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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

France's ambassador to Tunisia, Boris "Sarko boy" Boillon, apologises for his insulting behaviour

It can't be easy starting a new job, upsetting your host country, and then having to go on national television to issue an apology.

But that's exactly what has happened over the past week to France's new ambassador to Tunisia, Boris Boillon.

Boris Boillon (screenshot from BFMTV report)

During his first press conference since taking up his post on February 16, "Sarko boy", as Boillon is dubbed by some of the French media, insulted a journalist.

His style during the conference was friendly and relaxed to begin with, but it changed when faced with questions about France's reaction when the Jasmine revolution began.

He was dismissive and aggressive in both French and Arabic towards one journalist and for many (both in France and Tunisia) it was behaviour reminiscent of his mentor, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Inevitably perhaps it didn't go down well with Tunisians.

A video of the meeting soon made it on to the Net and the people who had so effectively used social networking sites to topple the former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali resorted to the same tactics to call for protests and his resignation outside the French embassy in Tunis on Friday.

A day later it was "damage control" from Boillon who went on national television to apologise.

"I say I am sorry, I regret my words, I was stupid," Boillon said.

"I ask for the forgiveness of all Tunisians."

After Sarkozy admitted that the French government had "misjudged" the strength of popular feeling which brought about the downfall of Ben Ali, he replaced the former ambassador, Pierre Menat, with Boillon.

His remit, as described by the weekly news magazine L'Express was to "reconnect with the Tunisian society, after decades of French complacency towards a hated regime."

And the French government spokesman, François Baroin, said of Boillon when the appointment was announced that, "He has all the natural sensitivity to match the new era now in Franco-Tunisian relations."

Last week's incident and the follow-up apology was not exactly the most auspicious of starts to the job of building bridges for the 41-year-old who has already completed a stint as France's Man in Baghdad and is the country's youngest serving ambassador.

Perhaps he'll now be discouraged from trying too hard to fashion himself in the mould of Sarkozy.

But somehow, for the moment, he looks like the most undiplomatic of diplomats - and has had a photo on his personal page of the French social networking site Copains d'avant to prove it: one which shows him wearing only in a pair of trunks...and a smile.


Anonymous said...

I think people are being unfair to Boilon: I saw the videos and was impressed by how well he spoke arabic. I am not sure there are many EU diplomats in Northern Africa who can speak the language like that. This is where internet/twitter/ - the "buzz" can be dangerous - as what should be minor events take on exaggerated proportions, and at such speed that people don't actually take the time to think for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Have no idea what the previous commentator is on about. It would be good to start with if he or she managed to spell the ambassador's name correctly. That aside, Boillon's behaviour is just another example of the arrogance for which the French are renowned and as a diplomat he should have known better. Felipe from Spain.

Anonymous said...

Comments from French guy. The first comment is totally wrong and stupid. Saying internet twitter can be dangerous is the danger. Remember Gutenberg!The second comment is not fair play. French are renowned also for wine and champagne! Seriously, It's shame for us to have ambassador like this! Not for the bad words he said to journalist only! We are chocked in France about the incompetence of our governement in general.In the past the tradition was to elect an old president (mean around 60 years old). Like wine, with years it become better. Now it's different. Pity.

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