Well, no, it isn’t. Maybe you’re thinking about Magna. Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea inhabited by about a half million people.
While on an international internship with a member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, I took a directed readings course, which meant that I would read three thousand pages of books on any historical subject(s) of my choosing and write book reviews. My faculty supervisor, Mark Choate, professor of modern European history, suggested that I read recently published books so as to send my reviews to journals for publication.
After preparing a list of books and e-mailing as many journals as possible, I hoped a few would offer me the chance for publication. The response was excellent, so I sent a second batch of requests to a few more journals. One of them, European Legacy, replied that the staff welcomed my offer, and they would accept my review for publication. The e-mail also offered an astonishing opportunity.
European Legacy is produced by the International Society for the Study of European Ideas (ISSEI). Every two years, ISSEI holds a conference in various parts of Europe or the Middle East. In July 2006, ISSEI would hold its tenth biannual conference in Malta at the University of Malta, and enclosed with my e-mail was a casual invitation to participate.
As an undergraduate, I had nothing published to that point, I had not completed any internships or similar activities, and the realm of my presentation experience certainly did not include any academic conferences. Besides, I wasn’t even sure if this organization existed! I replied with an incredulous “I’m an undergraduate—are you sure?” to which the book review editor calmed my doubts by inviting me a second time.
As I researched the conference, I found the theme would be “The European Mind: Narrative and Identity,” which fit well with my internship research paper on the survival of stateless nations in an integrated Europe. I submitted a proposal based on that and, in true academic fashion, changed the topic of the paper for my internship.
In Belgium, I worked for Ian Hudghton, a member of the European Parliament who is also the president of Scotland’s leading independence-seeking party, the Scottish National Party. He led a group called the European Free Alliance (EFA) who, along with their coalition partners the Greens, constituted the fourth-largest group in the European Parliament. EFA is a European political party made up of individuals and political parties that seek greater recognition and autonomy for Europe’s stateless nations.
Another course commitment was a paper for the party I worked for, suggesting a stance or policy change on a relevant issue. Serious consideration began to evolve toward how EFA should improve its policy on getting recognition for minority languages spoken by nations they represent.
My interest in this subject came largely due to a book on my readings list, Law and Language in the European Union. Author Richard L. Creech points out the facets of language use in the EU and submits his own policy suggestion for a more just EU language policy. After my reading, I began to notice how EFA tried to represent nations like Scotland, Catalonia, the Basque Country, Wales, and others without exercising much effort in getting more recognition for their languages. Based on EFA’s language policy, which did not reflect the role of languages in national identities, my thesis solidified that a more effective language policy would not only bring more recognition for these languages but also improve these nations’ opportunities for more sovereignty and autonomy.
Back at BYU, I was met with scholarship monies for my internship from the Kennedy Center; the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences; and the History Department, which made it possible to pursue the ISSEI conference in Malta. After some deliberation, I submitted a second proposal, and chose to participate in a workshop titled “European Identity at the Crossroads: Philosophical Perspectives.”
Malta and Beyond
Additional research and changes to my paper completed, I traveled to Malta, where I found a beautiful island country with gorgeous waters, amazing architecture, and time-tested culture—a beautiful backdrop for an academic conference. The University of Malta also added multiple advantages, including air conditioned rooms.
The day after I arrived was when my workshop was held. My nerves were relatively relaxed after I found myself to be the only person in the room with a tie on. Somewhat relaxed, I proceeded to present my paper, entitled “Can’t We All Just Get a Langue? A Better Language Policy for the European Union.” I argued that EFA needed to create a stance on language rights that reflects the role languages play in national identities. Language is perhaps the factor that most defines Europe’s nations and thus preserves national identity. My suggested policy focused more on language rights and recognition in the EU for European minority languages. I also argued that the EU needed to see language rights not as something definable by the boundaries of nation-states but instead to pay attention to the needs of many stateless nations (i.e., Catalonia, Wales, Basque) to have their languages recognized.
An attentive and interested audience was evidenced by the number of hands that shot up as my presentation finished. We had to break for lunch before I could answer all the questions, and as a result of my presentation, my confidence grew tremendously. Language rights in Europe has become an issue that I love to study and learn about, developing my understanding of Europe, its minority nations, and the world.