Speaking to so Many an Audience: How Language Enables the Communication of Culture

University Mohamed I
Oujda/ Morocco


It is commonly putative that communication is an integral feature of culture and that it plays a vital role in its dissemination. The communication of culture, indeed, has always been at the heart of many philosophical as well as sociological debates. With the intensification of attempts to engage in intercultural dialogues, cultures have had the chance to get incorporated into an increasingly multilingual and multicultural world. Still an important point is the fact that language has been a key marker in the spread of any culture and on a global scale. However, not all languages can be handy in doing the communicational job, rather the careful choice of a global language is what makes a difference in all cultural dialogues. To this end, many Moroccan and African writers, as highlighted in this paper, have put all their trust in English as a global language having the potency to transmit their messages and take up the mission of communication successfully to reach so many an audience worldwide. In this sense, this paper seek out to advance a perception of the intercultural dimension in communication. Its inclination to endorse a thoughtful view of the relationship between language and intercultural communication is perceived as a contribution, on the one hand, to a writer’s self-assertion and, on the other hand, to transnational understanding, interchange and collaboration between nations of the world.

Keywordsculture, communication, intercultural communication, representation, the Subaltern voice. 


Knowing yourself is not so much about introspection and interaction. To know yourself is to realize that you are more than the little self that has been given to you by your history — the pattern that others made — that your true self is, in truth, much larger and includes other people, other cultures, other species even. That life is less about being and more about interbeing. We come to know ourselves, then, through coming to know each other. And the deeper that knowledge, the richer and more creative the world we build together.

Danny Martin, Director of ICRE (International Communities

for the Renewal of the Earth)


Without mutual knowledge there can be no mutual understanding; without understanding, there can be no trust and respect; without trust, there can be no peace, only the danger of conflict. This means we have to be willing and able to familiarize ourselves with the way people of other cultures think and perceive the world around them, but without losing our own standpoint in the process.

Roman Herzog, President of Germany




Right from its inception, the concept of culture has generated hotly disputed debates among scholars as to what it specifically means and the kind of compartmentalizations it designates. In fact, culture has come to nestle quite finely in synonymity, with quite different but still interrelated disciplines. Mention can be made of a set of societal as well as global complex collection of knowledge, folklore, language, rituals, habits, lifestyles, attitudes, beliefs and customs, to mention but a few, around which people have come to organize themselves in quite many different ways. Put in easier terms, each tribe or collectivity, for instance, would attempt to communicate and underscore its differences from another one by means of language, art, or clothing, among many others, thereby culminating in many cultural blocks each trying to rise culturally different subjects in its own way.

Some scholars have argued that, not only is communication a necessary feature of culture, communication by itself is a means accounting for the emergence of culture. To comprehend why, it is indispensable to be unequivocal about what culture is, thereby setting clear cut distinctions between the kinds of forms it can take in our multicultural world. As far as Alessandro Duranti is concerned, culture is such an intricate and composite concept that it may seem, at the first glance, a far-fetched objective to work out an all-inclusive characterization of it (Duranti, 1977). In support of such claim, Edward B. Tylor in his book, Primitive Culture, goes on to say that culture is “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” (Tylor, 1871) Therefore and by definition, culture is generally taken to be something that is transmitted from a person to another and thus passed on from a generation to another. In its general sense, the definition of culture seems to adhere to the different compartments necessary to social groupings, and which people come to identify as a set of beliefs, customs, symbols or characteristics that are shared by a group of people. These shared characteristics are, most of the time, different from the set of beliefs, customs, symbols or characteristics shared by other distinct groups of people.

Lurking within such a definition are three main structures of reasoning. The first is that cultures are distinctive from each other, and this dissimilarity is the main constituent making up its peoples’ identities. Second is that we can deem cultures to be in opposition to each other, and that each culture groups its people under a set of practices that govern their way of identifications and living. Finally, it can be argued that cultures, regardless of their oppositions, can both communicate and, sometimes, miscommunicate their dissimilarities to each other. However, one might wonder whether the communication of cultures is conditioned to yield peaceful results and contribute to understanding and dialogue among the same cultures, or, on the contrary, pave the way for a culture to dominate and expunge over another “weak”[1] one. More than that, in what way does communication matter to cultures?

As human beings, we are fundamentally driven by our curiosity to identify things with buoyancy, thereby obtain validation for our discernments.  To some extent, this epistemic need, if any, may help explain why culture exists at all.  Our epistemic needs compel us to communicate with others, for the sake of not only obtaining and having an idea about their knowledge, but also to quench our thirst and ease our curiosity with regard to the unusual images and fancy stories we repeatedly hear. These cyclical acts of communication, of course, set the stage for cultures to emerge.

It should be declared, of course, that the relationship that governs both culture and communication is multifaceted. That is to say, cultures are born by means of communication, that is, communication is the means whereby people interact with others, thereby transmit the essence of their cultures worldwide. Without communication and, most importantly, literature and communication media, it would be an impossibility to preserve or pass along cultural characteristics from a place or time to another.

To best comprehend the insinuation bringing both culture and communication together, consider, for instance, an individual who is compelled to move from one place to another to work or study. This very movement brings with it individual previous experiences and behavioral patterns from the cultures of which the individual belongs. The moment he/she starts to engage in communicational activities with other new members of other groups, a collection of new-shared experiences, distinctive patterns, customs and rituals and thoughts evolve. It is now to these new experiences that a person learn how to adapt and conform mainly through communication. In this way, new groups influence the individual culture in small, and sometimes large, ways as he/she becomes a part of it. In a give-and-take fashion, this redesigned culture forms the communication practices of current and future group members. This interchange is valid with any culture: communication frames culture, and culture frames communication.

Having discussed the implication of the culture-communication relationship, we now turn to a closely related line of argumentation to the cardinal spirit of the current research project. Subjectivity is an integral part in any relationship bringing together culture and communication. There is always this inherent tendency in humans to adopt the view that the elements of one’s own cultures are elevated, better, logical and make good sense. If other cultures are different from one’s own, those differences are often reflected on as negative, illogical and debased. There are many different examples accounting for this situation. A case in point is the idea that when someone from a culture prohibiting polygamy happens to meet someone who believes in having more than one wife. The former may find it quite inappropriate that another culture allows one man to have multiple wives. In this sense, the former considers his culture as logical, and subjectivity interferes with the way he/she makes sense of social phenomena. The result here, is that many people tend to equate different with wrong.

Therefore, understanding the nature of culture in relationship to communication is helpful in a number of ways. First, it helps to explain the origin of differences between the practices, beliefs, values, and customs of various groups and societies, and it provides a reminder of the communication process whereby these differences came into being. This knowledge can and should heighten people’s tolerance for cultural differences. Second, it helps to explain the process that individuals go through in adapting to new relationships, groups, organizations and societies, and the cultures of each. Third and most significantly, it underscores the importance of communication either as a bridge between cultures, or as an ideological apparatus designed to sweep up other distinct cultures.

Therefore, this work revolves around issues relational to the ways any given culture is represented/communicated in different works of art for different purposes, mainly with the aid of English as a global language. I investigate such purposes by relying on examples of literary works produced on particular groups of people. The subject matter taken here is the Moroccan and African worlds, since they both have proven to provide a fertile field of cultural representations of all sorts, be they discriminatory in nature or communicational. Many authors from different walks of life have, on a number of occasions, held to the belief that representing things and people would eventually help in the process of making dialogue and peace reign globally. They, therefore, have taken the venture to fully represent and voice their cultures and people’s worries to other people from different cultures for the sake of enriching these intercultural dialogues meant to get established between nations of the world.


Doing culture, doing communication


It should be brought into notice from the onset that the very dictum of representation or communication hints to its being a tool serving purposes of making the world and its cultures plain and readable. As implicated above, cultures are created through communication, and it is also through communication between individuals that cultures change over time. All institutions within society facilitate communication, and in that way, they all contribute to the creation, spread, and evolution of culture. As a main social institution, language is par excellence part and parcel of communicational activity. Still, when writing for the sake of communicating cultures on a wide-reaching scale, the very careful choice of language becomes strongly encouraged. Not any language can have the ability to read its content to a plethora of audience, rather some languages with international recognition can do this job quite successfully. Many authors from different parts of the world, I take the example of some Moroccans and Sub-Saharans, have taken the venture to communicate their culture to a wider readership worldwide by choosing their culture to reside in universal languages best fit to dispatch their messages far than intended. The very self-assertion motive has been the key marker of most authors when they embark on their literary journeys to voice themselves as well as the people to whom they belong.

More importantly, authors who have opted for communicating their cultures have been faithful to collective-identity notions rather than individualism and self-centeredness. They have chosen their people and cultures to be the center of all interest and writings. This way they have deftly weaved their own life-stories within a communal tapestry of the lives of people who have lived in their time as well as those who have gone before them. In so doing, they have produced works of art that break away with the traditional views of writings privileging individual identity, and they have rather tried their hands at writings that embody the collective notions of identity that have become prevalent in the postmodern era.[2]

This way of writing illustrates the trope of Prosopopeia – that is, bring the Self and others into being in autobiographical writing. In his work Gradus: Les procédés littéraires, Bernard Dupriez offers a definition of Prosopopeia saying that it means, “Mettre en scène les absents, les morts, les êtres surnaturels ou même les êtres inanimés: les faires agir, parler, répondre.” [To present missing people, the dead, supernatural beings or even inanimate beings: To make them act, speak, respond.] (Dupriez, 1989: 364) Dupriez stresses the connection between Prosopopeia and autobiography by explaining how past action recounted in narrative form is presented in such a way as to make the author appear as a speaking person who exists before us in the present moment to voice the worries and the lost dreams of a people.

Following the same trend, African or Moroccan writers have trodden the same paths and, thus, have been producing a great deal of writings in which they have chosen to place their worries, concerns and national pre-requisites. Without overlooking the importance of translation, it would be of paramount importance to stress some of its blessings, the major of which is transmitting or unraveling the hidden aspects of some cultures that are being all forgotten about. Closely related to such point is the work, titled Mountains Forgotten By God, in which the Moroccan writer Brick Oussaid began a task of writing about his as well as his family and peoples’ harsh and bitter experiences in a place surrounded by mountains and cursed by the forgetfulness of not only the rest of Moroccans, but, in Oussaid’s words, “God” as well. Considerably, the translation of Oussaid’s work into English has helped more in voicing his worries and concerns to the rest of the English-speaking world. Oussaid has made it open by avowing that, “the people of whom [he] speak[s] have no voice; they can neither speak out nor demonstrate. The echo of their sighs does not carry far.” (Oussaid, 1989: 4)

Significantly enough, these kind of literary journeys have been a success owing to their having written in foreign languages or translated into foreign languages. In this respect, the English language seems to carry the promise of facilitating communication of cultures in the smoothest ways available. In fact, suffice it to contend with the dominance of the English language in the present time to draw conclusions auguring a birth of a medium constituting a podium for whoever wants to speak and make his/her voice widely heard. In so doing, some Moroccan and African writers have opted for the English language as a medium of expression, which has the ability to read or translate their cultures and voices to the very remote corners of the world, and thus clear up the peculiarities that have always occupied the Western mind about Africa and its people. To deny the ever-lasting existence of Alterity-based misconceptions, travesties or value judgments is to deny the existence of a whole post-colonial theory[3] in which celebrated critics and distinguished writers from all walks of life have said much.


English and the cutting short of cultural disparities.


As a medium of communication, the English language has been spread out across the globe just like a seriously contagious disease, which takes less than a minute to inflict all that happens to be around. This language has maintained a tight grip on most of the other worldly languages, especially as an adequate communicational device that fits in education, economic transactions or intercultural interactions. In fact, the hegemony of the English language is inherent in a colonial legacy during centuries marked by the British Expansionist ambitions around the whole world. In this sense, the British Empire has always sought to entrench English in its colonies. These colonies, in turn, have appropriated the colonial language and maintained it as an official communicational device serving to put off the flames of inter-ethnic disputes about, for instance, which language to use in a multilingual setting such as Africa.

Added to the spread of English in the British erstwhile colonies is an inextricably riddled Moroccan reality, so to speak. Morocco as an ex-colony of the French protectorate is posited to have French or Arabic as a language of its resistance literature, so to speak. Still, English is undeniably of paramount significance in a Moroccan context where openness to the outside world is among the pre-conditions of economic, cultural and educational maturity and improvement.

The Moroccan literature written in English, therefore, testifies to the dominance of the English language which has been stretching out its reach by means of globalization or the potency of the supposedly 21st Century American modern Empire. In fact, different are the arguments brought into play by groups of peoples or individuals trying to prove their legitimate right in claiming English to be theirs. The global reach of English has made of it a language whereby most people across the globe come to be identified. It is a language that facilitates communication between different people from different linguistic backgrounds. Besides, English has become the international language par excellence by virtue of its presence in science, medicine, computer sciences or international university curricula. To that effect, Robert Phillipson in his Linguistic Imperialism explicates that


English has a dominant position in science, technology, medicine, and computers, in research, books, periodicals, and software; in transnational business, trade, shipping and aviation, in diplomacy and international organizations, in mass media entertainment, news agencies, and journalism, in youth culture and sport, in education systems, as the most widely learnt language can estimated 115 million learners at school level by the early 1970s […] this non-exhaustive list of the domains in which English has a dominant, though not exclusive, place is indicative of the functional load carried by English. (Phillipson, 1992: 6)


Long is the list of positions in which English is predominantly present across the globe to the extent that one may think that no other domain is missed from enumeration. English has become inextricably intertwined with several aspects. The number of the English speakers around the world is escalating day by day. For many people, English has become a necessity that cannot be done without, for it is the language that fits with the current global changes. As the amount of information needing to be processed comes to exceed human capabilities, computers, for instance, have appeared on the scene to reduce the tensions that could be accrued to the human mind.

Likewise, when a multitude of languages have appeared to have conflicts with one another, as the case of the African ethnic languages, English has been the potential communicative device most likely to take on the function of solving these and other communicative break-downs. This way, English has come to be perceived as everyone’s language, the lingua franca of all those who seek to have international interactions. Accordingly, in his Post-colonial literatures in English, Dennis Walder assumes that, “whatever English now represents, or has represented over centuries of colonization, it belongs to everyone. It is a global language, the first of its kind.” (Walder, 1998: 44)

Retaining the phrase “global language” can be pertinent to the context of literature. In effect, literature is a fertile field of imagination that is nurtured first and foremost by a global language. That is to say, writers across the globe tend to translate their cultures, worries and aspirations to the rest of the world in a language that can have the capability of carrying the voice of its users into the remotest corners of the world instead of letting them down half way. People, therefore, tend to place their trust in a global language whose reach transcends the naturally established frontiers of states and continents.

Furthermore, some Moroccan writers have channeled their voices through English on the grounds that its use in inter-cultural communications helps in maintaining and, indeed, reinforcing peoples’ separate cultural identities. This can be the case seeing that people yearn for preserving their own culture by using English to communicate with peoples of other cultures, thereby reading their differences in an accessible and global language, so to speak. (Huntington, 1998: 62)

Added to the weight or significance of the Moroccan works in English is their emphasis on drawing clear-cut distinctions between their culture and the cultures wherein their works could be received. Correcting cultural misconceptions that lead to cultural shocks is a preoccupation that looms large in the Moroccan writer’s mind. This is why a universal language such as English can emphasize such cultural distinctions, thereby leading to a cross-cultural dialogue. The rapport between both the Moroccan writer and the English language, I believe, is based on a propensity towards such a language, for a writer is always prone to fulfill his/her linguistic skills in a universal language which would spare them the worry not to be read or inter-culturally misunderstood.

Still a more significant point is the fact that some Moroccan writers have opted for the French language as a medium of expression. Their writings have been voiced in an equally universal language, French, thereby enjoying feasibility in dispatching the writer’s cross-cultural messages or those of the people that he/she seeks to represent. French also has served a powerful universal communicational apparatus that is tuned to the most remote corners of the world’s receptive grounds. By virtue of its global dominance, French is also widely used by writers who look forward to translating and reading the true depiction of their culture and religion to the outside world.


The Subaltern speaks through English


For some Moroccan writers, it is believed that a writer who uses English or French can explore different topics with much freedom. Language turns into a freeing tool for a person as well as a culture being represented. Following the same thrust of argumentation, it becomes, then, very important to bring into the limelight a category of writers who have been freed by their appropriation of foreign languages. To that effect, Hassan Zrizri explains that,


The appearance of women writers on the literary scene is a turning point in the literary periodization of Moroccan literature in general and a historical marker of the repressed other, [thus] trespassing the frontiers long set by patriarchy. Their appropriation of language and narration is part of a symbolical process of decolonization. Access to the writing means adopting new forms: multiplicity, variety and openness as a response to monotonous, repetitive and linear forms. (Zrizri, 2004: 65)


The appearance of English in women’s writing has played a major role in the assertion of their emancipation. Relatively, English served for creating a bridge through which Moroccan women writers have crossed from the period that was marked by their suppressed voice and curbed will to an emancipating period wherein they have acquired a voice characteristic of a variety of aesthetic forms. Deductively, writing in a foreign language is emblematic of a magical power whereby particularly the oppressed can have the chance to obtain a voice and, more than that, have it heard and echoed in faraway places.

Equally important, in his Heart of Embers, Abdellatif Akbib has freed the voice of Said, the major character. Said throughout the novel tries to make up for all mistakes he committed in the past by voicing them through Akbib’s lenses. In this regard, Said confirms that


I am saying this because, in the darkness of the room where I lie, in the grip of a deep sense of solitude, and prompted by a keen sensory perception, I have often caught myself communing with the past-journeying back through its nooks and recesses, puzzling my way along its tortuous labyrinth – now that I have practically no foreseeable future to plan for. (Akbib, 2004: 11)


Journeying back through the doors of the past, Said is meant to get his voice freed and feels at ease by doing good to those whom he mistreated in the past even by remembering their names and good deeds. In light of this and other literary works written by Moroccans and sub-Saharans, the question of the ability of the subaltern to speak has been fully tackled. More interestingly, it is amazing how a voice can manage to emerge from within some harsh circumstances used to have been stumble-blocking it throughout its successive attempts to tell or make the others hear its echoes and flashes. The subaltern voice has managed to speak when it played the role of the representative of, more or less, the other more oppressed voices still have not emerged or spoken yet. What the voice utters or articulates is a transmission to endless problems and worries of either the subaltern voice or his/her people. For instance, Frederick Douglass is a black spokesperson for the black people. He is against slavery and the dehumanizing exploitation of the black by the white by choosing to represent the black race just as Martin Luther King did. King also did not hesitate to defend the black cause and fight against slavery, injustice and inequality. These are the underlying principles that made him organize non-violent campaigns with his fellow-country men. In his words, Martin Luther says,


I am cognized of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not to be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. (Littleton, 1971: 23)


Amazing is the metaphorical image Martin Luther King draws as to demonstrate the extent to which the black person is very important and is the focal point of most black writers. When some people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality and tied in a single garment of destiny, they become one single body defending, speaking and caring for each other. In support of such ideals, Brick Oussaid has written an autobiographical story entitled Mountains Forgotten by God, where he assumed the responsibility of speaking and representing his people about whom nothing has been heard or known. His story of a Moroccan Berber family is a representative of a larger social network of people still living under dire poverty and still enduring the caprices of life. These people are the forgotten, thereby needing to be voiced to the outer world via Oussaid’s tongue.

In still another significant point, English has further served a reliable communicational purpose in a complex linguistic milieu such as the African one. According to different linguists or even decision-makers, Africa has to catch up with the train of progress and modernity, and this cannot be achieved in a social context where we have different isoglosses, each of which aims at promoting its dialect at the expense of another African dialect. The solution of course, as was expected, was to opt for a global language that meets the consent of the whole Africans. This solution is proposed on the grounds that the African people, it is believed, will never agree upon one African language or dialect, and it is again the ex-colonial language that fits in settling such alchemy, mainly for three reasons as outlined in Robert L. Cooper’s Language planning and social change:


This replacement was sometimes difficult to implement. In the first place, elites were sometimes unwilling to surrender those personal advantages won on the basis of their elite education via a colonial language. If that language were to lose its privileges, they might lose their privileges as well. Second, economic and political rivalry among competing languages groups sometimes made each unwilling to see the other’s language instituted as a system wide medium of instruction. They preferred that everyone face the same disadvantage of studying via a colonial language than that some should have the advantage of studying in their own. Third, access to world commerce, science, and technology demands that at least some must learn the imperial languages. An excellent way to import those languages is to use them as media of instruction. (Cooper, L. Robert, 1989: 112)


Clearly, the replacement of the ex-colonial languages by an African language or dialect is a lost for mainly the elites. We can speak of three reasons which are provided whenever the question of language is raised in Africa. First, the elites are likely to lose their social, political or economic prestige made accessible by their mastery of the ex-colonial languages, which have become the official languages made use of in administration and schooling. If any African language is to be elected instead of an ex-colonial one, the masses, it is believed, are then going to ask for their right to rule their countries. Hence, the elites are no longer going to enjoy what they used to when they were the only ones who could speak the official and administrative language. Secondly, the problem which is continuously posed in Africa, as in any other multilingual country, is that of the pressure exerted by the economic groups. These groups keep competing with each other in order to have one’s group language as the most used one not only on the national level, but also on the regional one. Therefore, this problem makes it harder for the Africans to opt for a unifying language to be accepted by all Africans. Finally, it should be noted that the world has become a small village where everyone is connected to the outside world economically, diplomatically or even scientifically. Under these challenges, Africa seem to be very attached to the ex-colonizers’ languages and cannot forsake them lest the Africans would be cut off the outside world and thus lag more years behind the bandwagon of economic or technological development. Unfortunately, this cannot be achieved unless Africa adopts a recognized international language which everyone can speak and understand. In support of this, Braj B. Kachru writes that


for governments, English thus serves at least two purposes. First, it continues to provide a linguistic tool for the administrative cohesiveness of a country (as in south Asia and parts of Africa). Second, at another level, it provides a language of a wider communication (national and international). (Kachru, 2001: 291)


English has been playing, for most Africans, a crucial role in fostering the administrative consistency of a multilingual country/region, such as Africa. It was implanted by the ex-colonizers so as to run their administrative affairs in the African countries, and now even the Africans themselves can’t dispose of such an ex-colonial medium of communication, for it is a tool which would keep their administrative affairs under control. Other than that, as the world is becoming smaller due to space and time shortening waves of globalization, Africa is in a position that pushes it to further commix in this global context. Under these new conditions, therefore, and for Africa to get connected to the world out there, culturally, politically or economically, it should adopt a global language. And this language for Kachru is English par excellence, since it is not only a tool of facilitating or creating a communicational channel among Africans, but also among the international community towards a global development in mainly economic and diplomatic relationships.

Chinua Achebe has also given his support to the English language for two main reasons. The first one is that English, as a lingua franca, has helped with maintaining the national unity of a country, like Nigeria, where more than two hundred languages are at clash as to which language to use in daily life situations. The second reason is that English has become part of the Nigerian life and should be seen as a Nigerian language, since it is spoken and used in the writings of the Nigerians to voice all what they have. (Achebe, 1981: 48) Besides, speaking of the good qualities of the English language, one may refer to its position among the other spoken languages all over the world. For the subaltern voice, the English language serves as a powerful medium of communication that has the capability to carry the voice to the remotest corners of the world. In so doing, “post-colonial writers in English are able to express their view of a world fissured, distorted, and made incredible by cultural displacement.” (Achebe, 1981: 235)

English is a globally dominant language serving to voice every single issue on a global scale. This can offer us an answer to why some Moroccan voices speak in the English language though French is the language of the ex-colonizers. Of course, we can cite as many writers as the English language can testify of those Moroccans who write and speak through the open shatters of its windows. For instance, Abdellatif Akbib, Anour Majid, Jilali El Koudia, and Mohamed Benouarrek, to mention but a few, have all chosen to interpret their cultures in a language about which many scholars and African writers, such as Chinua Achebe, said to have the ability to bear the burden of one’s experiences and dispatch them to faraway places. In the same connection, Chinua Achebe reckoned with the necessity to specify the readers intended to hear the subaltern voice. As an African voice, Achebe is very concerned with his potential audience and, in this regard, argues that


I realize that a lot has been made of the allegation that African writers have to write for European and American readers because African readers where they exist at all are only interested in reading text books. I don’t know if African writers always have a foreign audience in mind. What I do know is that they do not have to. At least I know that I don’t have to (Achebe, 1981: 42)


Though Achebe acknowledges that the English language can carry the weight of the African experience, he has in mind the African readership. Of course, English is the language that can read Achebe’s thoughts to every Nigerian. That is why he testifies:


Last year the pattern of sales of things fall apart in the cheap paper-back edition was as follows: about 800 copies in Britain, 20,000 in Nigeria; and about 2,500 in all other places. The same pattern was true also of no longer at ease. (Achebe, 1981: 42)


The Nigerian readership is outnumbering other foreign readers of Chinua Achebe. This can be attributed either to the topic that the voice is raising within his/her work, or to the efficiency of the English language and its aptitude to reach many readers all over the world. Chinua Achebe, like many other African writers, has opted for the English language as a trustworthy messenger to carry the cultural weight of his country and its subaltern voices. Surely, many disputes have resulted over whether or not the subaltern voice has any practical effects on real life situations though using the English language. Many views have expressed their doubt to that effect. Historically, by the time the ex-colonized countries got their independence, there began a move towards voicing the scandals and barbarity of the ex-colonizers by many post-colonial writers. The subaltern voice has had an effective role to play on practical life. Bill Ashcroft supports this idea in saying that


The existence of post-colonial discourse itself is an example of such speaking, and in most cases the dominant language or mode of representation is appropriated so that the marginal voice can be heard. (Ashcroft, 1999: 219)


The subaltern has managed to cause a change in its contemporary life and come up with a counter discourse to question, contest and even belie the modes of representation by which the ex-colonizers used to manipulate and picture their subjects. In this post-colonial discourse, the voice has used all the clues enabling it to speak out against the oppression of its ex-colonizer. Simply, by appropriating the ex-colonizer’s discourse and then subverting it from within, the post-colonial writers have managed to shaken the giant edifice behind which the ex-colonizer used to take hold of its subject through discourse. That is to say, the appropriation of the colonial language was in fact an emulation that has sought to abrogate this language to become a tool running the counter-attacks against the European dominant discourse. Hence, the subaltern voice can dismantle the master’s house just by using the tools of the master. (Ashcroft, 1999: 5) In support of this, Elleke Boehmer explicates that


Drawing on the special effects of magic realism, post-colonial writers combine the supernatural with local legend and imagery derived from colonialist cultures to represent […] and indict the follies of both empire and its aftermaths. (Boehmer, 1995: 235)


Speaking about the term abrogation, which was applied by most post-colonial writers as a subversive literary technique in the post-colonial discourse, the modern African stories offer us an insight into some African writers’ literary works. These writers have appropriated the English language, but this English is a new one to effectively depict the African experiences. For instance, Nkem Nwankwo in his short story The gambler writes,


My frend bay we de work with me last month no de work with again he throw in one hundred pounds, yes one hundred and he win thousands. Now I see am ride fine fine cars and carry fine fine women. You no see am. (Nwankwo, 1977: 172)


This is an example of the many texts in which the abrogation or rejection of the Standard English is manifest. Such African writers use this subversive strategy as a means of saying to their ex-colonizers that they have appropriated and mastered their language, and now it is their turn to write back in a distorted language standing as a mirror for colonial corrupt acts. This way of writing English could be conceived of as a revolt of the post-colonial voices against Standard English. However, Edward W. Said invites a kind of carefulness when dealing with language in the sense that the voices should use a language to necessarily bring about a change rather than seek revenge. Said, in this sense, affirms that, “in writing and speaking, one’s aim is not to show everyone how right one is, but rather in trying to induce a change in the moral climate whereby aggression is seen as such.” (Said, 1996: 74) In this sense, the role of the post-colonial voice is, to use Edward Said’s wording, “to speak the truth to power” (Said, 1996: 85) and attempt to, at least, generate a positive change.




The universalism or globalism of the English language has always been conceived of as a power accruing a noticeable weight to its hegemony all over the world. The hegemony of English has placed different people and nations in a magnetic field wherein they are easily swept into its vortex. While there are some people who tend to cast foreign languages with an inherent eye of animosity, others are mesmerized by their edification of such languages. A curse or a bliss has always been a question that occupied the attention of the public with regard to the English language ascendancy. It is by taking into consideration some present facts that we can understand whether English has contributed to, mainly, the richness of writers’ thoughts, thereby assisting him/her with his/her quest in communicating his/her culture. Therefore, when speaking of communication in relation to culture, a number of questions arise. As communication increases, does this mean that the cultures of individuals from groups, organizations, and societies that have great access to global languages and control of writing techniques overpower those in cultures that have fewer resources and less access and control? Can communication of cultures be used to help individuals more comfortably and effectively adapt to new relationships, groups, organizations and societies? The importance of these issues makes this area an important one for sustained inspection by scholars and practitioners.





ACHEBE, Chinua, 1981, Morning Yet on Creation Day, London, Biddles

AKBIB, Abdellatif, 2004, Heart of Embers, Tangier, Imprimerie Altopress

APPIAH, Kwame Anthony, 1997, “The multiculturalist Misunderstanding”, The New York Review of Books, October 9

ASHCROFT, Bill et al, 1999, Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, London, Rutledge

COOPER, Robert L., 1989, Language planning and social change, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

DUPRIEZ, Bernard, 1989, Gradus: Les procédés littéraires, Paris, C. Bourgeois

DURANTI, Alessandro, 1997, Linguistic anthropology, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

HUNTINGTON, Samuel, 1998, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Touchstone Books

KACHRU, Braj B., 2001, “The Alchemy of English”, in ASHCROFT, Bill et al. (eds.) The Post-colonial Studies Reader, London, Routledge

LITTLETON, Arthur C., BURGER, Mary W. (eds.), 1971, Black view points, New York, New American Library

NWANKWO, Nkem, 1977, The Gambler, London: Faber and Faber

OUSSAID, Brick, 1989, Mountains Forgotten by God, Washington, Three Continents Press

PHILLIPSON, Robert, 1992, Linguistic Imperialism, London, Oxford University Press

SAID, Edward W., 1996, Representations of the Intellectual, New York, Vintage Books

TYLOR, Edward B., 1871, Primitive Culture, London, John Murray

WALDER, Dennis, 1998, Post-colonial Literatures in English, Oxford, Blackwell

ZRIZRI, Hassan, 2004, “Narrating Domestic Frontiers: Unbecoming Daughters of Patriarchy Moroccan

Women Writers of French Expression,” in AMINE, Khalid et al. (ed.), Writing Tangier, Tangier, Imprimerie Altopress


[1] Attributing weakness to a culture is sometimes made under the assumption that cultures become weak and continuously draw nearer to their extinction and forgetfulness when people start to emulate other cultures considered, in their own terms, to be more elevated and modern. This way they start to incorporate these new intruding cultures into their daily life while neglecting their own ways of life.

[2] Postmodernism’s critique of the notion of an autonomous, sovereign, and transparent subject challenges the modern philosophical subject as it has been elaborated in the western world from Descartes to Sartre. The postmodern approach to autobiography seems to dissolve the concept of identity just as marginalized, oppressed groups have gained the means necessary to liberate themselves through writing the Self. (See Appiah, 1997: 30-35)

[3] Post-colonial Theory (also Post-colonial Studies, Post-colonialism) is an academic and intellectual discipline seeking to analyze, explain, and respond to the cultural legacies of the European colonialism and imperialism and their residuals on the political, social, psychological and cultural, among many others, realities on the ex-colonized countries of the “third world.” Post-colonialism is an examination of all what happened with the colonial thinking at the end of the colonial era. Therefore, it is a critical destabilization of the body of knowledge (linguistic, social, cultural or economic etc) by means of which the Western colonialists perceive, understand, and represent the world, thereby constituting the post-colonial identity of the ex-colonized people based on Self/Other binarisms. Furthermore, Post-colonialism examines the manners in which the Western cultural knowledge was applied to subjugate a non-European people. Post-colonialism thus establishes intellectual niches for the subaltern, to use Gayatri Spivack’s famous wording, peoples to speak for themselves, in their own voices, and so produce the cultural discourses with the aim of countering the imbalanced West/ East, Us/Them or Self/Other binary power-relationships between the colonialist and the colonial subject.

The Sultan and His Janissaries. Gheorghe Hagi and the Golden Era of Galatasaray Istanbul

Octavian GABOR
Methodist College, Peoria IL
e-mail: ogaborus@gmail.com


In 1996, Galatasaray Istanbul made a transfer that was to change the face of Turkish football. Gheorghe Hagi, former FC Barcelona player, signed a new contract during which he helped the Turkish team to win the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup. These performances have not been since matched by any Turkish team, although many star players came to play in this Middle Eastern country. Some may argue that the lack of success is explained by the fact that the end of the 90’s still allowed for poetry in football and that a player such as Hagi could still decide the fate of a game before it became very structured. Such people forget that the recent four years have been dominated by a poetical team, F.C. Barcelona, where players such as Messi or Xavi bring their individual, creative contribution to an already established structure. In this paper I want to propose a different take on the problem. I will explore how the culture of a certain player fits the culture of the country in which he gets transferred. Gheorghe Hagi comes from Romania, an Eastern European country not far away from Turkey. The common Balkan culture contributed, I believe, to Hagi’s adaptation to a style of football that needs a “sultan.”

Although one of the great players of the century, Hagi could not flourish during his period at Real Madrid or Barcelona, where the team is more important than any one player. In his heart and in his style of play, Hagi was always a sultan who needed his Janissaries. Galatasaray Istanbul offered him precisely that.

Keywords: sports communication, football, culture, individualism, collectivism



“I am an Orthodox Christian, but I am a star among the Muslims. Not any Muslim, mind you; only those of a specific nationality: Turkish. If I really want to be precise, which is probably never a virtue in the East, I am popular among those Turks who worship a certain football team: Galatasaray Istanbul. The fans of Fenerbahce or Besiktas do not light up when they see me; nevertheless, there is an acknowledgment, a sign of respect. We know each other—there is mutual understanding, there is a history we share.” And that history has a name: Gheorghe Hagi, the man who is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, beloved player who ever stepped on Galatasaray’s pitch. Hagi and I share the same nationality, Romanian. This common trait makes me very likeable among the Turks, and so, whenever I meet Galatasaray fans, the joy on their faces is accompanied by the chant, “I love you, Hagi!”

There are perhaps many social, cultural, and even philosophical problems that can be discussed by looking at the role Hagi played in the history of Turkish football. First, problems of identity: is Hagi a Turkish hero by adoption or rather a Romanian one by birth? Did he represent Romanian or Turkish football when he played for the colors of Galatasaray? Why is it that Romanians and Turks alike celebrated the team’s 2000 UEFA Cup win? Second, we can contemplate aspects of mimetic love and desire – I am accepted by a certain community because I come from the same nation with the one whom that community idolizes. Third, we can discuss how football is, as many describe it, our lingua franca, our common language which brings together Muslims and Christians, East and West, North and South. Perhaps a sport such as football, which expresses and manifests at a micro level the globalized state of our world, is indeed appropriate for such approaches. To some extent, all of the questions above will remain in the background of this paper, and hopefully our discussion will shed some light on them. The main focus here is however yet another aspect: the perfect fit between the culture of a team and that of a soccer player. I take it that the success that Gheorghe Hagi and Galatasaray had at the end of the 20th century is explained in part by the complementarity between the culture of Turkish football and the desire to be considered king by one of the of the most talented players of that century.


Historical Background

Before the last years of the twentieth century, Turkish football was not considered a power. The situation may have been connected with its humble beginnings. According to David Goldblatt, football was associated with dangerous Western ideas at the end of 19th century. Thus, the game was first played “among the British commercial community in Izmir” (Goldblatt, 2008: 168). Football was just too foreign to Turkish culture and could not be adopted. Goldblatt mentions various theological reasons why the sultanate could not accept the new game for the entire population. Here are two of them: “First it was claimed that football would keep students away from their studies and their Koran. More worryingly, the wearing of shorts and the display of naked flesh was deemed too salacious” (Goldblatt, 2008: 169). Still, the game caught on, especially with the “young highly educated urban Turks,” and the great teams of Istanbul, Besiktas, Fenerbahce, and Galatasaray were founded in the first decade of the twentieth century.

Football was still a Western implant that did not fully find its natural being on Turkish soil. At the outskirts of Europe and not developed economically to the level of the West, Turkey could not compete with the world’s soccer powers for almost the entire 20th century. For a country developed on a former empire, this was not an easy thing to accept. During all this period of time, the national team qualified only once for a World Cup, in 1954. 42 years had to pass before Turkey qualified for another major final tournament, the Euro 1996, where “it didn’t score a goal or register a point” (Kuper and Szymanski, 2009: 299).

1996 was the moment when, after two years at F.C. Barcelona, Romanian footballer Gheorghe Hagi signed for Galatasaray Istanbul. Hagi was already considered one of the most talented players of his time. If he shined playing in the national team of Romania, especially during the 1994 World Cup, his performances at the club level were never as impressive, be it during his years at Real Madrid (1990-1992), Brescia Calcio (1992-1994), or Barcelona (1994-1996). Many considered his transfer to Galatasaray the sign that his career was approaching its sunset. As we saw, it was a time when Turkish football did not have the recognition it has today. In fact, according to Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, “from 1980 through 2001, Turkey was the second-worst underperformer in European soccer. It scored a full goal per game fewer than it should have done given its vast population, decent experience in international soccer, and admittedly low incomes” (Kuper and Szymanski, 2009: 298). The statistics refer to national teams, not to clubs, but still, a soccer star does not often choose to move in a country where he would not be guaranteed international notoriety, and Turkish clubs were not known as performers either. Hagi was 31 years old. His recent two seasons playing for Barcelona had not been among his best. In the Spanish league, he only appeared for about half of the games and scored seven goals, perhaps one of the weakest performances of his career[1]. However, the transition to Galatasaray proved salutary for both him and Turkish soccer. From the beginning, it seemed that Hagi did not need time to adjust to a new style of playing. After two games, he had already scored three goals, almost half as many as he did for Barcelona in two seasons of La Liga. In 2000, Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup against Arsenal and the European Super Cup against Real Madrid. These performances are yet to be attained by any other Turkish team. In 2001, at the end of his career and after five years at Galatasaray, Gheorghe Hagi had scored 71 goals in 191 games for the Istanbul team. His final game was moving for all in the audience. The fans prepared a special banner: “HAGI, we will never forget you!”



There are two surprising facts here, one of them at the individual level, the other at a collective level. First, great fame and successes in football are usually attained in the early ages of one’s career. Consider Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, or Del Piero, not to mention Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who were already famous in their early 20s. Each of these players reached the peak of their glories before they were 30. Hagi came at Galatasaray when he was 31 and was already 35 years old in the year of Galata’s great success. Second, at the beginning of the 1999-2000 European season, few if any would have bet for a success of the Turkish team. These two successes are certainly connected. I think the explanation can be found in the compatibility between the Turkish paternalist culture and Hagi’s individual style of play. Hagi could play his best football only in a team that was constructed to support his genius. Galata breathed football in the Hagi style. In other words, Hagi played for a team that was built according to the role that he himself thought he had on the pitch—that of a Sultan who needed his janissaries[2]. Fatih Terim, the renowned Turkish coach, himself nick-named the Emperor by the Galata fans, built a team in which young, talented Turkish players were on the pitch by the Sultan. The team needed four years to reach maturity before obtaining the European performance mentioned above.

The Turkish success is similar to other sporadic Eastern European successes. In a competition where the usual winners are the highly organized clubs of the West, all victories coming from east of the former Berlin Wall are a matter of surprise. In the case of Galatasaray, the success is explained by the fortuitous match between Gheorghe Hagi, the team’s most exponent player, and the club’s culture. This fit was given by two factors: first, by what I would call the “Sultan culture,” and second by a complex of second-class citizens of Europe shared among the countries of the East. In what follows I will analyze each of these two factors.


The Sultan Culture

In football, the chemistry between the members of a team is certainly important. This means that a football team needs to function as an organism in order to obtain good results. It is never enough to have the best eleven players in the world play together. They need to be organized according to one principle, one philosophy. From this perspective, the relationship between the part and the whole, that is, the relationship between an individual player and a team needs always be one of belonging.

Coaches always emphasize the importance of the team’s structure – we win as a team, we lose as a team – and players are familiarized with such discourses even since their early experiences with football. The focus on the unity or wholeness of the club-organism is found even in the public discourses of players. Think of a cliché such as this, “my goal today was not important; the team’s win is important.” Or, “it does not matter where I play – it is the coach’s decision, and my job is to put myself in the service of the team.” There is perhaps no Sunday without such phrases uttered by one of the thousand of footballers all around.

When such unity is achieved, spectacular results can take place. I think it is the explanation for another success coming from Eastern Europe, Steaua Bucharest, who won the European Champions Cup (the former Champions League) in 1996 with a very organized game. Jonathan Wilson cites Ștefan Iovan, one of Steaua’s defenders, who says, “Each of us knew exactly our jobs, and we had such a perfect idea of where to pass the ball that if the coach had asked us to play with our eyes closed  we could have put the ball where we needed to… We were like a perfect car” (Wilson, 2006: 209). Still Wilson recollects that “Arie Haan, the great Dutch player whose Anderlecht side were hammered 3-0 in Bucharest in the second leg of the semi-final, said he had never seen a side play with such a rhythm” (Wilson, 2006: 209).

Steaua’s success in Europe was surprising, but the team, which also transferred Hagi soon after winning the cup, reached the semifinals in 1988 and the final in 1989. The team continued to have the same philosophy of play, continued by Anghel Iordănescu, who became the main coach after being the assistant coach in the European Cup season. Of course, it is always the coach’s job to make all players on a team act and play together. But the problem is that these players have radically individual ways of playing the game. These differences are determined by several factors—the amount and quality of training during early age, the constitution of their bodies, but also, most importantly, the culture in which they grew up. It is one of the characteristics of soccer that the styles of play are connected with the nationality of the teams. Players and observers of the phenomenon alike agree with this claim. Gianlucca Vialli, for example, the Italian who spent his last years as a footballer at Chelsea, says that “Climate, culture, social class, economic conditions, all play their part. They divide the footballing world – but that is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it enriches us. Without it, there would be no ‘Italian football’, ‘English football’ or ‘Brazilian football.’” (Vialli and Marcotti, 2006: 18).

In a globalized world, with teams constituted by players who come from all over the world, such perspective may be obsolete. Nevertheless, in the Premier League we still see English football and in the Bundesliga German football. I think the explanation is given by the dialectic between individuality and universality that is played at two levels: that of an individual player and that of an individual team. At the level of the individual player, as Vialli acknowledges, people grow up in diverse countries, with different economical conditions, different climates, and so their bodies are going to be formed depending on the economical status of their own countries and, of course, of their own families[3]. It is this “material” that comes to be shaped in a footballer by the several coaches a player has during his or her career. Materially speaking, coaches deal with bodies that are determined by accountable, economical factors.

But a player is not only a body with physical characteristics. A player is also a human that grows up in a culture which determines his or her general attitude toward life. When they step on the football pitch, footballers do not leave their lives at home, but they take all these aspects with them. What this means is that the coaches need to organize the team not only abstractly, but also to apply their theoretical understanding of the game to the reality of the human matter they deal with. The strong emphasis on the fact that a coach should decide on a transfer, and not the owner, who pays the transfer fees and makes sure that the player is paid, finds its explanation here. Football is not a computer game. One cannot make a footballer play on any position, but rather adapt the system to the human material one has[4].

In such a context, it is very important what kind of players one chooses. On the one hand, coaches want to choose players who can play the part they will be assigned on a team. On the other hand, they also want players who would fit culturally and so would get along with their colleagues[5]. A football team is not only the putting together of eleven players, just as an orchestra is not the mere assembly of musicians. One needs to have a philosophy, an idea, and such idea is instilled by the coach (the conductor). Consider the A.C. Milan of Ariggo Sacchi or the F.C. Barcelona of Guardiola. They are certainly the teams of Milan and Barcelona, respectively, but also, in a particular way, the teams of the two coaches who fashioned them according to clear principles. At their turn, these coaches are themselves products of schools of football, and so combine the uniqueness of their particularity with the ethos of their cultures.

It becomes clear why the question of the match between the culture of an individual player and that of the club for which he signs is difficult and involves, as I mentioned, several levels of identity. But let us focus for the moment on that which players, coaches, and especially fans call the spirit of a team. Regardless of the human component over the ages, fans perceive one team as being that of a certain coach only in a limited sense. Consider Galatasaray: The 1996-2000 period, perhaps one of the most glorious period both on the national and international levels, was that of Fatih Terim’s and Gheorghe Hagi’s Galatasaray. For fans such a period actually signifies the moment in which the team reached its full potential. Thus, after successes of this nature, the identity of the team, that is, the team as it is represented in their hearts, is the winning team of the end of the 20th century. In comparison, during the 2010-2011 season, when Galatasaray did not perform to the level it accustomed its fans, newspapers claimed not only that players no longer had the quality of former stars, but also that they did not understand what Galata means – they did not understand the spirit of the team. Gheorghe Hagi’s comeback as coach in the fall of 2010 was seen as the sign that the former glory may return. People thought that Hagi would bring back with him the spirit of the winner[6].

Although usually connected with the period of the highest achievement, the spirit of a team is a much more complicated concept and depends on more than one variables: history, the social structure of the neighborhood in which it was established, past heroes, fans, and most importantly the education instilled in the club’s youth programs. When a player is transferred, he not only needs to understand what the coach desires of him on the pitch, but also to take at heart a whole philosophy. If we were to think again at Barcelona, Ibrahimovic’s example says much about this difficulty. Ibrahimovic is still one of the fuoriclasse, as the Italians call them, but his experience at Barcelona was a fiasco because he could not adapt to the team’s culture. It is almost as if a doctor would perform a transplant of an organ that does not match the receiver. And so, the moment of any transfer, but especially for international transfers, clubs need to take into consideration not only whether a player has great skills, but also whether he would adapt well to the philosophy of the team[7].

The connection between a great player and the culture of a team allowed for the success of the Galatasaray of the end of the 20th century. This does not mean, of course, that this factor is the only one responsible for the result. As in any other field, success is usually explained by various elements. Some believe, for example, that economical and political facts are the main variables that explain the rise of a team. Cem Emrence, for example, believes that “spatial and social inequalities in Turkey that accelerated with globalization were crucial for the team’s success in Europe.” Then, Emrence says, “as certain cities have become nodes in the new spatial setting of the global economy, the club management of Galatasaray exploited the position of Istanbul as a financial center, borrowing heavily from globally connected local banks to finance the building of a strong squad that put the team on an equal ground with its European rivals” (Emrence, 2007: 630). To be sure, financial power is important in football. In order to be able to make the transfers the club needs, there must be money available. My focus on the cultural aspects of forming a team does not deny Emrence’s view, but rather shows that financial power is not equal with success if money is not invested by respecting a culture and following a philosophy.

Kuper and Szymanski also think that Turkish football was saved by globalization, but they explain this in different tones. They believe that cultural differences are not important and that international success requires following international rules. It is not an individual style that can ever have success in the long run, but the combinations of those styles. They think that the success of the football periphery is explained by the adoption of styles that have no connection with their tradition. For them,

Turks came to the realization that every marginal country needs: there is only one way to play good soccer – you combine Italian defending with German work ethic and Dutch passing into the European style. (“Industrial soccer,” some Turks sulkily call it.) In soccer, national styles don’t work. You have to have all the different elements. You cannot win international matches playing traditional Turkish soccer. You need to play continental European soccer (Kuper and Szymanski, 2009: 299).

Kuper’s and Szymanski’s analysis suffers precisely in diminishing the cultural aspect. If we look at the Galatasaray team of the end of the century, it was not an “industrial soccer” that the fans saw on the pitch. Instead, it was rather a football orchestrated around a soloist, Gheorghe Hagi, with fast, skilled, talented young Turkish players making runs for his passes or opening the field for his dribblings. I mentioned above Gianlucca Vialli’s division of football in accordance with culture. If there is a model that would define Turkish football, perhaps it would be that of paternalism. In a culture in which authority is important, football seems to follow a similar pattern: to be listened, the coaches need to be authoritarian. Fatih Terim, Galatasaray’s coach in the period mentioned, did not gain his nickname of the Emperor for nothing. In this context, the voice of the authority figure is more important than the authority of the law itself. Players follow the rule imposed by a personal entity, and not by an impersonal club. This authority from the bench needed its match on the field, and Hagi played this role[8].

Kuper’s and Szymanski’s analysis needs adjusting from another perspective as well, still connected with culture. While it is true that the ascension of the team coincides with the transfers of renowned foreign players, the Romanians Gheorghe Hagi and Gheorghe Popescu and the Brazilian goalie Cláudio Taffarel, we should emphasize that none of them were brought up in Western cultures. It is not a Westerner star who is perceived as “the best foreign player ever to play in Turkey,” but a man from the East, brought up in a similar paternalist culture and scarred, perhaps, with the same doubts and desires to be considered a citizen of equal worth by the economically stronger people of the West. The Turks’ and Hagi’s common Balkan culture allowed for a rapid assimilation of the player in the team. The perfect fit that seemed evident from the first games at Galatasaray is in striking contrast with the period he spent at Barcelona. Explanations can be found perhaps in many aspects of the game, but I think one the most important is the cultural aspect. Hagi grew up in Romania, an Eastern European country in which submission to authority felt natural. While the public communist discourse always emphasized equality, the every day reality accustomed Romanians to bow to those perceived to be in power. In Hagi’s case, his power came from sheer talent. From his youth, Hagi was used to play on a team that depended on his genius. Accustomed to play as the leader on the field, to have the freedom that such a leader usually has, Hagi had difficulties once he was transferred in the West. While his talent always showed up, in a strictly organized structure Hagi was no longer Hagi. One only needs to compare the period Hagi spent at Barcelona with the one at Galatasaray. At the Catalan team, Hagi was one of the many fuoriclasse. At Galatasaray, he was the fuoriclasse. Hagi’s soul needed such a team, where the philosophy of the game was constructed around his name and his genius. In a 2011 interview for the Romanian newspaper Gazeta Sporturilor, Hagi said, “I was always preoccupied to do everything in my power to be the best, to be important in the group” (Tudorache, 2011). At Galatasaray, he was transferred as the most important player, and Hagi kept doing everything in his power to prove and maintain his status.

Galatarasay’s players themselves needed a Hagi. Formed primarily of young, talented Turkish players, Galatasaray needed a mentor on the field. Turkish culture accepts authority as well as the Romanian one. Furthermore, it also needs heroes, legendary figures. Hagi came for the team and the fans at the right moment. He contributed to a European adventure that many saw, as Cem Emrence puts it, “the ultimate arena to voice the aspirations of upper classes to be part of Europe (a Union) as the team was expected to prove to Europeans on the pitch that the ‘Turks’ should be accepted as equals and even a ‘key’ member in the European family (Kozanoǧlu 119–22; Stokes 11)” (Emrence, 2007: 631).


A Complex of Second-Class Citizens

I have already mentioned that it is remarkable that the hero of Turkish soccer is not a Westerner, but an Easterner. Perhaps the connection between Hagi and Galatasaray is explained by an odd common history and a common way of understanding authority. Romanians and Turks shared a common complex of inferiority in the 90s—they did not feel they existed for the West. In his The Ball Is Round: A Global History of soccer, David Goldblatt comments, “The familiar Turkish lament that ‘we do not exist beyond Edirne’—the most westerly city in the country—applied to football too. Progress in European competition provided the most cherished measure of success, but the encounter was always shot through with a paranoid insecurity” (David Goldblatt, 2008: 759). Romanians had a similar attitude after the fall of communism in 1989. Acknowledging a radical difference between the economical situations of their own country and the West, Romanians had the same desire to prove that there is nothing inferior about their culture. At times, this desire gave birth to an ambition that wanted to surpass the others in quality. Gheorghe Hagi was raised with such a mentality. Hagi was a genius with collectivist attitudes. Playing for six years in the West (between Steaua Bucharest, his last Romanian team, and Galatasaray, he played for Real Madrid, Brescia, and F.C Barcelona, two years each), Hagi was well respected wherever he went. However, he never proved his superiority. Perhaps his individual awareness of his own genius never nourished the “paranoid insecurity,” as Goldblatt calls is, but his national ethos always did. Perceiving themselves as abandoned by the Western societies after World War II, often perceived by the West as the “incapable communists,” Romanians engaged in a popular discourse that emphasized the superiority in power manifested by Western teams, both off and on the pitch. Brought up in such culture, Hagi found another point of connection with Turkish football.

Much of the complex of inferiority that the East has when faced with the West may be explained by the economic situation of the two sides of Europe. The success of a team in a European competition could prove that the Turks can compete as a nation at a table where they had not been fully received. With the exception of North America, where the main sports are still baseball and American football, football gained supremacy everywhere, becoming the national game. Nowadays, football is the sport that stirs up national feelings. In the words of John Foster, “Football, more than any other sport, assumes this special status as the national game. And since it’s the national game it’s a matter of national identity” (Foster, 2010: 254). It is no surprise, then, that through the experience of Galatasaray in the European competition Turks saw the success of their own nation—and Romanians joined them in this feeling.

Such a victory may seem insignificant for some. After all, we talk about a sport, not about an economical, cultural, or scientific achievement. But whoever understands (better said, “loves”) football will be quick to tell you that “football is more than just football.” Perhaps it is a cliché, but it is certainly true in connection with Galatasaray’s victory in the 2000 UEFA Cup. Football is not just a game in which 22 players run after a ball according to minimal rules. Football can be a story of redemption; can be a story of historical wins or losses; can be a story of passions brought to the status of laws. Perhaps more than anything else, football can be a story of historical reconciliation. During the 1999-2000 season, football was each one of these things for the Turks. First, it was the occasion to show the West that the Turks can compete at the same level with them. For cultures that have not known historical humiliations, these feelings may be foreign, but they are very familiar to people who, at one time or another in their history, were considered too different (perhaps inferior) for being accepted with the others. The long and controversial discussions about the acceptance of Turkey in the European Union are well known. The “Question of Turkey,” as it is named even in European barometers, has been bound to produce cultural attitudes that go beyond the strict requirements that an institution may have when it accepts new members. For the nation that is “verified,” the usual resentments are connected with a complex of inferiority. As for the population in the Union, the general attitude goes against the acceptance of Turkey. But the numbers are interesting. In a Eurobarometer published in 2006 by the European Commission, just prior to the acceptance of Romania in the UE, 61% of the European Union citizens agreed that the cultural difference between Turkey and the EU Member States are too significant to allow it to join the EU. In comparison, only 32% of Romanians responded positively to the same question. The difference between Romania and the next country on the list, Spain, with 46% is significant (European Commission, Eurobarometer, september 2007).

The eurobarometer may not fully explain the attitudes that Romanians have regarding the Turks. The Romanians’ different response may be connected with their geographical proximity and the common Balkan culture. However, Bulgaria, more Balkan geographically than Romania and in the same political situation regarding the European Union, does not share the same positivity Romanians have for the Turkish culture. Then, if we look at history, the results of the survey are even more surprising. Romanians and Turks have centuries of fighting against each other. It was only in 1877 that Romania proclaimed its independence from the Ottoman Empire, and this independence was won after a long war. But the memory of people is a strange thing. The barometer came only 5 years after a stadium full of Turks chanted “I love you, Hagi.” It was also only one year after Romanians followed again very closely what Hagi was doing as the coach of the Turkish team Galatasaray. During the first decade of the 21st century Romanian football had no accomplishments, so Romanians were living vicariously through the Turkish team that was led by a Romanian. The same complex of a nation that was not accepted for a long time in the EU, for different reasons than Turkey, was lived by Romanians as well. Indeed, centuries of history, religion, and culture separate Romania and Turkey.  Football brings them together. A footballer brought joy to both nations at the same time, which gave them a reason to bond. Even more, by winning a European Cup against a Western team, Hagi helped the two nations to overthrow, even if temporary, the complex of Eastern Europeans and Turks as second class citizens of Europe.



The last years have brought many changes in football. Becoming more and more a business, football entered an era where poetry no longer has a place. Success is insured by good business plans and by fully structured teams that diminish the possibility of surprises. The time where players could decide a game by a beautiful pass or shot on goal is rapidly approaching its sunset. Of course, we still have a Leo Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo, but if we consider the weak results they have for their national teams, once they no longer play in their club structure, we see that good organizations always take precedence over individual geniuses. From time to time, however, there is such a connection between a formidable player and one team that overthrows all statistics and that shows that economical numbers, when connected with soccer, with something as alive as soccer is, pale in comparison with culture. I think the Galatasaray phenomenon at the end of the century is such an example that shows that the statement, “in soccer, ‘culture’ doesn’t matter much” is false. Kuper and Szymanski have the opposite opinion, pointing for this still to the experience of Turkey:

Perhaps, as the former French president Giscard d’Estaing said when he drafted the European Union’s failed constitution, Turkey had a “different culture, a different approach, a different way of life,” but it didn’t stop the Turks in soccer. Cultures are not eternal and unalterable. When they have an incentive to change – like the prospect of winning more soccer matches, or perhaps the prospect of getting richer – they can change (Kuper and Szymanski, 2009: 299).

But the strong success of Turkish teams at the beginning of the 21st century stopped and not developed, as Kuper and Szymanski believed. I think this shows that success is much more connected with culture than we may be inclined to believe. The Galatasaray experience proves so. The Turks won precisely because they remained who they were and they embraced fully their way of being. They won because they did not adopt a completely western approach of playing soccer, but rather a Balkan way, in which a sultan yells, screams, has perhaps unorthodox gestures on the field, but leads them to victory[9]. Mircea Lucescu, who was to be Hagi’s coach in his last year, after the UEFA Cup win, said these words:

I then realized what Hagi meant for Turkish football. He provoked many ambitions. The four titles he won prior to my coming and then the fifth with me are, I think, mostly due to his presence in that team. He was catalyzing; he was charismatic, he was hungry for success. Of course, he was the same player in the national team, the player who was taking the others after him, who never accepted things half-done, who, even beyond the presence of the coach, did not allow the players to do things that were detrimental to performance. The fact that he was named the King of football and Sultan in Turkey is the supreme argument of his value. This name came from the heart of the people, from their passion for football, and from the extraordinary respect they had toward a man who was never shamed on the football pitch (Lucescu, apud Hagi, vol.2, Cluburile, DVD, 2009).

It is such a player, a charismatic character, that a football which had not reached the levels of organization of the West needed. Football is “the beautiful game” also because is accepts different philosophies. Some of them, even if they are considered marginal, can triumph at moments when they assume their identity and when they found players in which this identity can be incarnated. This suggests that it is not only one type of culture that can be successful, but rather a culture that assumes its own identity while being open to communication with others.



EMRENCE, Cem, 2007, “Playing with Global City: The Rise and Fall of a Turkish Soccer Team”, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 40.4: 630-42.

EUROPEAN COMMISSION, 2007, Standard Eurobarometer 66, European Commission Public Opinion,  http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/eb/eb66/eb66_en.htm

FOSTER, John, 2010, “Tell Me How You Play and I’ll Tell You Who You Are”, in RICHARDS, Ted (ed.), Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game, Chicago: Open Court, 253-264.

GHEORGHE HAGI FOUNDATION, 2009, Hagi, Vol. 2. Cluburile, DVD.

GOLDBLATT, David, 2008, The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer. New York: Riverhead Books.

KUPER, Simon, SZYMANSKI, Stefan, 2009, Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey – and Even Iraq – Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World’s Most Popular Sport. New York: Naion Groups.

TUDORACHE, Viorel, 2011, “Gazeta l-a vizitat pe Hagi. Ce spune Regele despre Academie si care crede ca a fost eroarea lui Sandu.” Gazeta Sporturilor, December 4.

VIALLI, Gianluca, MARCOTTI, Gabriele, 2006, The Italian Job: A Journey to the Heart of Two Great Footballing Cultures. London: Bantam Books.

WILSON, Jonathan, 2006, Behind the Curtain: Travels in Eastern European Football. London: Orion Books.


[1] Hagi started his senior career in 1982, for Farul Constanta, in Romania. He played for six other teams, Sportul Studentesc, Steaua Bucharest, Real Madrid, Brescia, Barcelona, and Galatasaray.

[2] In the Ottoman army, the janissaries were the elite corps of the sultan.

[3] Kuper and Szymanski show that the economical status of a country plays an important role in success in football. Considering South Africa, they observe that the majority of the players representing this country in the 2010 World Cup “were born in nonwhite townships in the 1980s. And so the ghost of apartheid will bug the Bafana at the World Cup. One reason South African are so bad at soccer is that most of them didn’t get enough good food” (266).

[4] The success of F.C. Barcelona, at the club level, and Spain, at the national teams level, is based, I believe, on education and on the implementation of a system of values from early youth. The skeleton of both teams is formed by players who grew together in the famous La Masia, Barcelona’s youth academy, and who were formed in a style of play that is used both by the club and the national team.

[5] The same Gheorghe Hagi communicated that he decided to reject any coaching offer from any team that come during the season. He explained this decision by pointing out that he wanted to feel fully responsible for the team and to work with the material (and the team) that he constructed. Since a coach organizes a team according to his philosophy, it is difficult for another one to implement his own philosophy on a body already formed according to other principles.

[6] Hagi had to quit after a few months, not being able to redress the sinking boat of Galatasaray.

[7] In an interview offered to a class I taught at Bradley University, Gica Popescu, famous Romanian defender who was captain of F.C. Barcelona before he transferred to Galatasaray to win UEFA Cup, emphasized the professionalism with which Western football clubs treated new players. The clubs hired tutors and took care of players’lives in the smallest details so that they could focus only on football.

[8] When asked who were his favorite coaches, the same Gica Popescu said in the class I mentioned above: “First place, Cruyff, second place, Cruyff, third place, Cruyf.” Asked to explain his coach, Gica Popescu said, and I paraphrase: Johan Cruyff could enter into the changing room, holding a piece of blank paper. If he told us it was a black piece of paper, we would have looked twice at it, this is how much we trusted him and this is the authority he had over us.

[9] Hagi was red carded several times in Turkey for yelling at a referee. Such behavior would be completely unaccepted by a Western club, with much more radical rules about behavior.