“Live long, beautiful country!” Uttered by General De Gaulle on his arrival in Bucharest in May 1968, these were the words that marked the start of the event organised, on 16 May 2018, by the Romanian embassy in Paris and by the Charles de Gaulle Foundation to mark 50 years since the French President’s visit to Romania.
The event took place in the Byzantine Hall of the Behague Palace, the residency of the Romanian ambassador to France, and brought together 150 guests: the Deputy Speaker of the French National Assembly, parliamentarians, former ministers, members of the diplomatic corps, including former French diplomats posted in Bucharest, high-ranking civil servants, representatives of the world of academia and of associations, students enrolled at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, journalists.
Ambassador Luca Niculescu moderated the debate between Jacques Godfrain, President of the Charles de Gaulle Foundation and former minister for international cooperation, Frederic Fogacci, university lecturer and Director of Research at the Charles de Gaulle Foundation, Adrian Cioroianu, Romania’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and former foreign minister, Max-Olivier Gonnet, Director for Central, Eastern and Baltic Europe within the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and representative of Philippe Etienne, President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic advisor.
The talks centred on three main topics: the historical context and the developments in East-West relations that allowed General De Gaulle’s visit to Romania to take place; the actual visit and its results; and the visit’s contribution to the subsequent development of Romanian-French relations until today, including in the European context.
The talkers emphasised the historic character of the French President’s visit: firstly, it was a historic visit given the emblematic figure of General De Gaulle; secondly, the visit took place in a special historical context marked by the political and social events of 1968; and, last but not least, it was a historic visit for bilateral relations.
In his speech, Jacques Godfrain emphasised the importance that General De Gaulle gave to direct contact with the peoples of the countries he visited, a connection made easier in Romania by the cultural and linguistic familiarity. Thus, he pointed out that the visit of May 1968 was addressed to “the Romanian soul” and our country’s francophony. Obviously, the visit also had a strategic character, namely the continuation and consolidation of the pre-1945 bilateral cooperation.
Frederic Fogacci evoked the bilateral framework of the French President’s visit to Romania, from the contribution of Napoleon III to the creation of the Romanian state, the military agreements of the 1920s and Romania’s role in the European security system during the interwar years, to the cultural ties between the two countries.
In his turn, Adrian Cioroianu presented the Romanian domestic context of the year 1968 and emphasised the importance of economic exchanges and trade in the resumption of Romanian-French relations.
Max-Olivier Gonnet insisted on the message that General De Gaulle conveyed during his visit to Romania: overcoming the thinking of the two antagonistic East-West blocs, and the unity of the European continent. At the same time, he pointed out that many co-operations initiated after this visit, especially on the economic and academic planes, are continuing today too; a conclusion that Ambassador Luca Niculescu stressed by mentioning the privileged character of current bilateral relations: sustained political dialogue, significant trade, the extremely rich cultural agenda of the future Romania-France Season (November 1918 – July 2019).
The audience’s reactions were numerous, the comments and questions focusing particularly on the economic aspects of the bilateral cooperation and on its role in responding to current European challenges, at a time when Romania is preparing to take over the rotational presidency of the Council of the European Union, on 1 January 2019.
(Source of archive photos: National Archives of Romania – Online Photo Library of Romanian Communism)