Resuscitating Nepal-France Relations: An experience



mohan Krishna

By Mohan Krishna Shrestha, Nepal’s Former Ambassador to France –  Countries establish diplomatic relations to promote mutual interest. Friendship, understanding and cooperative attitude constitute as the solid foundation of such relations. The history of establishing diplomatic relations is quite interesting. Countries, irrespective of their geographical size establish diplomatic relations. Such diplomatic camaraderie, in fact, contributes to the establishment of peace and stability in the world. Holy See, the tiniest country in the world, (also called a micro state), with a mere 0.97 sq.kms with a population of 835 persons and all within the Rome city, has  established diplomatic relations with 180 countries and they have a total of 180 Embassies (106 Residential and 74 Non-Residential). In many capital cities including Paris, their representative Apostolic Nunciature is the permanent dean of the diplomatic corps.

Nepal – France Relations

Poles apart in the stages of economic development, yet Nepal and France are two friendly countries whose relation is based on true friendship, deep mutual understanding and cooperative spirits. Diplomatic relations between the two countries was established on 20 April 1949.  Sixty five long years have passed ever since. Many high level visits have been exchanged during these intervening years. Noticeable among those is the visit of late King Birendra to France in 1981 to address the Conference of the Least Developed countries as the keynote speaker.

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Late French President Francois Mitterand also paid a two day visit to Nepal in May 1983. In the decade of 1980 and 1990s, relations between the two countries were somewhat vibrant with France extending economic and technical cooperation to Nepal. France even wrote off a debt of 100 million Francs to relieve Nepal from debt burden. Moreover, France also sent thousands tons of wheat to Nepal as a help. However, our relations nosedived with the beginning of 2000s as then French Government made a paradigm shift in its official development assistance policy.

Focus was mainly given to 18 Francophone countries in Africa and some countries like Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia. Moreover, from our side, absence of Ambassador in our Embassy in Paris for almost six years, in two installments, caused a lot of consternation and unpleasant situation in our long relations. Absence of Ambassador in a major diplomatic city like Paris, for almost four years in a stretch, would naturally brew anxiety to all concerned. A lacunae was visible in our bilateral relations and it was most urgent to bridge it through actions.

Nepal has attracted attention of French people from the beginning of the 19th century. Then, famous Oreintologist Sylvan Levy visited Nepal several times on his way to Tibet and he also wrote a book titled “Le Nepal”. Thereafter, on 3rd June 1950, late Maurice Herzog scaled Mt. Annapurna at 8,091 meters making a history that a human foot atop a Himalaya exceeding 8 thousand meters. He also wrote a book titled ” L’Annapurna” which was translated into several other languages and sold millions of copies. The book was instrumental in introducing Nepal to outside world. Yet as another milestone event, Pierre Mazeaud and Dr. Christian Janin scaled Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the world at 8,848 meters, in 1978 and 1990 becoming the first French man and woman to do so bringing Nepal to the attention of French mountaineers.

 

Formidable task

Following my appointment as Ambassador of Nepal to France, we reached Paris on 17 June 2010. Tasks ahead were formidable. To take up Ambassadorial duty at that time was, indeed, full of challenges. Chancery was housed in a small apartment, inadequate budgetary resources,  an old flag car bought in 1994 with other two which needed to be disposed any time and residence of the Ambassador was in a most wretched and dilapidated condition needing urgent repairs. I remember a driver at the residence of Pakistani Ambassador said to me one day, ‘Sir, now you have come, please repair the house urgently because the house is the talk of the town although it is located in a famous quarter of Paris.’ I found curiosity on the Nepalese brethren and French friends of Nepal as how the Ambassador will proceed to level up our bilateral relation which was, indeed, at its nadir.

Getting a tip from Mr. Paul Ortiz, (now deceased) formerly Presidential counselor on Foreign Affairs who earlier served as the Director of Asian Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we organized a program on 4 October 2010 to fete late Maurice Herzog for his outstanding feat. Late Herzog and his wife Sisi were most satisfied with our encomium. Although it was a simple program, no doubt, it carried a big message. Next, we also organized a program on 15 November 2010 to fete Mazeau and Janin. Both of them made good remarks about Nepal and Nepalese people.

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We took effective measures to render unbiased and prompt services to the people,  budgetary levels were upped, a new flag car was purchased and  maintained excellent relations with French MOFA, made interaction programs with French professors, academicians and researchers, renewed friendship with French friends of Nepal old and new  as well as with French NGOs involved in activities in Nepal. Relations with foreign Ambassadors and other diplomatic friends were at excellent level. Our wining and dining diplomacy was instrumental to foster good relations in this regard. Rumours spread about our scrumptious Nepali food, which were served on the occasions.

We also helped Nepalese businessmen visiting France, maintained good liaison with Non-Resident Nepalese Association, other organizations and Nepali community including participation in their programs. Maintained excellent relations with Nepali students which was useful to promote Nepal and our program in April 2013 in Cite University, twice nominated for Nobel Peace Prize, was a huge success. We also celebrated Republic day,Vijaya Dashami and Teej with much public participation.  In January 2014, we hosted a meeting of our Honorary Consuls under the countries of accreditation for the promotion of Nepal in their respective countries. Positive actions in all fronts brought brooked public support and cooperation to the Embassy.

I am very pleased to cite here a classical example of the love and affection of the French people to Nepal. Mayor Alan Scudellaro of Lamothe-goas and his wife are avid lovers of Nepal. This small city lies about 1000 kms in Southern France. They have adopted a Nepali boy and also established a NGO called Gers Himalayan Association. Since years, GHA has been providing cooperation to a school in Dhading district. He said, they raise chicken to produce eggs and buffalo for milk to provide to the students. Each year around April, a group of people from this city visit Nepal and extend cooperation to the students. Hearing such level of affection, I was, indeed, dumbfounded. Moreover, on 10 November 2010, GHA celebrated their 10th year of establishment and we saw many people there including Deputies from neighboring Florence. Similarly, Lorrain Nepal and Nepal et Vous are also very active NGOs. They raise money to extend help to Nepalese village students. There are also many other French NGOs which provide cooperation to the poor students in the village making school buildings, providing text books and the construction of  dispensary as well.

Promotional programs

Our next actions centered on the hosting of Nepal promotional programs in Paris and outside. Frances hosts about 83 million tourists a year making it as the number one tourist importing country in the world. It is estimated that between 28 to 30 thousand French tourists visit Nepal each year and there exist an immense possibility to invite more tourists from France. Tourism, indeed, is the most prominent business activity which accrues direct benefit to the economy and immediately. But, it is rather difficult to host program in an expensive city like Paris with exiguous budgetary resources. But, as saying goes where there is a will, there will be a way too. We hosted a program on 15 March 2011 at a hall in UNESCO headquarters for the promotion of tourism. Well attended by old and new French friends, the program was successful to let invitees know more interesting aspects of Nepal. An interactive video shown on the occasion was very effective to portray beautiful natural and manmade aspects of Nepal.

A cursory presentation on different aspects of Nepal from mountains to people’s way of life impressed the guests. Sumptuous Nepali food was another source of joy. Similarly, another program Destination Nepal was hosted on 22 November 2011 in Paris with much fanfare. At a program on 18 September 2013, representing French MoFA, the then sous-Director Madam Veronique Roger Lacan expressed the happiness of the French Government saying that our bilateral relations  is being nursed back to health  with the strenuous efforts of the Embassy.

Besides, with cooperation from the Mayor of 17th Arrondissement, the Embassy organized programs on 22 April 2011 and 19 April 2013 to commemorate the 62nd and 64th Anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between our two countries. The presentation made at the programs and excellent Nepali food including the showing of cultural programs were received with great applause by the invited guests. Mayor’s office provided hall free of charge, a group of staff to assist and even more, champagne for about 300 guests. The mini exhibition of our artistic handicrafts also drew attention from the guests.  On 8 July 2011, yet another successful program was organized in Chamonix, a scenic city in the lap of Mt. Alps with the cooperation from Mayor’s office. Here also, Mayor Eric Fourier and his staff were kind enough to provide free hall and other cooperation including tickets to ride on the world famous steep cable car built in 1953 next morning.

Photo exhibition and handicrafts displayed caught attention of the guests. Mayor Fournier, an avid Nepal lover, in his speech said, it is true that seeing naturally beautiful Nepal – once is not enough and he repeated his visit to Nepal with his family in November and chartered a helicopter to visit Lukla to make a donation to the school. On 19 October 2012, the Embassy hosted another program in Thionville, a border city between France and Luxembourg about 320 kms far from Paris, with cooperation from Mayor’s office. The program was a successful event like in the past and all the guests present enjoyed the presentation on Nepal, cultural dances and Nepali food. Mayor Bertrand Metz was very gracious to provide all possible cooperation to the Embassy including hall free of charge and other services. A Nepali restaurant entrepreneur Bal Krishna living in Luxembourg helped the Embassy as much possible for the event. Such programs, indeed, leave a big impact in the minds of French guests where old renews their affiliation with Nepal nostalgically and new stirring a desire to visit. On our part, we save money needed to be paid for hall and we also can leave an impression on the important guests from the Department. Such programs are, indeed, mutually reinforcing to make our bilateral relations stronger at the people’s level.

Relations with UNESCO

Nepal joined UNESCO on 1st May 1953 earlier than United Nations. Now, this world organization has become a place where learned men and women come different parts of the globe to give lectures on world peace, humanity and other aspects. Since its establishment, UNESCO has excelled in its pious objectives to better education, scientific and cultural areas through its multifarious activities. Moreover, lately, UNESCO has embarked for promoting other areas like girl child education, gender equality and water resources issues which has great impact on the lives of the people. I presented my Credential as Permanent Representative to UNESCO Director General on 1st September 2011 and involved in the activities of UNESO as much possible.

Generally, it is found that UNESCO and Nepal has had maintained a very good bilateral relations and this world body has been extending possible cooperation to Nepal in the fields of education, science and culture including the development of Lumbini. UNESCO has endorsed 4 world heritage sites and 7 monumental zones in Nepal. Nepal has bagged prizes from UNESCO in informal education and rural communication during my stay in Paris.

The year 2013 was a special year. As such the Embassy together with Nepal National Commission for UNESCO published a special publication to commemorate 60th Anniversary of Nepal’s membership. Under Secretary Mr. Dhruba Raj Regmi worked tirelessly for this purpose. To further perpetuate the everlasting friendship between Nepal and UNESCO, I recommended to our Government to offer a donation of the statue of Lord Buddha which was a very suitable gesture. The idea was approved and  UNESCO also accepted it following their usual procedure. I am very happy that the statue of Lord Buddha has now, reached in Paris and will be donated through a ceremony although I will miss it. When I showed the photo of the statue, Director General Madam Irina Bokova was also very impressed. Within next few days, it will be housed permanently in UNESCO headquarters giving blessings to the visitors.

As Ambassador, I was playing active roles for the promotion of Nepal through various means; it came to my mind that time would be ripe for Nepal to vie for a seat in the Executive Committee. So, I wrote a letter to the MOFA and MOE but even after 8 months nothing is heard as a comment. Again, I wrote a reawakening letter. Thereafter, one fine morning, it came to our knowledge that Government has decided to field our candidature for election to a seat in the Executive Committee. It was, indeed, a good news but laden with a heavy responsibility. The success or failure of Ambassador much depends on whether his/her country could win election. I remember the words of Philippine Ambassador Madame Christina Ortega who said, their candidature to the World Heritage Committee will decide her fate as Ambassador.

I always tried to reassure her that Philipines will win and we will support too. Results also confirmed this fact later on. After getting instruction from our competent authorities and assurances of a paltry sum as budget for the promotion, we activated our election machinery. Personal meetings, wining and dining, sending of request letters for support – all these types of methods were used. NNCU also acted promptly sending requests to their counterparts around the world for their support to our candidature. El Salvador Ambassador/Permanent Representative Madame Pool told me not only her country but all countries from her region will be voting to support us. It was yet a miniature success of personal diplomacy.  7 November 2013, the day of election, we were also requesting the representatives of the countries who were lined to vote. Results came and Nepal bagged 142 votes out of 179 votes cast and got elected for 2013-2017 period.  China, Japan and India who are sarcastically called permanent members, of course, got re-elected including Bangladesh. The last minute candidature of Vanuatu, a country in the far Pacific created some chaos and troubles, but their attempt failed.

Repair of Residence

The residence of Ambassador located at 7, Rue Alberic Magnard in the 16th Arrondissement was purchased on 3rd July 1979. But, the building was lying unrepaired for a long time and it was in a horrible condition needing urgent and total repair. Cosmetic repairs alone have caused large sums in the past. Insurance company also refused to renew the insurance in 2010. The sorry state of building attracted a considerable attention in both countries and there was a great demand for its urgent repair. Luckily, my incessant persuasion to the Ministry brought good results and some budget was sanctioned for its repair. People  know how difficult and expensive it is in Paris  to repair an old building in which ceilings were found to possess water. However, we proceeded to repair the building with a strong and determined will supported by some budget. Once repair works were finished, this 135 year old building appeared in a new and fresh avatar now. People who earlier have stayed in the building could not believe their eyes that this building could appear in such a new form. But truth is truth and I am very happy to say that a precious building like this is saved enhancing our national prestige. Many Ambassadors who came to attend our programs in our residence praised the ambience and environment. An air of Nepal filled everywhere in the building and sumptuous Nepali food added more flavor.

Relations in accredited countries

Our resident Embassy in Paris is also accredited to Greece, Monaco, Portugal and Spain. About 20 thousand Nepalese are living in these countries altogether. Naturally, they face many consular problems. We maintained always good relations with diplomats from those countries as well as with Nepalese community, NRNA and others. I visited those countries during the presentation of credentials and at other times to make interaction programs with people to alleviate the sufferings of the people. We also took effective measures to solve the outstanding problems being faced by the people with regard to the passports and other consular problems. Moreover, we also hosted Nepal promotion program in Lisbon on 8 July 2012 and in Barcelona on 19 May 2013 and 6 June 2014 with cooperation from Non-resident Nepalese Association and Honorary Consul Office in Barcelona. These programs were successful to introduce Nepal to the Portugese and Spanish people. Such joint cooperation could mitigate the costs required for hosting the program with same level of results.

 

Future prospects

It is really gratifying to note that there exist a reservoir of goodwill and affection for Nepal and Nepalese people not only in France but also in all those countries. Alan Garcia, a Portugal national who has had scaled all mountains above 8 thousand meters has said when he first visited Nepal about 33 years ago, he was stunned to see a signboard which said “You cannot change Nepal, but Nepal will change you“.

Ever since, he has been visiting Nepal almost every year with insatiable appetite for revisit. Similarly, Honorary consul in Barcelona Mr. Lluis Belvis has visited Nepal 118 times, probably, greatest in number by any foreigner. Himalayas in the northern part of the country formed some 50.4 million years ago is a great source of attraction to the alpinits from all over the world. Similarly, many other aspects including the way of the life of the people are also a source of interest to the visitors. With well orchestrated programs, Nepal can invite more and more tourists from all over the world. Especially at this juncture where recent earthquakes have made such a deleterious and devastating effects on tourism as well, we need to redouble our efforts to revive our tourism industry at best.

In trade also, Nepal can do a lot in future as our skilled people are producing more  and more new products. Natural ingredient and bio-diversity produces might have a great market potentiality. Our enormous hydropower capacity need not be repeated. The effective implementation of the economic diplomacy with well run programs might play a catalytic role in enhancing economic potential of the country. In this age of globalization and world village environment, countries which would enhance is competitive edge world prevail. There is no shortage of Foreign Direct Investment, if we know how to lure them. An amiable business environment in the country would usher into a new era of global business relations for mutual benefit. World Trade Organization inspired free trade, fair trade atmosphere will motivate countries, both developed and developing, to engage in a mutually beneficial trade practices.
–  Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Nepal Foreign Affairs.

 

 

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