Tag Archives: France

The Mali Conundrum

French_troops_in_Bamakoby Benjamin Sacks

Mali has been engrossed in civil war since January 2012, when separatists in Mali’s northern Azawad region began demanding independence from the southern, Bamako-based government. After forcing the Malian military from the north, however, the separatist forces soon became embroiled in a conflict of their own, between the original Mouvement National pour la Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) and extremist Islamist splinter factions closely linked with Al-Qaeda. On 11 January 2013, France responded to Mali’s urgent request for international assistance and initiated ‘Operation Serval’ to aid the recapture of Azawad and defeat the extremist group. From the 18th, West African states began reinforcing French forces with at least 3,300 extra troops.

In a BBC ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ editorial, Hugh Schofield wrote of ‘la Francafrique’, or France’s considerable interests in West Africa held over from the end of formal empire. In fits and spurts, France has sought to extract itself from la Francafrique and to seek a new relationship with the continent. But in the complex world of post-colonial relationships, such a move is difficult. France retains strong economic, political, and social links with West Africa. Paris, Marseille, and Lyon are home to large expatriate African communities. Opinions at l’Elycée Palace, too, have wildly shifted over the years. Jacques Chirac, at least according to Schofield, was ‘a dyed-in-the-wool Guallist’, and an ideological successor to a young François Mitterand who, in 1954, defiantly pronounced that ‘L’Algérie, c’est la France’. Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, dramatically distanced himself both from Chirac and from the la Francafrique role.

The problem is, at least in part, topographical in nature. West Africa’s geography is dangerous, vast, and difficult to subordinate. On the eve of much of West Africa’s independence from France in 1961, R J Harrison Church spoke of the so-called Dry Zone, the area running horizontally from southern Mauritania across central Mali and Niger, as the great “pioneer fringe” of the region’s civilization. David Hilling, in his 1969 Geographical Journal examination, added that by “taming” the Saharan interior, France gained an important strategic advantage over their British rivals in the early twentieth century, enjoying access to resources unavailable along the coast.

But, as A T Grove discussed in his 1978 review, “colonising” West Africa was much easier said than done, and the French left a West Africa mired in dispute, open to incursions, and still heavily reliant on the former imperial power. The French relationship with the region’s extreme geography was difficult at best; political boundaries were similar to those of the Arabian Peninsula and the Rub ‘al-Khali in particular: fluid, ill-defined, and not always recognised by local peoples. European-set political boundaries only exacerbated tensions between indigenous constituencies who had little or no say in the border demarcations.

French and African efforts to dam the Niger River, for instance, were hampered by high costs, arduous terrain, and political instability well into the 1960s. On independence, the French left what infrastructure they could, mostly in West Africa’s capital and port cities; the vast interiors were often left to their own devices. As a result of these events, France has maintained a large military, economic, and social presence in the region ever since. The difficulty is that such areas under weak political control, such as the Malian, Somalian, and Sudanese deserts, have become havens for individuals who wish to operate outside international and national law.

books_icon R J Harrison Church, 1961, ‘Problems and Development of the Dry Zone of West Africa‘, The Geographical Journal 127 187-99.

books_icon David Hilling, 1969, ‘The Evolution of the Major Ports of West Africa‘, The Geographical Journal 135 365-78.

books_icon A T Grove, 1978, ‘Geographical Introduction to the Sahel‘, The Geographical Journal 144 407-15.

books_icon Ieuan Griffiths, 1986, ‘The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries‘, The Geographical Journal 152 204-16.


Le Mali attend le renfort des troupes ouest-africaines‘, Radio France Internationale, 19 January 2013, accessed 19 January 2013.

60-world2 Hugh Schofield, ‘France and Mali: An “ironic” relationship’, BBC News, 19 January 2013, accessed 19 January 2013.

60-world2 Edward Behr, 1958, ‘The Algerian Dilemma’, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 34 280-90.

‘Othering’ Tropical Environments

By Benjamin Sacks

Castro Guevara by anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsWar changes everything. Societies and cultures, land and the environment, beliefs and approaches. Conflict establishes dangerous versions of ‘Us’ and the ‘Other’ – a timeless and effective means of dehumanising the enemy. Such distinctions are not only made between states or peoples, but between environmental types as well. In the thirty years following the Second World War, the tropics – from the Malayan jungles and Amazonia to East Africa – was ‘othered’ or, as Daniel Clayton (University of St Andrews) described, ‘tropicalised’ by Western powers and their Marxist enemies in counter-insurgency and anti-Communist wars.

American and British battles against Japanese forces in the Pacific and Asian theatres of World War Two introduced most military officials, politicians, and academics to the tropical jungle as a new and distinct battlefield space. As the United States, Britain, France, and Portugal became embroiled in a series of complex, violent conflicts in East Asia and Latin America, the tropical environment became an enigmatic, ‘militant’ world, ‘seductive’, lethal, and a comfortable breeding ground for far-left regimes (pp. 1-2). This mentality steadily matured into the Vietnam War.

Clayton approaches the tropical environment both as a ‘conceptual space’ and as a more traditional topographical/physical space (p. 2). ‘Tropicality’ soon conjured intense images of instability, distrust, and attrition in Western commanders’ minds. 1950s conflicts in Korea, Kenya, Vietnam, Guatemala, and Malaya cemented such fears in Western military teaching. Importantly, Clayton’s analysis reaches beyond common conceptions of tropical space, delineating between Western and indigenous understandings, the confrontation between intellectual and ideological elites, and the establishment of tropical myth – e.g., Ché Guevara’s controversial deification by Marxists after his 1967 capture and execution in Bolivia.

Western views of ‘tropicality’ appear to have been moulded from French surrealist philosophies cultivated in the wartime empire. Tropiques, published by Aimé Césaire in Martinique between 1941-1945, attacked Nazi/Vichy French amalgamations of the tropical Caribbean, French Polynesia, and West Africa into comfortable notions of ‘greater France’ (pp. 3-5). Instead, Césaire and his colleagues argued, the tropics was a dangerously seductive ‘Other’, an exotic, explosively vivid in colours, flora and fauna, sights, and sounds, very unlike Europe or North America. Césaire may not have sought to establish a rote dichotomy, but his project provoked notions of a confusing, contradictory non-Western environment at once fertile for colonial gains and as a centre of anti-colonial dissent. In the post-War world, the latter would take firm hold.

Cuban revolutionaries, in particular, propagandised their Marxist position through deft manipulation of tropical imagery and narrative. In so doing, they crafted a ‘third way': indigenous constructions of the tropics – its benefits and dangers – that stood at odds with both traditional American and Soviet images of Cuba. In turn, Guevara and the Castros weaved together strains of ‘rugged terrain’ (pp. 5-8), local, hardened peoples and the culture, gender roles, jobs, and even music and art to fashion complex walls seemingly impenetrable to Western (particularly American) intervention. Other tropical revolutionary movements, such as the Viet Cong, closely watched and learned.

 Daniel Clayton, 2012, Militant Tropicality: War, Revolution and the Reconfiguration of ‘the Tropics’ c.1940-c.1975Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers  38 1-13

Also see:

 James A Tyner, 2004, Territoriality, Social Justice and Gendered Revolutions in the Speeches of Malcolm XTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 29 330-43


Syria at a Crossroads

Contested Syria: the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement. Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

HOURS AFTER Syrian president Bashar al-Assad addressed a nation overwhelmed by protests and violence, British foreign secretary William Hague retorted that ‘if President Assad is to restore any credibility the Syrian people need to see concrete action [of reform], not vague promises’. Syria, Hague implied, is at a vital crossroad in its history. The future presents many questions, but few (if any) concrete answers. Will al-Assad maintain his family’s forty-year grip on power? Or will democratic opponents force the Ba’ath Party from Damascus? Can the West really impact Syria’s fate through international sanctions? One fact, however, is certain. Syria’s convulsions lie not only with its current socio-political crisis, but also in its geo-historical position, particularly with Turkey.

Syria, as Sir Leonard Woolley pronounced in the June 1946 issue of The Geographical Journal, ‘indeed occupies a wonderfully central position’ (p. 12). Situated in the heart of the Middle East’s ‘Fertile Crescent’, and bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, Syria stretches across Turkey’s southern border, down along Iraq’s western frontier, before reaching its contentious boundary with Israel, near the Sea of Galilae (Lake Tiberias).  The earliest known civilisations spread across the Syrian heartland, fostering some of the world’s oldest cities: Antioch (third century BC), Damascus (second century BC) and Aleppo (first century BC). The most important east-west trade routes passed through Syria, connecting India and the Orient with Europe and North Africa (Carruthers 1918, pp. 157-58). Syria enjoyed tremendous wealth from the Age of Antiquity through the Renaissance.

Syria’s wealth and location also targeted the region for conquest. Turkey’s vital contemporary role as arbiter between Syria and the international community is the result of centuries of Turkish influence (and, more often than not, interference) in Syrian culture. Syria lay at the centre of the Ottoman Empire; its political and economic importance underscored Turkish power. As Ottoman power waned at the turn of the twentieth-century, Western powers stepped in. Syria proved to be the most contentious region. The Royal Geographical Society, in its dual capacity as learned society and imperial instrument, initiated a series of excavations and survey projects. After the outbreak of war in 1914, the Royal Geographical Society increasingly pressured the British Government to ignore France’s own Syrian claims (formally enshrined in the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement). The Society’s cartographers, as well as those seconded from the Army and Navy, produced numerous topographical and military charts of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and the eastern Mediterranean coast. Unfortunately, so much conflicting data was submitted to the Society’s cartographers that their maps’ intelligence information was often out-dated by the time they reached front lines (Heffernan 1996, pp. 515-16).

Competing Anglo-French claims, however, did not entirely extinguish Turkish and Arab objectives. Syria lost Antioch in 1939 when France, its protector, transferred the region to Kemal Ataturk. Syria continues to claim the province. In 1958, Syria joined Egypt in short-lived ‘United Arab Republic’, intended by nationalists to assert a strong Arab federation. More recently, Turkey protested Syria’s tacit support for separatist Kurds; the Syrians had viewed the Kurds as compatriots against the Turks since at least the First World War (Hogarth 1915, p. 459).  Geography, for better or worse, has forced the fates of Syria and Turkey together. Although relations are often fraught with difficulty, modern Turkey remains Syria’s most important partner, a state that enjoys the rare privilege of favour in both Western and Arab diplomatic circles. History suggests that Turkish-Syrian relations will be crucial in solving Damascus’s populist crisis.

 Douglas Carruthers, ‘The Great Desert Caravan Route, Aleppo to Basra’, The Geographical Journal 52.3 (September, 1918): 157—84.

 William Hague,  ‘President Assad’s Speech Today was Disappointing and Unconvincing’, The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 20 June 2011, accessed 22 June 2011.

 Michael Heffernan,  ‘Geography, Cartography and Military Intelligence: the Royal Geographical Society and the First World War’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 21.3 (1996): 504—33.

 D G Hogarth,  ‘Geography of the War Theatre in the Near East’, The Geographical Journal 45.6 (June, 1915): 457—67.

 Leonard Woolley,  ‘Syria as the Gateway between East and West’, The Geographical Journal 107.5/6 (May-June, 1946): 179—90.

Also see: 

 Felix Driver, Geography Militant: Cultures of Exploration and Empire (Oxford and Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2006).

 Felipe Fernández-Armesto,  Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature (New York, London, Toronto and Sydney: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 189.

Revolting against inequality and discrimination

Burnt out car, 6th November 2005. Picture taken during the French suburb riots by François Schnell.

By Rosa Mas Giralt

The Guardian newspaper is currently publishing a series of reports looking at the increased political presence of anti-immigrant movements all across contemporary Europe. Within this series, yesterday’s article by Angelique Chrisafis entitled “Immigration: France sees tensions rise five years on from Paris riots”, focused on the current state of affairs in Clichy-sous-Bois, the neighbourhood at the edge of the French capital where the 2005 riots started. It made sad reading. Time has not transformed the social issues (e.g. poor housing, marginalization, joblessness, racism) that lay at the root of the revolts which were sparked after the death of two youngsters who were hiding from the police. Discrimination against young non-white French people and immigrants is rife and there have been no signs of convincing policy initiatives to address the situation. Unfortunately, in the current uncertain economic climate, right-wing anti-immigrant rhetoric continues to dominate the French debate on immigration and ethnic minorities. The riots could potentially reignite at any point.

In 2007, Geography Compass published an article by Mustafa Dikeç which focused on the 2005 riots in the banlieues of Paris. In it he argued that a geographical approach to analyzing these revolts can provide a better understanding of their recurrence. The article provides a historical perspective of the revolts, exploring similar incidents that have taken place in the country since the 1980s, and relating the creation of the banlieues to France’s post-war economic and political transformations and colonial past. Dikeç (2007: 1203) suggests that “geographies of revolts overlap with geographies of mass unemployment, discrimination and repression”, geographies which have been expanding in the last 30 years. From this perspective, revolts can be understood as resistance movements and not as ‘imitation’ incidents, based on the logic of ‘copycat effects’, which have dominated behavioural accounts.

Read The Guardian‘s series of reports “Europe: Immigrants under pressure”

Read article by Angelique Chrisafis “Immigration: France sees tensions rise five years on from Paris riots”. The Guardian. 16th Nov 2010

Read Mustafa Dikeç (2007) “Revolting geographies: urban unrest in France”. Geography Compass. 1(5): 1190-1206.

Entente Cordiale Geography

Benjamin Sacks

THE HISTORY of Anglo-French relations has long been a popular source of discussion and research for geographers. One hundred and six years after the formal signing of l’Entente Cordiale between the French Republic and the United Kingdom, positive relations between the two leading European powers continues to develop, albeit in a fitful manner. The importance of this bilateral relationship was underscored this week when the Prime Minister and French President Nicolas Sarcozy signed a comprehensive defence cooperation treaty. When activated, the treaty will establish a defence arrangement that is much closer to Anglo-American military arrangements than previous Anglo-French initiatives. In a deal involving the creation of a joint rapid-reaction force and collaborative nuclear weapons testing, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that the two leaders “inked out two treaties in London which they say will allow both nations to remain global players while cutting defence budgets following the financial crisis’. Time will tell whether British and French foreign policy will become closer aligned than in past diplomatic efforts.

As is generally known, relations between Britain and France before the twentieth-century were hostile at best; long periods of icy respect punctuated by global wars for imperial hegemony. What were the catalysts for change? One answer, appropriately enough, lies in imperial geography. In the 1890s, the British and French imperial frontiers met along the Nile and White Nile rivers in central Sudan. Strategically vital for control of the region, French and British military commanders warily watched each other’s movements. the historical geographic importance of the region piqued the interest of the Royal Geographical Society, resulting in the publication of a series of travel accounts and historical narratives of the Sudan (for an example, see bibliography below). From 1894, the French aggressively pursued negotiations with local tribes to increase their regional influence. An early 1898 report in The Geographical Journal reported that French officials were in

preparations were set on foot for occupying not only the countries of the Azande, or Nyamnyam chiefs, within the basin of the Congo, but also to extend French influence beyond the watershed, to the old Egyptian province of Bahr-el-ghazal and the upper Nile. The scheme proposed seems to have been of a most ambitious nature, if the French Press can be looked upon as the exponent of the actual intentions of the French Government.

Several French commanders led expeditions into the Nile River Valley and near Khalifa-held Fashoda. Their exercises brought the ire of British officers, who were determined to maintain the Sudan as a pro-British buffer between their Egyptian and East African possessions. This stance was reiterated in the Royal Geographical Society’s 1898 Address; the Society’s president argued that ‘Fashoda has been a station of the Egyptian [and hence the British] Government for thirty years’. Both sides sent expeditionary forces to Fashoda, resulting in a tenuous stalemate. Negotiations between London and Paris finally resolved the dispute, largely in Britain’s favour. But the broader consequences of the ‘Fashoda Crisis’ were not readily apparent for some years. Brian W Blouet (William & Mary) acknowledged in a 2004 article that both Britain and France increasingly feared common threats, including Germany in particular. The Fashoda Crisis highlighted the classical concept of balancing – either maintain a cautiously hostile stance (as dictated current Anglo-French bilateral relations), or bandwagon together to secure their respective imperial domains and check the rising power of the German Empire. Preferring to avoid a repeat of the 1898 debacle, London and Paris wisely chose to foster a political alliance – l’Entente Cordiale – in 1904.

Alice Ritchie, ‘Britain, France Sign Landmark Defence Pact‘, Agence France-Presse, 2 November 2010.

See W Junker, ‘Explorations in Central Africa‘, Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography 9 no. 7 (Jul., 1887): pp. 399-420.

The Upper Nile‘, The Geographical Journal 11 no. 2 (Feb., 1898): p. 169.

The President’s Opening Address, Session 1898-99‘, The Geographical Journal 13 no. 1 (Jan., 1899): pp. 1-12.

Brian W Blouet, ‘The Imperial Vision of Halford Mackinder‘, The Geographical Journal 170 no. 4 Halford Mackinder and the ‘Geographical Pivot of History’ (Dec., 2004): pp. 322-329.

Reorganizing Contemporary Empires

The Netherlands Antilles (1986-2010)

Benjamin Sacks

AT MIDNIGHT on 10 October 2010 the Netherlands Antilles officially ceased to exist. At the governor’s office in Willemstad, Curaçao, the Antilles flag – that has flown since 1954 – was lowered and removed. In its place officials raised the new blue-and-yellow flag of Curaçao, emblazoned in the upper left quadrant with two white stars. The Curaçao Prime Minister, Gerrit Schotte, congratulated the island’s population on their new status. But Curaçao did not become independent. Recent polls in the Netherlands Antilles rejected full independence in favour of a structural reorganization of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, expanding upon a trend established by Aruba. In 1986, the popular tourist island elected to leave the Netherlands Antilles, gaining greater control over its economy and social services. In so doing, Aruba became the second country of the Dutch Kingdom, an arrangement similar in many respects to devolution in the United Kingdom. On Sunday, Curaçao and St Maarten became the third and fourth countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, respectively. Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba were reclassified as ‘autonomous special municipalities’, similar in status to domestic Dutch municipalities. Through this new relationship, Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba will be more closely managed by Amsterdam, but will also receive greater representation in the Dutch Government.

Is the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles indicative of a broader trend in contemporary colonial administration? France offers an interesting comparison. In 1946, Martinique and Guadeloupe voted against independence, instead choosing to become ‘overseas departments’ of the French Republic. In this capacity, they were effectively incorporated as an integral part of the French state. This method, although useful from an imperial perspective, was not without its faults; Algeria balked at the notion that they were an constituent nation of the French Republic and initiated a violent war of independence. Although small independence movements do currently exist in New Caledonia and French Polynesia, all of the remaining French territorial possessions have chosen to become overseas departments. As constituent countries of the French Republic, they – like any domestic constituency – hold elected seats in the French legislature. In a 1978 review, J A Hellen praised French Government atlases of the overseas departments, noting the masterful detail of the charts; cartographers treated the territories with the same care as any domestic French map. Constituents of French overseas departments enjoy similar privileges as their mainland counterparts in the European Union. But issues remain with this method of colonial administration. Time will tell if the new arrangement for the Dutch West Indian islands is as successful as France’s experience, or if the new countries will push for further autonomy.

Should Britain follow this approach? In a 1995 article in The Geographical Journal, Stephen A Royle adroitly argued that the fifty-year Foreign & Commonwealth Office policy of the ‘right of self-determination’ had left Britain with a small set of possessions that genuinely wished to remain under London’s control. ‘Only in Bermuda,” Royle noted, ‘is there any interest in independence and even here it is a divisive issue’. Perhaps Holland and France’s trend is applicable to the future of the British overseas territories.

Dutch Antilles Dissolves as Two New Countries Created,‘ Reuters, 10 October 2010, accessed 11 October 2010.

Status Change Means Dutch Antilles No Longer Exists,‘ BBC News, 10 October 2010, accessed 11 October 2010.

J A Hellen, ‘Review: Atlas des Departments Français d’Outre-Mer: I. La Réunion,The Geographical Journal 144 no. 2 (Jul., 1978): pp. 376-377.

Stephen A Royle, ‘Economic and Political Prospects for the British Atlantic Dependent Territories‘, The Geographical Journal 161 no. 3 (Nov., 1995): pp. 307-321.

Topography & Cultural Exclusion

Lough Lene, Ireland. A traditional view of the island. Wikipedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

In the October 2010 issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Dr Sergei Shubin explores the sociological and topographical history of cultural exclusion in the Republic of Ireland and the Russian Federation – two nations with remarkably similar agricultural and industrial narratives. Shubin’s work concerns the processes and infrastructures of cultural exclusion and isolation within societies. History has, perhaps unfortunately, imbued both Ireland and Russia with images of idealised, utopian rural life. Such perceptions marginalized contemporary understanding of poverty and helped erode long-standing folk traditions.  Dr Shubin effectively applies the notion of ‘cultural capital’ – a paradigm first discussed by Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron in Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture (1977) – to the analysis of historical and contemporary social hierarchies. Rural poverty, Dr Shubin notes, is part of a much broader cultural past that has allowed some to prosper, while others are caught in a vicious cycle of debt, abuse, isolation, and exclusion.

An intrinsic part of this issue lies with topographical geography. Although immensely varied, the Russian landscape is defined by a relatively standard framework. Expansive urban agglomerations are connected by major thruways (e.g. Moscow to St Petersburg; Rostov-na-Donu to Volgograd). Smaller communities are dotted in the rural countryside that lies between. This geographical arrangement is advantageous for class and cultural distinction, and ultimately, discrimination. A similar situation exists in Ireland. Roughly speaking, one can divide the rural/urban organization of island into quarters. The eastern and southern quarters are relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan. The northwestern quarter, however (as well as the region surrounding the Aran Islands), faces away from the rest of the British Isles and mainland Europe, and remains rural, sparsely populated, and low-income. In both Russia and Ireland, a sharp urban/rural divide exists, determining personal incomes, material wealth, access to domestic and foreign goods, and health.

Discussions of cultural exclusion are by no means limited to Russia and Ireland. The current controversy of the French Republic’s dealings with Roma migrants reflects long-standing cultural tensions between native-born French citizens and immigrants, who are often forced into undesirable jobs or in positions far from major cities. As Dr Shubin pointedly argued, relegation is a particularly effective mean of excluding certain cultural groups, ‘limit[ing] an individual’s cultural resources and forc[ing] people to take up less desirable positions in the community’. Le Monde recently highlighted inter-governmental confusion over the legality of the forced deportations. Yet the Roma fiasco hints at a much more deeply-rooted issue in France. Article 1 of the French Constitution declares that, ‘France shall be an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic. It shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion’. Yet, Article 2 begins by clearly stating that French is the national language’. Over generations, this distinction has established a strong dichotomy between “French” and “non-French” constituents in the national culture. Is it possible for France to embrace multi-ethnicity as part of its national identity? Or will cultural exclusion continue to inhibit immigrants, second-generation families, and non-French speaking peoples?

Sergei Shubin, ‘Cultural Exclusion and Rural Poverty in Ireland and Russia‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 no. 3 (Oct., 2010): pp. 555-570.

‘L’opposition dénonce les “dérapages” de Sarkozy‘, Le Monde 19 September 2010.

‘Constitution of October 4, 1958′, The National Assembly in the French Institutions, accessed 19 September 2010.

‘Q&A: France Roma Expulsions’, BBC News, 15 September 2010, accessed 19 September 2010.

Subglacial Lake Drainage Operation Commences

By Richard Gravelle

Engineers have begun an operation to drain a meltwater lake that has formed beneath a glacier in the Mont Blanc massif.

The lake, which lies underneath the Tete-Rousse glacier, threatens to flood the Saint Gervais valley with approximately 65,000 m3 of meltwater.  The valley is home to around 3,000 people, and contains the world-famous ski resort of Chamonix, so the effects of the lake draining could be catastrophic.  A previous flood in 1892 from another subglacial lake killed 175 people.

It is believed that warmer summer temperatures may have caused an increase in meltwater production which caused the lake to form, but that a period of cold temperatures may have closed a number of natural drainage routes, and preventing the water from draining away.

The engineers will have to drill a 40-50 m deep borehole in the glacier ice before they reach the lake water level.   The water can then be pumped away, making the valley safe once more.

It is thought that the drainage operation will cost around €2 (approximately £1,600,000).  However, if the project is successful, then the cost saved in human life and livelihoods will be far greater.

BBC News – France to drain lake under Mont Blanc Glacier, 25th August 2010

Spiegel – Subglacial Lake Threatens Alpine Community, 25th August 2010

A Special Relationship?

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Originally coined by Winston Churchill in 1946, the ‘Special Relationship’ between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America has been tested in recent months. With splits in Middle East policy, the BP oil spill and anti-UK rhetoric by the US administration; it appears to some that maintaining the closest of ties to the US is no longer in the UK’s national interest.  So much so that a committee of MPs have even suggested that the term be officially dropped in all UK documentation.  They concluded that “the overuse of the phrase by some politicians and many in the media serves simultaneously to de-value its meaning and to raise unrealistic expectations about the benefits the relationship can deliver to the UK.”

It’s been clear for many years now that the balance of global power has shifted away from the once dominate United States to the emerging BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, who look set to dictate the course of the 21st Century.  The UK has embraced this transition with unrivaled vigor and sort closer links with these nations. India in particular has been the target of Britain’s new coalition government; exemplified by Prime Minister Cameron’s visit there last week where he stated his intent to “take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level. [He] want[s] to make it stronger, wider and deeper.”

Britain’s ever evolving relationship with the USA has long been of interest to Human Geographers, focusing in particular on how the UK has situated itself as a bridge between America and European states such as France and Germany.  This relationship has been charted by Simon Tate in Area, who suggests that the diplomatic failures of the former Labour government where the result of an outdated geopolitical strategy.

Tate, S. 2009. ‘The high wire act: a comparison of British transatlantic foreign policies in the Second World War and the war in Iraq, 2001-2003′, Area, 41 (2). pp. 207 – 218.

Putting Gypsies in their Place

by Fiona Ferbrache

Last week, the French president ordered his government to dismantle 300 illegal Roma camps throughout France and to immediately expel any Roma committing a public offence.  The persons targeted by these claims are thought to have arrived in France from Eastern Europe, namely Bulgaria and Romania.  French news reports over the last week have been showing images of Gypsy camps fashioned from caravans, cardboard and corrugated iron.  In these reports, non-travelling residents living near Roma camps have spoken about the litter and lack of tidiness of such sites.  In essence, the representations of Roma that the government and media have offered this week suggest both an ‘out-of-placeness’, and lack of care for the physical sites they occupy.

Such representations are what Kabachnik (2010) refers to as the “myth of the placeless Gypsy”: “Roma are often depicted as not only not having a place, but not caring about place”.  In his enlightening article, Kabachnik reviews the ways in which four ethnographic representations have illustrated relations between Roma and place.  Finding place to be important, the article challenges the “myth of the placeless Gypsy” and Kabachnik argues for its deconstruction to prevent further laws that (discriminatorily) affect Roma.  Here in France the myth prompts action; where Roma are deemed not to hold any interest in place, it somehow makes the task of dismantling their camps easier.

Kabachnik, P. (2010) England or Uruguay? The persistence of place and the myth of the placeless Gypsy. Area vol.42,2 pp.198-207

Samuel, H. (2010) Half of France’s illegal gipsy camps to be dismantled. Telegraph.co.uk. 28 July 2010

Read more online on BBC News 24.