Address by Frédéric Mitterrand, Minister of Culture and Communication, on the occasion of the presentation of the insignia of Officer of the Order of the Legion of Honour to Henriette Walter, Knight of the Order of the Legion of Honour to Xavier North, from Officer of the National Order of Merit to Benoît Paumier, and from Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters to Amin Maalouf

Dear Henriette Walter,
It is a great pleasure for me to have you here today among
for this ceremony that rewards the linguist, the scholar, the
you are an exceptional popularizer.

Your childhood in Tunisia very quickly confronted you with the multiplicity of
languages, since you alternate the use of French (in family), Italian
(at school), Arabic and Maltese (on the street). This plurilingualism in the
Everyday life has certainly helped to forge your vocation as a linguist.

Your studies, brilliant, you conducted them under the direction of your
André Martinet, always dear to our memory for the brilliance he
gave to your discipline. And you had at heart to consecrate a thesis,
which was a landmark, in the Mauges, in the Loire Valley, where we detect
already your interest in regional languages, to which you have just
devote a series of shows on Canal Académie. Your long and rich
university background led you to specialize in the
phonetics and phonology, of which you are a world specialist, but
by also being interested in all other fields of knowledge
language, especially applied linguistics, linguistics
functional, etymology, language policy also, to which
you are generous enough to help.

I would like to dwell for a moment on this last point, which affects me
particularly, since as Minister of Culture, I also
in charge of the French language policy, for which I rely on
the general delegation to the French language and the languages of France.

Direct and natural consequence of your scientific expertise, you have
You were, among others,
member of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, and you are
President of the Specialized Commission on Terminology and
National Education Neology. You are also a member of the
of the General Commission on Terminology and Neology, where
decisions to be made when words
by a sudden effect of topicality or fashion, arise in
our language space, and to which we must seek an equivalent
to allow our language to remain “in exercise”.

You have always accepted with the best grace to work with the
delegation, to respond to its many requests, here to
participate in a symposium, there to provide him with a booklet, again, as I do
said, to work on the substance of the enrichment of our language. I
want here to thank you publicly and warmly

Alongside these stakeholder activities, which are played out in the discretion of
expertise, how not to mention also your very beautiful and very
useful work of popularizer, which made you known by a very wide
to which your many books have always been welcomed
triumphal. The day you appeared on Bernard Pivot’s set,
alongside Umberto Eco with which you jump to the screen in a
discussion, you have written a new unpublished page of the
linguistic: you have indeed revealed the capacity of this discipline
also to the general public. Since then, your publisher,
Leonello Brandolini – who is also mine – won’t dare refuse you again
whatever it is: I think of your multiple indexes so precious, that it is rare
to find outside specialized publications. You have been able to marry,
with Robert Laffont, the concern for the scientific requirement with
that of transmission.

In these walks through the adventure of words we offer your
books, your readers discover a formidable lesson of openness to
through the passage of words between languages and between
cultures. “Honni be who evil think about it”, devoted to the interactions between the
French and English already protected us against any sterile opposition
between two languages that so many things, on the contrary, bring together; as
you remind us so well, “languages are not islands”. And if we
want to know all about «The Amazing History of Mammal Names»,
or «The Mysterious History of the Name of the Birds», just consult
your scholarly and enlightening monographs (the latter not being,
contrary to its title, a dictionary of insults commonly
listed). As for the investigation you conducted with Bassam
Baraké on the lexical relations of French and Arabic, called the pretty
name of Arabesques, it makes an admirable contribution to the dialogue
between the cultures of the peoples of the Mediterranean.

In each of these works you give us a learned lesson and
smiling, inviting us to know others, as well as to know
better our history. I am thinking here of your advocacy for the rich heritage
regional languages of France. This plea, be sure, dear
Henriette Walter, parliamentarians had it in mind when, in July 2008,
they decided to include regional languages in our Constitution
as part of France’s heritage.

Your scientific and popularization work for diversity
France’s commitment to the plurality of linguistic
cultures and languages; your work legitimizes it, it comes
sensitize the French with a unique talent that far exceeds the public
specialists alone. I want to thank you both
solemnly and very warmly.

Dear Henriette Walter, on behalf of the President of the Republic and
of the powers vested in me, I give you the officer insignia
in the order of the Legion of Honor.

Dear Xavier North,
We were talking with Henriette Walter about French language policy:
within the Ministry of Culture and Communication, you are
today the artisan, after a remarkable career in the service of action
France’s external culture.

Last December, the Institut Français organized a beautiful exhibition in
the Sainte-Geneviève Library on the history of the French cultural network in
abroad. In one of the windows, there was this poster for a tour
of the Renaud-Barrault Company, signed by Jean-
Louis Barrault to your father, Philippe North, who was then director of
the Alliance Française of Bogotá. I understood, when I saw this poster, that
your dedication to France’s external cultural action was anchored
also in a filiation.

Born in Colombia, you travel the Americas during your childhood and
your adolescence, according to your father’s assignments in the network
Alliances Françaises: Argentina, Haiti, Canada. When you
enter the preparatory class at the Lycée Henri IV, so you are already equipped
unique international experience. After making your
students at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and passed your
You go as a reader to Oxford, where you animate -
already – translation workshops.

It follows a remarkable path in the French cultural network, within
which you will occupy strategic positions. First attached
in Boston, where you are setting up a program
missions in the field of humanities with the most
prestigious American higher education institutions that
are Harvard University and MIT, you are then attached cultural to
New York, where you are responsible for artistic exchanges and
audiovisual – a New York chapter where you organize between
other participations of French dance companies
to major American festivals, as well as
French photography exhibition programmes.

Later, it is in Rome that you take up your duties as adviser
cultural, by leading a very dense and emblematic network of our
bilateral cooperation. Despite your responsibilities and workload
which is yours at the Farnese Palace, you find time to participate in
numerous colloquia in the French study departments of
universities. A few years later, it is London where, as
as Cultural Advisor, you are also the Director of the Institute
in the United Kingdom. You facilitate all exchanges
French-British culture, whether in the linguistic field,
educational and university, with notably the Lycée Charles de Gaulle or
the French House of Oxford, or in the fields of exchanges
artistic, book or film – all these areas where, to resume
the beautiful title of one of your articles, diplomats must make themselves

This remarkable field experience was also very
when you were in the minister’s office, or in
Ministry of Foreign Affairs as public institutions of the
Ministry of Culture and
international relations of the Centre Georges Pompidou, for example, or
as a technical adviser in the office of the Secretary of State
in charge of international cultural relations of which you were also
the pen, or more recently, especially, as director of cooperation
cultural and French at the Quai d'Orsay. With your experience of
General Commissioner for France of the Israeli cultural season in
1996-1998, you have enriched the reflection on relevance and scope
of the cultural seasons.

You have generally developed a geostrategic vision very
rich in France’s external cultural action: few are the agents of
our two departments, the Quai d'Orsay and my department, which have a
vision. I am thinking in particular of your concern for better
take into account the geolinguistic areas in the definition of our
regional strategies in terms of cultural action. This approach comes
to feed, in a very happy way, the work that you are leading to
the head of the General Delegation for the French Language and the
France from my ministry.

Since 2004, you have substantially modernized the actions of the
General delegation, reorganizing for example this meeting very
in France as well as abroad, which represents the
French Language and Francophonie Week, with their themes
and their «ten words», drawn this year from the vocabulary of intimacy
and confession on the occasion of the tercentenary of Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, their prestigious sponsorships – this year’s Comedy
French. To be General Delegate to the French language is to be able
to reconcile the old and the modern, to ensure the respect of the law Toubon and
to promote multilingualism, to animate the debates of the Commission
general terminology and neology with the French Academy and
offer new digital tools to enrich our
language, like the recent wikiLF you just launched. On all these
you are present in your partnership with the National Agency
against illiteracy, by your force of proposal, with the
Ministry of the Interior, to promote French as a language
of integration, through the dynamism you are showing to ensure that France
present to its Quebec, Swiss and Belgian partners, by
your strong presence on the European ground where you defend, in particular
from the 2008 States General of Multilingualism during the
French Presidency of the Union, what you call a 'Realpolitik de
language” through your participation in all important events
to whom you represent me – I am thinking for example of Expolangues,
which you inaugurated on my behalf alongside President Abdou Diouf,
and where the Delegation enjoys a remarkable presence thanks to you and
to the work of your teams.

I would also like to mention your wise attention to the question
complex of regional languages, with the care with which you accompany
on behalf of the State the work of the Public Office of the Basque Language, or
Interregional Initiatives for the Occitan Language;
France which is said to be nonterritorial – I have a very good memory of this
together we have organized a tribute to the dialogue of languages and
between France and the Arab world, with these readings by the
participants of the Fabrique des Traducteurs, and the participation of
Jordi Savall and his wife, last May.

And since we speak the languages of France, I want to greet all
particularly your exemplary commitment to
organize, with the support of Michel Colardelle and the business
Guyana, the General States of Multilingualism in the
Overseas that I had the pleasure of closing a few weeks ago in
Cayenne. It took uncommon tenacity to build this
meeting where all overseas were represented, in order to get out of
the blind spot of our public policies this extraordinary heritage
languages of the French overseas territories, where some two and a half million
French has a mother tongue other than French.

Paying tribute to you today, it is also an opportunity to pay tribute to the
work of all the agents of the general delegation, entails by force
your convictions and the commitments they share with you.

Dear Xavier North, on behalf of the President of the Republic and
powers vested in me, I give you the insignia of knight
in the order of the Legion of Honor.

Dear Benoît Paumier,
Being a senior public servant means knowing how to take into account
own words, the reality of what is a public service mission to the
the noblest meaning of the word”. This requirement is yours, and I am,
you know it, very happy that you put it at the service of the
Culture and Communication, as well as your rigour and
strong sense of human relationships

At the end of the ENA – promotion Fernand Braudel 1987, you opt for a
position with the Ministry of Transport and the Sea, Business Office
of the commercial fleet to be more precise, in order to
strengthen your analytical capacity through a financial approach; but
also because there was a training course on board a container ship, which
has allowed you to criss-cross the ports of the North Sea. You
embark then for a professional course in all points

In 1990, you moved to the General Inspectorate of
Finance, where you develop your taste and appetite for
inspection and audit jobs, which are so useful to us today at
the General Inspection of Cultural Affairs.

It is during this period that you meet personalities
who, beyond the bonds of friendship that bind you, will play a decisive role
in your rapprochement with the fields of culture: Jean-Paul
Cluzel, who will call you to the Paris Opera and then to RFI; and
Guillaume Cerutti who, when he becomes Jean-Jacques' Chief of Staff
Aillagon, will offer you to take charge of international affairs

At the Paris Opera House, where you are the administrative director and
financial, you have the heavy task of ensuring the orderliness of
recommendations of the Gall report. You manage to play your calm
and your tact to mine sometimes passionate lands in order to
to initiate the necessary reforms to one of the most prestigious
public institutions of culture.
On the strength of this success, you become general manager of Radio France
International, alongside again Jean-Paul Cluzel who is then the
Finally, you can discuss international issues and anticipate
the changes that are expected at the beginning of this millennium, with the arrival of the
digital. You will help expand RFI’s FM relay network
in Eastern Europe and especially in the Middle East, convinced of the stakes
that these countries represent for the francophonie and cultural influence

During the Kosovo war, thanks to the messages of the
antennas installed by RFI in the region, you have been able to
take an active part in humanitarian action for the populations
displaced in Albania. During these four years at the head of RFI, you
take full measure of the public service mission that a
media that promotes our language in the world and
of our values.

With your extensive knowledge of international issues, you are
called by Guillaume Cerutti to the Ministry of Culture and
Communication in 2002, in order to take the lead of the
international affairs, then as a development and
International Affairs. You are working with conviction to
to impose a better consideration of international and
foreign experiences in the design of our cultural policies, in
highlighting in particular the international involvement of
public institutions of the Ministry on which you will write later a
reference report, setting up the process that will lead to
the European Digital Library, also contributing to
integration of higher education culture in the curriculum of
European diplomas LMD. Alongside diplomatic advisors Hélène
Duchene and Jean d'Haussonville, you also play a major role
in the work of pedagogy and conviction that will lead to the adoption of the
UNESCO Convention for the Promotion and Diversity of Expressions

In 2008, you take the famous “passage of truth” that separates
the Bons-Enfants of the rue de Valois, to enter the general inspection
cultural affairs. You are immediately entrusted with a first mission
the coordination of the ministry’s action during the
of the European Union. We know all that
you owe the organization in Versailles of a council of more than thirty
EU Ministers responsible for culture and communication,
on the way to the European digital library and the heritage label

Among the many files you follow at the General Inspection, I
would like to mention in particular the remarkable work you have done
made at my request on aid to African cinema, with Patrick
Olivier. In the thicket of existing devices – between ours and those
of our European partners, a concerted effort was more than
necessary, as I did in Amiens a few months ago, inspired by
very largely from your valuable report on a subject that is very dear to me.

Last fall, you were the French curator for the festival
Estonian culture in France, «Estonian tonic», in partnership with
the French Institute: you have given us the full measure of your qualities
programmer and organizer, highlighting and
discover, for three months, all facets of Estonian culture.

The Estonian President has brought you into the order of the Terra Cross

Through your conferences on European cultural relations and
at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, you will
also be concerned to transmit to the younger generations this
A unique experience that is yours on all fronts of culture.

For your sense of public service and the invaluable contribution of tact and
experience that you bring to your missions, for your
remarkable openness to international issues, for your involvement
in the work of the General Inspection of Cultural Affairs,
Benoît Paumier, on behalf of the President of the Republic, we make you
Officer of the National Order of Merit.

Dear Amin Maalouf,
Today, it is a great honour to be gathered here to make you
tribute and to celebrate your work.

I would first like to say a few words about your background and
French language. You were born in Beirut, in these scales
on which you wrote such a beautiful novel, and your relationship
in French is the result of a succession of events.

You once said: For me, [French] was only the
language of school, I never spoke it at home or on the street. If you
told me at the time that I would live my adult life in France, that
I would write in that language, and I would come to feel French,
I would have shrugged my shoulders in disbelief. But that’s exactly what
that happened... » And you also say that by leaving Lebanon in
moment of its terrible war, French, your «shadow language» is
became your daily language; and it took, you add, that this
in my life so that literature, which was
my secret garden, also begins to invade my public life.”
thanks to these chances of life that gave us a great writer, whose
the considerable work does so much honour to our language that, as
were elected to the Académie française last year.

A most deserved consecration for a writer who lives in our language
with so much talent, passing between cultures without giving up any,
exalting their singularities, bringing them to the universal.

To illustrate this point, I would like to mention one of your works, perhaps
less known, and yet so enlightening in your view of the world. It
is the libretto of the opera L'Amour de loin, whose music we owe to
the Finn Kaija Saariaho, who was represented in Salzburg and here at
Paris, at the Châtelet Theatre: Lebanon, Finland, Austria, France, this simple
statement already says your cosmopolitanism. But this is the very theme of
the argument that interests me here. Love from afar takes us back to the 12th century,
in the time of the Crusades and also in the end'amor, the courteous love of
Jaufré Rudel, Prince of New York, Prince of
Blaye, for an ideal lady. A pilgrim returning from the Holy Land learns to
Jaufré that her feminine ideal exists, under the features of Clemence, countess
of Tripoli. Jaufré Rudel will take the sea to go and meet her but, eaten
of doubt and illness, will arrive dying in Lebanon. The countess having
learned that her distant lover had come to join her goes to her
bedside. Jaufré, having a moment covered «the eye and the hearing», can tell him
his eternal love and dies in the arms of his beloved.

This magnificent story is a perfect metaphor for your desire to
bringing cultures and beings together. The end'amor, born in Occitan, launches a theme
throughout the European and Mediterranean world. I see a
universal theme, that of brotherhood, the call of the distant, the
dialogue between cultures, between languages. I read the exact opposite of a
withdrawal of an attitude based on an exclusive identity
and excluding - the very one that, in a brilliant essay, you qualified
“deadly identity”.

You can see, behind your work as a novelist and essayist, there is a
political vision of relations between peoples. Here we must mention a work
important, the one you gave to the European Union by chairing the
group of intellectuals for intercultural dialogue, in 2008. Your
report, entitled A Salutary Challenge: how the multiplicity of languages
could strengthen Europe,” concludes the magnificent idea that
each European learns «a personal adoptive language», guided
that it would be (and I quote you) by a whole bunch of motivations
personal relationships related to the individual or family journey, emotional ties, and
professional interest, cultural preferences, curiosity
I see in this notion, in this concrete utopia, your
“obsession with building bridges between cultures”, wanting to establish a
fruitful and peaceful dialogue between people.

Through the prism of languages and cultures, this report asks more questions
on the meaning of the European project, which you have summarized in two
If it is essential for Europe to encourage the
diversity of cultural expressions, it is equally indispensable
to affirm the universality of essential values. These are two aspects
the same credo without which the European idea would lose its meaning.”
a few words, you have, dear Amin Maalouf, said much more and
much better than many of Europe’s leading thinkers.

The work of Amin Maalouf, it is also these unforgettable characters who
have reached a very large audience: in the 16th Italian
Baldassare Castiglione and Benvenuto Cellini, the Andalusian Hassan al-
Wazzan, said Leon the African, became the geographer and intellectual of the great
Pope of the Renaissance, Leo X. Or the lover of knowledge and
faith, the poet and scholar, the astronomer of genius against all fanaticism,
Omar Khayyām in Samarkand.

In this personal research, which all your work illustrates, we
recognizes the humanist, the man of synthesis and tolerance, the man
peace, culture and conviction. These outstanding qualities you have
commitment to the dialogue of languages and
France’s political will to build a cultural
multipolar world, where each cultural expression brings to humanity
its gaze, and feeds on others without abdicating its singularities. It is
this contribution to intercultural dialogue, which makes your
work and your commitments: I wanted to remember him, greet him and you
Thank you very much.

Dear Amin Maalouf, on behalf of the French Republic, we make you
Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.