Sunday, June 7, 2009



Today we went to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was serious business. We had to be professionals and go through security and get temporary id’s to be allowed in the building.  After going through all the security proceedings we met with Susanna Lööf, Press Officer, OSCE Secretariat.  She briefed us on the history and purpose of the OSCE.  The OSCE strives to bring stability, prosperity, and democracy in 56 states.

After our meeting with Susanna Lööf we met with Elizabeth Kaufmann and Forest Atkinson, whose jobs it is to promote the U.S. in the OSCE.  The OSCE is not well known, partially because decisions and actions take a long time to put into effect. The OSCE operates on consensus, which means that all 56 states have to agree upon the same decision. Something I found interesting was that decisions are politically, not legally binding. This means that nations are somewhat held to only the honors system.  Because of the high probability that nations will not always uphold their end of the bargain, “Name and Shame” meetings are held, in which the OSCE talks about which states are not upholding their commitments.  Even though there are 56 states in the OSCE, there is a sense that everyone is unique with their own government yet at the same time they get along. They have barbeques together, go to café’s, and basically shoot the breeze together. A lot of diplomacy happens outside of the office and then the official decisions are made within the board room.

Then we went to observe the permanent council proceedings.  This was by far the highlight of the day. It was a gigantic room with an ambassador from every country in the OSCE and all of their assistants. Along the side of the wall you could see the translators in their booths. We all had headsets and could control whatever language we needed.  For example, when the ambassador of Kazakhstan was speaking, I toggled back and forth between the English and German translators.  It was fascinating to watch. The translators in the booths were listening to the speeches at the same time as everyone else and simultaneously translating them.  That is just so impressive to me. You have to be able to listen to what they are saying, remember it, simultaneously translate it, while listening to what is being said while you are spewing out the translation.  So they are listening and talking at the same time and always just a few words behind the original speaker. It was unbelievably impressive.

Sometimes a “relay” is used.  This is when the original speech is translated twice over.  For example, let’s say that a Kazakhstanian is speaking and it needs to be translated from Kazakh to English but there are no English speakers who know Kazakh.  But perhaps there is a French speaker who also knows Kazakh.  In a “relay” the original Kazakh would first be translated by interpreted one from Kazakh to French and interpreter two would listen to this French translation and translate the French into English.  This is all going on within seconds of each other so that the audience gets the message only moments after it is originally spoken.  That is complete craziness. I can’t believe anyone’s brain can function that quickly.  The “relay” technique is often used because it is impossible to find translators for every language into every other language.  So you get translators who can cover several bases, and then in a sense cross multiply them.

At the end of our minds basically being blown away by the intensity of the council proceedings, our group had another meeting with Nikolay Borovskiy, Chief of Language Services Section.  He informed us that the six official languages of the OSCE are English, French, Russian, Spanish, German, and Italian. The language services provided are written translation, oral interpretation, and editing. Additional money is spent to have important texts revised by another person to ensure perfection.  There are three different kinds of interpretation that the OSCE employs: consecutive, simultaneous, and whispering.  Whispering is a technique in which someone stands next to or behind someone and interprets directly into their ear. This technique was first used in the Nuremberg Trials in 1945.

All the interpreters and translators of the OSCE are freelance. They are hired for each session, which lasts approximately one year and they can also work daily contracts. Currently, French and Russian are the most in demand languages in the OSCE.

I was super excited to learn about the salary of the interpreters. 427 Euros/day for a minimum of 300 days/year is awarded whether you work those days or not. Interpreters are also allowed only a maximum of 8 meetings/per.  That comes to about 128,000 Euros, which is roughly the equivalent of $180,000. Every year. That sounds pretty darn good.

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