Macron Enrages Bulgaria, Ukraine with Comment that He Prefers African Migrants

Macron Enrages Bulgaria, Ukraine with Comment that He Prefers African Migrants

Nationalist politicians in Sofia have connected the controversy with “unlearned lessons” from the end of World War I.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has infuriated both fellow EU member state Bulgaria and prospective EU candidate Ukraine with controversial comments made in an interview for a French magazine.

Macron’s decision to give an interview to the media outlet in question, Valeurs actuelles (“Current Values”), described as conservative or far-right, has been deemed controversial in itself, according to France24.

The interview discusses Islam, the Islamic veil, and migration but the quote that has caused a diplomatic scandal with some of France’s allies in Eastern Europe reads, as follows,

“I prefer the people who arrive from Guinea or Ivory Coast legally, who are here and do work, than the underground (clandestine) Bulgarian or Ukrainian networks.”

(In French: «Je préfère avoir des gens qui viennent de Guinée ou de Côte-d’Ivoire légaux, qui sont là et qui font ce travail, que des filières bulgares ou ukrainiennes clandestines.»)

In different translations in international media as well as Bulgarian and Ukrainian media, some possibly based on articles by Russian international media Sputnik (such as this one in German), Macron’s quote appears a bit differently, mentioning “Bulgarian and Ukrainian gangs”:

“I prefer legal immigrants from Guinea or Ivory…instead of illegal Ukrainian or Bulgarian gangs”.

Even though the word “gangs” does not technically seem to appear anywhere in Macron’s comments, some of the stronger reactions in Bulgaria focus precisely on it.

Macron’s words about “clandestine Bulgaria or Ukrainian networks” with respect to illegal immigration remain somewhat unclear given that as an EU member state Bulgaria’s citizens are entitled to live and work in France. Ukraine has not been recognized as an official EU candidate country but its citizens were granted visa-free travel to the EU back in 2017.

Ukraine was quicker to react to Macron’s comments, with the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoning the French ambassador in Kyiv, Etienne de Poncins (who was also France’s ambassador in Bulgaria back in 2007-2010) for explanation. Subsequently, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the French President’s words had been taken out of context.

“There is a full understanding and cooperation between Kyiv and Paris in implementing the arrangements for the movement of citizens from both countries,” a Ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying.

On Saturday, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Ekaterina Zaharieva ordered the Bulgarian ambassador in Paris to hand a protest note to the French Foreign Ministry, while summoning the French Ambassador in Sofia, Florence Robine, for explanations on Monday.

In addition to the official diplomatic reaction by the Bulgarian government, very strong reactions came from political leaders from the nationalist party VMRO (technically a descendant of the Bulgarian freedom-fighting organization in the regions of Macedonia and Thrace from the first half of the 20th century). They, however, seem to be misquoting Macron by referring to the word “gangs”.

“French President Macron’s statement that he prefers migrants from Africa instead of ‘Bulgarian and Ukrainian gangs’ is just another demonstration of political arrogance and cheekiness on part of one the current leaders of the one-time Entente,” commented Krasimir Karakachanov, head of VMRO and presently Bulgaria’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.

“On the eve of the 100th anniversary since the signing of the Treaty of Neuilly in Paris such behavior demonstrates that Europe’s so called political elites haven’t learned from their mistakes,” he added in a Facebook post, referring to the peace treaty of the Entente with Bulgaria after World War I, which sealed the Balkan country’s loss precisely of the regions of Macedonia and Thrace.

“The fact that Macron prefers migrants from the Ivory Coast is his own right, and doesn’t concern me. However, I cannot ignore the qualification of the Bulgarians as “gangs”. This is unacceptable and insulting. Such behavior in the 21st century is diplomatically unacceptable regardless of the sense invested in it,” Karakachanov stated, reminding of the free movement of people, goods, and services in the EU.

“Whoever used to have colonies, should deal with the legacy from their ruling back in the day. The Bulgarian citizens, however, are equal citizens of the EU,” Bulgaria’s Deputy Foreign Minister concluded.

VMRO Member of the European Parliament Angel Dzhambazki, who finished fifth in the Sofia mayoral elections earlier this week, also published an angry tirade.

“Based on their own [of the French] standards, such a generalization is pure racism. Yes, precisely racism. I insist on immediate explanation and I will be seeking it. That would be like connecting all of France with the collaboration with the Nazi regime, or the horrible deeds of the French colonizers in the African and overseas territories of this country,” Dzhambazki declared.

Subsequently, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov downplayed the scandal caused by Macron’s comment, saying instead he was hoping the French leader would “pay back” by back the Bulgarian bids for joining the Eurozone and the Schengen Area.

(Banner image: Emmanuel Macron on Twitter)

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