Saturday, May 01, 2004

Daniel Bernard 1941-2004

French ambassador to Algeria Daniel Bernard died Wednesday night in a Paris hospital, aged 62.

While ambassador to London, Daniel Bernard achieved notoriety when Barbara Amiel, wife of the "fat crook" (a.k.a. Conrad Black) reported that Bernard had referred to Israel as "that shitty little country." She writes that he added, "Why should the world be in danger of World War Three because of those people?" (Bernard denied ever making such remarks.)

Say things like that and "those people" will still be talking about it the day you die.

Bernard was anything but marginal. A graduate of the National School for Administration (a factory that produces France's political elite), he started out as vice-consul in Dublin before moving on to Brussels where he represented France at various multilateral organizations. In 1984, he became diplomatic advisor to Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius. From 1990 to 1993, he was director of foreign minister Roland Dumas' cabinet. Following this, he became ambassador to the Hague, then to the UN (in Geneva), and then to London. He became French ambassador to Algeria in 2002 (his final posting) and was still in office when Chirac visited that country last April — the first official visit by a French president since the Algerian war of Independence. Chirac visited Algeria again this April.

On Thursday, Algerian president Abd al-'Aziz Abu Tifliqa expressed his "most friendly condolances" to Chirac. "The news of his death (...) fills me with sadness," said Bouteflika. "The few years he spent with us taught us to appreciate his indisputable qualities as a informed diplomat but also, and above all, for all that was human in his conduct and amicable in his relations with us." Bouteflika was also very cordial with one of Iraq's great butchers, Ali Hassan ibn al-Majid.

UPDATE: Le Monde appears almost charmed by Bernard's indiscretion. Daniel Vernet writes in passing:
In his diplomatic postings, he maintained his frank (*) way of speaking and this earned him a few moments of discomfort; particularly in London, where, over the course of a diner, he used an incisive expression with regard to Israel that, even though uttered in private at the home of a press baron, could never have remained a secret.
That's it. Tut, tut; hee, hee! When the representative of France calls Israel a pile of excrement in polite company, this ammounts to no more than a comedy of manners. Oh, that zany Daniel! "Those people" and "shit," how incisive! Does Vernet share this view of Israel as shit? Does he consider it worth criticising? Can this be so unimportant as to go unexamined as it does here?

(* nb: the word "frank" comes from the French word franc, which itself comes from the Latin Francus, a name for the Frankish people. Le Robert (the standard-bearing French dictionary) says this name may come from the Germanic frëka, meaning "eager for battle." Weird.)