We will sign a new agreement between the Louvre and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture


His Excellency Mr. Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes, was born on December 29, 1963. He graduated at the Institute of Political Science and began working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the French Republic. His first post in a diplomatic mission of his country abroad was in Bulgaria - as a second secretary and press attaché at the French Embassy in Sofia from 1991 to 1995. He left Bulgaria with a lot of impressions, experiences and a wife - Maria. From 1995 to 1998 he was First Secretary of the Mission in Nicosia, then in Djibouti. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France he successively worked in the Department of Strategic Affairs, Security and Disarmament, as a member of the Cabinet of the Secretary General, as a member of the General Secretariat of the Government. From 2007 to 2010 he was Minister-Advisor at the French Embassy in Brazil.
Before handing in his credentials here in October 2013, he was Deputy Chief of Protocol in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France. Currently His Excellency Mr. Xavier Lapeyre de Cabanes is perhaps the only ambassador who has a Bulgarian wife. Probably this is why he knows Bulgaria perfectly. And everything that happens in it cannot leave him indifferent. He says that he is a true friend of Bulgaria. And proves it. It was not by chance that on 14 July 2014, the national holiday of the French Republic, the Minister of Culture Peter Stoyanovich awarded him with the highest award of the Ministry - "Golden Age" for merit in the field of culture.

-    Your Excellency, the exhibition "The Epic of the Thracian Kings" in the Louvre made a lot of fuss, it is undoubtedly one of the greatest Bulgarian cultural events abroad in the recent years. Do you have any news about it?
-    From the very beginning the exhibition was received very well. The opening, which was done twice - in two days in a row, was an outstanding success. The first - the official one, was on 14 April in the presence of the Bulgarian Prime Minister and the French Minister of European Affairs. The second, which had a huge audience, was for the members of the association "Friends of the Louvre" and the Bulgarian maecenas. Last week I spoke to one of the curators of the exhibition, an archaeologist from the Louvre, and he assured me that it has a great success. We can not say, however, exactly how many people have visited it before the end.
-    The exhibition is accompanied by many other events. What are they?
-    Political, economic and cultural. In the opening day of the exhibition the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov met with the French President Francois Hollande. The same day, the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Rumyana Bachvarova met with her French counterpart - the Interior Minister Bernard Kaznyov and the Culture Minister Vezhdi Rashidov with Fleur Pellerin, the Minister of Culture and Communication of France. The next day - April 15, a business forum was officially opened by the Minister of Economy Bojidar Loukarski and the Minister of the European Affairs of France - Harlem Désir, bringing together over 70 French companies that are interested in the Bulgarian market. These are the political and economic accompanying events. As for the cultural, there was a big concert of "John Koukouzeles" choir in the Cathedral "Notre Dame de Paris" which was very successful. The cathedral was packed. The concert was wonderful.
An exhibition of Bulgarian artists in the Bulgarian Cultural Centre in Paris was opened, there will be a concert at the Louvre of the Bulgarian voices with the Sofia Philharmonic somewhere between 20 and 27 May. Sofia Municipality will be presented in the center of Paris, Palais Royal Plaza / next to the Louvre/ about the 10 of June. This place is often used to present different cities and countries. Now for the first time Bulgaria will be presented. At first we thought to organize the event on 24 May, but later decided that during the weekend Paris will probably be empty. So we moved it several weeks later. The event will be organized by Sofia Municipality and the Bulgarian Embassy in Paris. Around that time a group of French and Bulgarian MPs led by Tsetska Tsacheva will visit the exhibition.
-    In Bulgaria we have had the pleasure to enjoy large French exhibitions from time to time, but so far we have not had such in France. Your contribution to its implementation is big ...
-    I'm not the only contributor to this project. The idea for it was born almost four years ago. My predecessor and three Bulgarian ministers of culture - Stoyanovich, Ivanov and Rashidov, have worked for this exhibition, and teams of the Louvre and 17 leading museums in Bulgaria as well. A lot of people have contributed to the exhibition and the accompanying events.
-    It is said that this exhibition will travel around the world after the Louvre.
-    I don't know, may be.  
-    What excites you personally most about it?
- The fact that for the first time these artifacts were exhibited together. They show a civilization - the Thracian one, which is not very known in France. They give a general idea of it. We know that the Thracians existed, but do not know anything about their civilization. There are many good exhibits that you and I, and all Bulgarians know well, but surely we've never seen them together. And this is the best, most precious in the idea - to present a full picture of the Thracian civilization. I really hope this exhibition to travel, so that more people around the world will have the chance to enjoy it.
-    Our Minister of Culture was criticized about the financial side of the event. Your view of the situation?
-    I do not have any specific information. I read in the Bulgarian press things related to the payment of the singers from "John Koukouzeles." I do not know how exactly the choir functions - whether its members are professional singers who receive a salary every month, regardless of the number of concerts, or are paid a honorarium, only when they have performances. I have no such information, so I can not say.
-    How did France support the event?
-    First, the Louvre financed part of the event - the exposure of the exhibition. The French side covered the cost of the transportation and packaging of exhibits, as well as the catalogue of the exhibition. It organized the Week of Bulgarian cinema. We searched support from Bulgarian maecenas. When I say Bulgarian maecenas I mean help from French companies, which are represented in Bulgaria and Bulgarian companies, which are interested in presenting the Bulgarian culture in France and the development of exchanges between France and Bulgaria, as well as those who wish to find partners in France.
-    While the "Epic of the Thracian Kings' is in Paris, two major exhibitions of the Louvre will be presented in Bulgaria. When will they open and what will they offer?
-    The first will be opened on May 22 at the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. It will present the Boscoreale treasure, a city next to Pompeii. It will contain silver and other objects - tableware for receptions and meals from the fund of the Louvre, which are really wonderful. The second exhibition will be opened in Plovdiv on June 17th. It will be dedicated to ancient Egypt.
There will be a smaller exhibition which will travel around various Bulgarian cities. It contains engravings and paintings of Andre Derain. It will be presented in some of the museums provided their exhibits for the exhibition in the Louvre. It is a complete exhibition, inspired by Boccaccio and will be opened in Kazanlak on 20 May.
-    One has the feeling that after such an event, whatever you do will pale. So from now on where and what in the cultural sphere?
-    First, next year we will sign an agreement between the Louvre and the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture. So we will continue our cooperation. It may not affect only the organization of other exhibitions, but also things that may not have such visibility, but are part of the exchange between the experts of both sides. In March, shortly before the opening of the exhibition, we organized a seminar, which was attended by restorers and directors of museums - Bulgarians and French. It was a useful exchange of experience.
Of course, we think about following exhibitions. We intend to show works of the French sculptor Aristide Maillol, who worked in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a much more contemporary sculptor - Cesar, who died several years ago. But it will be more complicated as the works are heavier and they are exposed in different museums. We thought about an exhibition of contemporary artists from the province. There are masterpieces in many museums in France as well as in private collections. They are not exposed in Paris, so they are difficult to be seen. We think about other major Parisian museums like the Orsay Museum and how to organize one or even two new Bulgarian exhibitions in France.
-    What is your professional dream, you want to fulfill as an ambassador in Bulgaria?
-    An ambassador has rarely only one such. The relations between France and Bulgaria have a very wide spectrum. But they develop within the European Union, therefore my mission and that of my predecessors and those who will come after me, is situated within this framework. There are 28  Member States in the European Union - too many and too different, and it is necessary to know each other better, so we can live together better. So my first goal is the Bulgarians to know better the French and vice versa the French to know better the Bulgarians.
In more specific terms I want the Bulgarians to have wider access to French food. 20-25 years ago, when I first came here there was nothing - no pizza, no Belgian beer. Now one can find Italian restaurants and Italian products everywhere as well as Belgian beer and all types of wines - Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, but there are fewer French products. I think they lack in Bulgaria and something needs to be done to fill this gap. Last November together with the French-Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry we presented French products. The event was a great success. I think we need to extend this project so that French products may be better known by the Bulgarians and to develop the exchange between the two countries in this field.
-    I want to ask you another question which is close to culture - how do you see the future of the Francophonie?
-    The Francophonie in Bulgaria is much weaker now than it was 25 years ago. Then about 12-15% of students used to study French. Now their number is considerably smaller - about 5%. I am very sorry for that. Not only because it is my native language, but because I think this is an important European and world language. It is spoken on all continents. For a young man, a young Bulgarian, knowledge of French is an advantage. Each of us has to speak English, it is lingua franca today. English is no longer an advantage. Knowing French, however, this is something different. This is the language of culture and law in EU ... There are Francophone departments in the Bulgarian universities that allow Bulgarians to study here in Bulgaria, in French, for example, the Technical University, the University of Food Technologies in Plovdiv.
-    What is your favorite Bulgarian and your favourite French  holiday?
-    I love Christmas in Bulgaria. Actually, since I got married, we have always celebrated this holiday, according to Bulgarian tradition. The same with Easter - we always have painted eggs, cake, etc. This does not exist in France. We have small chocolate eggs that we hide in the house and the children look for them. So we unite the two traditions - we fight with Bulgarian Easter eggs and snack French ones.
-    What do you do in your spare time, which I'm sure is not much?
I love travelling around Bulgaria. This weekend I was in the Rhodopes. I love the mountains, places where there are not many people. Very often I have unexpected, pleasant and interesting meetings. This allows me to discover other dimensions of Bulgaria - I know that your country is not limited to what Sofia is!


The photos are provided by the Embassy of the French Republic in the Republic of Bulgaria.

© Ivo Hadjimishev

The Exhibits on the photos are:
1. Regional Archaeological Museum in Plovdiv
2. National Institute of Archeology with Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
3. Sveshtarska Tomb