“Les leçons du pouvoir” (“Lessons of power”) by ex-president of France François Hollande hit shelves of book stores this summer. The 400-page book looks back at his five-year term and among other things recalls the details of the meeting of the Normandy contact group in Minsk.
Excerpts from the book were published by the Ukrainian magazine “Tyzhden”.
The former French leader dwelled not only on confrontation between politicians, but also gave some unflattering review on the Belarusian Palace of Independence
Recall that the negotiations in Minsk, where the agreements on the ceasefire in the east of Ukraine were signed, lasted for more than 15 hours.
“How not to recall that long night on 11-12 February 2015, that took place in the big soulless hall of the Independence Palace in Minsk, Belarus?” François Hollande writes.
It was in the midst of the crisis that Ukraine was experiencing after the removal of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych after he refused to sign an association agreement with the EU.”
The president also noted that the participants of the meeting were served “terrible sandwiches” after they refused to have a dinner and seated at “an uncomfortable low round table”.
Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei, who participated in that meeting, talked to TUT.BY journalist to tell how the situation looked like from the Belarusian side.
Vladimir Vladimirovich, how do you like François Hollande’s memoirs?
I want to say frankly, I am outraged by such statements, which are not only subjective, but also not true.
I don’t understand why François Hollande said such things at all.
I’ve read this publication and would like to access these memories not as a foreign minister, but as an ordinary person and an eyewitness of the meeting.
It seems to me that politicians of such a high level as the heads of states should be honest, sincere and objective.
Looks like the former president of France, Mr. Hollande a bit lacks these qualities, as some things [described in the book] don’t correspond to the truth.
There are three things that caught my eye.
Soulless Palace of Independence
First. “Meeting in the soulless Palace of Independence.” You know, any official building hardly has any soul.
Apparently, Hollande had in mind that Minsk modern palace is not as pompous as its former residence, the Elysee Palace.
Well, I’m sorry but unlike France that was conquered by fascists in less than a month and preserved almost all the centuries-old palaces, churches, cathedrals and other historical monuments built after the Second World War, Belarus after four years of resistance laid in ruins, and Minsk was affected as well.
Therefore, for us, no matter who and what thinks about the palce, it is a symbol of Belarusian sovereignty and independence and as a symbol it must be treated with due respect.
In his book Mr. Hollande also recalls that he had to sit at low, uncomfortable table and uncomfortable chairs.
By that time, several halls were prepared at the Independence Palace for official meetings.
There was a special hall with simultaneous interpretators, where the main meeting of the Normandy Four was expected to take place.
However, as it usually happens when such meetings occur, there’s a so-called “storage room” where all heads of states gather, as they come one after another and not simultaneously.
And this is what happened, by the time when all the president arrived a conversation ensued in that room and talks had already started.
When the Belarusian side offered to go to the hall of official negotiations, they said: “No, we will stay here.” This is why there were low tables.
Well, later some additional seats were brought, taking into account the fact that the circle of participants was expanding.
The “terrible sandwiches” is actually a funny story.
After the leaders of the countries spent some time in the “storage room”, it was necessary to hold a welcoming ceremony, where our president spoke.
After the ceremony ended the President of Belarus offered to have supper, I stood next to him and saw the situation.
I remember it like yesterday, the French president said joyfully: “Yes, yes, let’s have supper.”
But Mrs. Federal Chancellor Merkel sternly looked at Hollande and said: “There’s no time for dinner, let’s start working.” He stepped back and obediently went after Merkel.
In general, I must say that the engine of the negotiations was Federal Chancellor Merkel, she set the tone, rigid schedule, the theme of the talks.
Her role in concluding this agreement can not be overemphasized. By the way, Mr. Hollande in his book recognizes this and doesn’t particularly sticks out his role, as there’s nothing to stick out.
To reaffirm the fact that a full dinner was prepared for the Normandy Four, Vladimir Vladimirovich reads out the menu for that day.
The menu was quite diversified – a pike, rabbit, lamb and lamb.
They refused dinner, but sandwiches were served to them several times. They were with Belarusian lard, and various sausages, ham, cheese, red fish, sturgeon and so on.
Yes, there were no oysters, snails, frog legs, pigeons. Probably that’s why Mr. Hollande didn’t like it.
In general, I should say that only food was allocated in the equivalent of about 50,000 dollars. Therefore, it’s a shame for me to read such statements.
In addition, if you remember, the journalists’ feedback on the results of the meeting was very warm.
The head of state directed us to make sure that people don’t feel any inconvenience.
Of course, there were inconveniences – the negotiations lasted for 17 hours and one of the journalists wanted to lie down and sleep, but we had nothing to offer,
But from the point of view of providing food, hot drinks, everything was done well.
What has changed for Belarus after these agreements?
Politically, probably, some positive image things have occured. Indeed, the Minsk agreements are often mentioned at various international venues.
But as the President of Belarus said it was not us who asked to be mediators, we were asked to be them and we tried to do maximum for these agreements to be concluded.
We also have an honorable duty: we regularly host meetings of the trilaterl contact group and try to create comfortable conditions for them.
By the way, according to the OSCE polls, all the participants in these meetings are very positive about Belarus.
Therefore, we intend to continue to assist in holding these meetings and play a some other role, if necessary.