BASTILLE DAY 2015 Message from H.E. Mr Jean-Marin SCHUH, Ambassador of France to Sri Lanka and the Maldives
Today, we are celebrating the storming of the Bastille, which took place on the 14th of July 1789. Besides the event in itself – 7 prisoners remained in the Bastille prison at the time, of which two were mentally disturbed and four were counterfeiters-, it is indeed a symbol which we celebrate on this day, a symbol which is more relevant today than ever before. Bastille was the very last political prison in France. Bastille represented the dictatorship of the all-powerful monarch and the arbitrary nature of his royal arrest warrants: people would disappear outside of any judiciary procedure, the only rule deciding the conditions or the period of detention, or even the reasons for the arrest, was the sole goodwill of the king. The storming of the Bastille then represented the revolt of the “third estate”, that is a revolution led by all the commoners, those who did not belong to the most privileged layers of society, a revolution in favour of liberty, particularly liberty of consciousness, equality of rights before the law, and fraternity which is the cement of society and gives it its soul.
The fight for liberty, equality and fraternity had started long before the storming of the Bastille, and not only in France. The 18th Century was the Age of enlightenment for the most part of Europe and is part of the political foundation of what we call the European Union today. The philosophers, precursors of the struggle of the peoples themselves, fought against obscurantism, against hatred of the other, against violence, particularly against state-sponsored torture and executions; they fought for tolerance, for pluralism, for freedom of religion. Current headlines prove to us every day that this struggle is far from over. The cold blooded premeditated murder at the beginning of this year of the whole editorial team of a satirical magazine reminds us that press freedom and freedom in general, are still under threat in Paris, as we saw again with the recent terrorist attacks in Lyon, Tunisia and Kuwait and that it is the duty of each and every one of us to protect them. This was the meaning behind the large-scale demonstrations that took place throughout France right after this heinous crime was committed. It is also in this very aim that we provide support to Sri Lanka, encouraging efforts to ensure reconciliation between communities, accountability and good governance.
This year, which got off to such a bad start in Paris, could still end well, if, as we all hope, the international conference on climate change (COP21) achieves success. True success would be the acceptation by all countries of a universal agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions in such a way as to keep global temperatures under 2°C above pre-industrial levels at the end of this century. This is a major challenge. Efforts in this field have stagnated long enough, now time is running short. In France, we have decided to take action for this great cause and to dedicate the necessary means for its success. We are expecting over 40,000 delegates to attend the conference in the first weeks of December. Indeed, it will be more than a conference. Our objective is to make sure that the battle against global warming is carried not only by states and state-leaders, but by every single person, civil society, private companies, regional administration and municipal councils. It is an enormous challenge because, in order to achieve the “Paris Alliance”, we have to achieve nothing short of bringing 196 countries together to reach a single written agreement around a few simple principles:
we will never win the battle for development and for the elimination of poverty if we do not win the battle against global warming;
the Paris Agreement will have to deal with mitigation of greenhouse gases, but also with adaptation, which is a priority for all the countries who are already suffering the effects of climate change;
the Agreement will have to take into account the responsibilities as well as the capacities of each country. This implies that each country will have to present, well before the conference, its national contribution: its commitments in terms of mitigation of greenhouse gases and also its intended measures for adaptation;
Above all, this supposes that the financial means agreed upon in Copenhagen in 2009, mobilizing 100 billion dollars per year for developing countries, be made available and implemented in order to direct capital flows, both private and public, towards low-carbon economies.
Sri Lanka is amongst the world’s lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, but the island is particularly vulnerable to climate change, be it in terms of rising sea-levels or the increasing recurrence of what climate experts call extreme climatic events: droughts, floods, cyclones. This is why France encourages Sri Lanka to take part in the COP21 and more broadly to have a say in the worldwide movement working to win the battle against climate change for the sake of the generations that are yet to come. This is what drives our actions in Sri Lanka. In this light, our annual “French Spring” cultural festival was deliberately and entirely turned towards this major theme this year.
Finally, and this is the third subject I would like to discuss this year, which is not entirely unlinked to the two previous topics, since it is also about openness and knowledge of others, is tourism. Approximately 80,000 French tourists visited Sri Lanka last year. As compared to previous years, this is an enormous number, and most probably, it is in this particular sector that Sri Lanka is starting to reap the dividends of peace, but this amount is still quite small if we consider the exceptional potential the island has to offer in terms of leisure, culture and nature. We know that Sri Lanka has age-old culture dating back centuries and well-known beaches. What is less-known is the fact that Sri Lanka’s nature has most probably been better respected than elsewhere and that it holds incredible treasures in terms of biodiversity, forest coverage and wealth of wildlife.
On our side, we in France have collectively decided to take up the challenge of opening our country to foreign tourists, with the aim of making France a leading destination. So far, we already welcome more than one and a half times the size of our population in tourists visiting for short and long stays. We now want to step up a gear and to rapidly reach the number of 100 million visitors. In order to achieve this, we have and are going to continue to make increasing efforts to better welcome tourists, be it in terms of visa application procedures, soon to be completely dematerialized thanks to a national digital portal or through online assistance in the most important languages of the world. The next step will be to modernize all points of entry into French territory, most importantly airports and train stations. Finally, we will engage in a wide-scale renovation of our hotel properties and we will build –with equal determination- the capacities of the younger generations of hoteliers. Sri Lankan tourists are still few and far between in France. I hereby invite you to come to France to make sure that this openness to the outside world which I speak of is not an empty promise.
Bastille Day is also an opportunity to celebrate the excellent relationship between Sri Lanka and France. The French Agency for Development is now collaborating with the ministry of Finance, various banks and companies in the country in the fields of urban development, water, waste management, transport and energy. French companies in Sri Lanka strengthen our ties. Our bilateral trade expands rapidly as will our investments. The Alliance Française network is engaged in teaching French language all over the country, which has become a tool at the disposal of the government, businesses and travel agencies at a time where the flow of tourists is increasing dramatically.
Finally I would like to give a special and warm thanks to our partners and sponsors : Airbus Group, The Galle Face Hotel, Jet Airways, Qwest destinations, Noyon lanka, Pernod Ricard lanka, Turret, Wijeya Newpapers and Vinci Construction. I would like to thank also Alstom, Carmart and Peugeot, CMA-CGM, Matiere-Eiffage, Lion Royal Tourism and all of our partners and sponsors for their most appreciated support.
Dear sponsors and partners, please note the Embassy of France is very grateful to your precious contribution to our cultural activities and to the success of the Bastille day we are celebrating today.