Bulgarian government denies traditional honour for outgoing French ambassador after his statement on protests

Departing French ambassador to Bulgaria Philippe Autié will not be awarded the high state honour traditionally given by Bulgaria to foreign diplomats at the end of their term, according to reports on September 3 which linked the snub to the July joint statement by Autié and his German counterpart Matthias Höpfner calling on the government to heed the voice of the anti-government protesters.

At the time of the July joint statement by Autié and Höpfner, protesters demanding the resignation of the Bulgarian Socialist Party government paid their respects to the stance of the two diplomats by holding events outside their embassies. The French were given a double tribute, not only by a procession past the embassy during the July 14 Bastille Day reception but also by a live recreation of the famous Delacroix painting.

delacroix sofia protest photo vassil garnizov
Photo: Vassil Garnizov

But reportedly the reaction from within the government was less welcoming. In July, foreign minister Kristian Vigenin issued a statement saying that he had held talks with the two ambassadors in response to their statement.

Philippe Autie Matthias Hoepfner

It is the same foreign ministry that has the initiating role in the awarding of the Stara Planina First Degree to departing ambassadors, passing the recommendation on to the Cabinet which in turn passes it on to the President, who as head of state presides at the ceremony conferring the order. For years, this has been a familiar photo-op.

But not in the case of Autié. The omission prompted headlines throughout the Bulgarian media, with Mediapool, for example, saying that the Oresharski government was “punishing” the French ambassador by depriving him of the order.

“All over Sofia, foreign diplomats must be quaking in their boots,” was one sardonic comment in the readers’ forum below the story.

According to bTV, quoting the Foreign Ministry, there was a review regarding the conferring of state honours on foreigners underway and the absence of a Stara Planina for Autié had “nothing to do” with his position on the protests.

Disbelieving forum participants in the Bulgarian media said that Autié should be proud not to be given an award by the current government, while another said that it seemed that the new procedure would be to give the honour on the basis of bilateral relations with the government, not the state.

In a blog post, Bulgaria’s former Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov described Autié as a true friend of Bulgaria and traced the recent history of France’s contributions to Bulgaria’s progress, while also noting that after the joint statement by the French and German ambassadors, ultra-nationalist Ataka leader Volen Siderov had called for the ambassadors to be “punished”.

“Foreign Minister Vigenin’s decision not to nominate Ambassador Autié for a state award is a direct response to the ultra-nationalist’s calls for “punishments”. It is a callous and dangerous act that undermines the international standing of free and democratic Bulgaria. It also shows quite clearly who supports the current Socialist government — the red oligarchs and ultra-nationalists,” Mladenov said.

Bulgarian National Radio said that Autié leaving without a medal ceremony was not unprecedented among French ambassadors in Sofia. His predecessor, Etienne de Poncins, had been voted a medal but then-president Georgi Purvanov did not schedule a ceremony, and so the Stara Planina was posted to De Poncins, who got it at a modest ceremony at the embassy in Paris, according to BNR.

(Main photo: government.bg)



The Sofia Globe staff

The Sofia Globe - the Sofia-based fully independent English-language news and features website, covering Bulgaria, the Balkans and the EU. Sign up to subscribe to sofiaglobe.com's daily bulletin through the form on our homepage. https://www.patreon.com/user?u=32709292