French euroskeptic makes faux pas at Lithuania's expense

  • 2006-03-01
  • By TBT staff

CHECK THE FACTS: Melenchon's slip of the tongue evoked a wave of apologies from French diplomats.

VILNIUS - A French politician's verbal mishap has angered Lithuanian politicians and even forced one MP to call for a public apology. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a state senator and a leading campaigner behind France's rejection of the European Constitutional Treaty last year, wrote on his Web site in January that Lithuania, an EU member, had refused to issue identity cards to 400,000 Russian-speaking persons and that Lithuania's Parliament paid pensions to former SS members.

In making his statements, Melenchon appeared to confuse Lithuania with Latvia, and when this was pointed out he detracted his original statement and apologized.

In Vilnius, questions were raised as to why the Lithuanian Embassy in France didn't react to the spurious charges, but diplomats were quick to point out that any reaction would have only benefited Melenchon, a leftist member of the Social Party who is notorious for his stance against EU expansion.

"We knew about the politician's statements from the very beginning. No response seemed the best way to react. He is a person with racist views, and a scandal is probably something he would want," Ambassador to France Giedrius Cekuolis was quoted by the Lietuvos Rytas as saying.

For its part, the Latvian Embassy decided not to sit idle and sent a letter of protest to Melenchon, even though the latter did not criticize Latvia.

When Lietuvos Rytas wrote to Melenchon explaining the mistake, he immediately replied with a long e-mail, admitting his faux pas and apologizing.

He was reminded that Lithuania granted citizenship to all minorities, including Russians, immediately after regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He was also told that a Lithuanian SS division never existed.

Melenchon said he felt no hostility toward Lithuania and Lithuanians, adding his opinion was stated in good will and based on information that he received from a reliable source.

Still, opposition MP Vytautas Cepas has urged the Foreign Ministry to request an apology from French Senator Jean-Luc Melenchon.

"This disgraces the Lithuanian image in the global community 's it is not true and it is slander. The ministry should without delay use its authorization and demand that the senator deny the information and make a public apology," said Cepas, a member of the Liberal Centrist group.