said the same thing to me. Now I think that we've reached a point where this type of conduct, it's not only disgraceful but it's unacceptable, and I tried to bring that point home. Now of course the Prime Minister wants to split hairs and states that he didn't say it, but when he mouthed it, it was readily recognizable by me as to what he said and what he meant.

Pierre Trudeau: Well what are they, lip readers or something?

Press: Did you…?

Pierre Trudeau: Of course I didn't say anything. I mean that's a…

Press: Did you mouth anything?

Pierre Trudeau: I moved my lips and I used my hands in a gesture of derision, yes. But I didn't say anything. If these guys want to read lips and they want to see something into it, you know that's their problem. I think they're very sensitive. They come in the House and they make all kinds of accusations, and because I smile at them in derision they come stomping out and what, go crying to momma or to television that they've been insulted or something?

[later in the press conference]

Pierre Trudeau: Well, it's a lie, because I didn't say anything.

Press: Sir, did you mouth it?

Pierre Trudeau: [visibly annoyed] What does “mouth” mean?

Press: Move your lips.

Pierre Trudeau: Move your lips? Yes I moved my lips!

Press: In the words you've been quoted as saying?

Pierre Trudeau: [half smile] No.

Press: [After murmurs by other press] What were you thinking… when you moved your lips?

Pierre Trudeau: What is the nature of your thoughts, gentlemen, when you say “fuddle duddle” or something like that? God, you guys…! [walks away] [Wikipedia]
Footage of the press conference is here.
webofevil: (round)
For an institution that spends probably 80 per cent of its time merely repeating the phrases “human rights”, “democracy” and “the rule of law”, the Council of Europe does some surprisingly useful things. Its biggest headline-grabber was when it was the first body to officially confirm the Bush administration’s extrajudicial kidnappings, although I confess that, when I read the news reports at the time, I was entirely unaware of its involvement since my gaze slid off the name “Council of Europe” just as yours probably did at the start of this paragraph. (If that isn’t the case and you actually know what the Council of Europe does, you work for the Council of Europe and I claim my five pounds.)

A liberal talking shop that isn’t part of the structure of the EU but was a crucial precursor to its founding—the European Court is a part of it—the Council of Europe has its own building next to the European Parliament in Strasbourg and holds four parliamentary assemblies a year. They’re platitude-heavy and mostly predictable affairs (should you be in a back room, try randomly switching the sound on and off and see how often you can come directly in on the words “democracy” or “human rights”) but, crucially, they allow smaller or poorer countries to be heard alongside their larger neighbours, and they enable parliamentarians of a variety of nationalities, political persuasions and indeed abilities to gather and try to reach some common purpose. As with any parliament, the most important questions are all asked and answered offstage.

The Council is well placed to ask difficult questions, possibly because of its lack of notoriety. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the respondents to Paul Flynn MP’s critical report for the CoE on the dubious goings-on at the World Health Organisation over the swine flu non-demic only answered in the first place because they thought the council sounded more important than it actually is, a bit like flashing your Oyster card at the security guard at Vauxhall Cross and hoping he’ll mistake it for an MI6 pass.

Rather like the stretch of pavement outside my flat, the parliamentary sessions can be a forum for squabbles to get an airing. However, since any large spats between major countries would be played out at a far higher level such as the UN, the Council is mainly reserved for third-division stuff like this:

THE PRESIDENT – We now come to Amendment No. 7… which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 12, after “it should be emphasised that a strong and active opposition is beneficial to democracy”, insert the following sentence: “This is the case in Moldova.”

Mr PETRENCO (Communist Party, Moldova) – We propose to insert the above sentence because we consider that the rights of the opposition in Moldova are being violated. There is an attempt by the authorities to ban the only parliamentary opposition party—that is, the Communist Party—as well as its name and its symbols. We consider that opposition rights are not being respected.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mr GHILETCHI (Ruling coalition, Moldova) – Mr Petrenco’s argument has no basis at all. No country name is mentioned in this paragraph, and the amendment intends to declare the Communist Party of Moldova the best opposition party in Europe. I propose to reject this amendment and keep the paragraph as it is.

Amendment No. 7 is rejected. [Source]
One particularly dependable source of conflict is the enduring hatred between neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan. Almost as soon as the two countries gained their independence from Russia after the Bolshevik revolution they went to war, which only properly subsided when both of them were absorbed into the new Soviet Union. The pilot light stayed lit, though, and at the first signs of the Soviet structure weakening in the late 1980s they were at it again. Azerbaijan maintains that at that point Armenia invaded and occupied several Azeri territories including Nagorno-Karabakh, while the Armenians contend they were liberating those regions’ Armenian populations. Tomayto, tomato.

Any opportunity to accuse their opponents of something nefarious is therefore grasped and pretty much throttled by either side, and the Council of Europe presents many such opportunities. During a debate on Kosovo, for example, the Azeri delegate who was due to speak—a woman who is the bane of English transcribers at these events due to her insistence on addressing the Council in her own delirious form of the language—that she had had to discard her prepared English speech and drawn up a hurried response in her much better Turkish to the outrageous allegations about Azerbaijan made earlier that day by the Armenian delegate in another debate. She then used her allotted four minutes about Kosovo to talk about Nagorno-Karabakh. This happens a lot. Informed that he wouldn’t have to report her as she had opted for another language, one English transcriber turned to his colleague and said, “Thank God for this war”.

This endless bickering led to a spectacular contribution to last Friday’s debate entitled, innocuously, “Forests: the future of our planet?”. While the other delegates had made the right kinds of general noises about trees—a vicious irony, incidentally, given the staggering volumes of paper that are wasted by the Council—Mr Huseynov from Azerbaijan felt there was an angle on the issue that was being overlooked: Mr Huseynov Goes To Strasbourg )
Sideshows aside, though, there is still ultimately some value in an organisation dedicated to banging on, however smugly, about “human rights”, “democracy” and “the rule of law” and encouraging regimes to give them a ago, given how much of the world is implacably opposed to all three. Spending last week seeing the workings of this mostly footling and infuriating but occasionally extraordinary body up close was an odd privilege.


Jun. 14th, 2006 03:43 pm
webofevil: (kite)

A rounds of applause for the Canadian parliament of the 1970s. This isn't the first time I've stumbled across one of their ill-tempered exchanges preserved in their unblushing version of Hansard, but it is the first time I've remembered to reproduce any of it here. A great deal of the archaic and undue deference that persists in the Lords like a bad smell would swiftly evaporate if noble Lords regularly addressed each other like this )
webofevil: (chiraq)

From the official record of the French National Assembly, 24 November:
M. Noël Mamère: Democratic debate requires respect for others: I ask you to apologise publicly for the remarks you have just made in your position as an MP. I am defending freedom, and do not regard myself as a threat to our country! If you consider, Mr Sartrosi, that defending fundamental freedoms constitutes a threat to the republican pact, you have destroyed the equilibrium! We do not have the same idea of democracy and republican values! Your remarks have wounded me (Exclamations from the UMP benches) and I solemnly ask you to withdraw them! Respect democratic debate, to which I am contributing like you, even if I am isolated! Perhaps you believe I am wrong, but let us wait for the verdict of the electorate—and of history!

M. Rapporteur: I had occasion to tell you this morning...

M. Noël Mamère: All the wonderful things you think of me!

M. Rapporteur: ... the respect I have for you as a Member of Parliament. With regard to Article 7, I believed I had reassured all and sundry. Words can be inflammatory, and I shall bear that in mind: your interpretation of the text is exaggerated. Let us return to the true meaning of this text, as I did in amendment 31, without ending up with such fevered exchanges! Recognize, Mr Mamère, that you are not helping the progress of our work... We are all devoted to fundamental, public and individual freedoms: let us stick to the text!

M. President: I’d like to point out that this was only a clarifying amendment... (Laughter on various benches)

This English "translation" (Babelfished, then panelbeaten) doesn't quite do justice to the original; as [livejournal.com profile] strictlytrue has previously reported, French lends a truly epic feel to almost any situation. All arguments sound as if they're conducted at swordpoint. I've really had to rejig it to try and do justice to "Nous verrons ce que diront les électeurs, et ce que dira l'histoire!"

Crucially, Les Comptes Rendus don't have the near-embargo on exciting punctuation that we do over here. At the first sign of trouble they break out the exclamation marks. (It could even be argued that they maybe get a little carried away.) Also they have stage directions, which Hansard is sorely lacking. It creates far more of an atmosphere when you know that there were "Murmurs on the UMP benches", or, as here, "Exclamations".

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who helped M. Mamère's interjection become a reality. You know who you are. You guys!

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