A flippant remark by actor Javier Bardem during the Paris presentation of a documentary on Sahrawi refugees has triggered a serious diplomatic conflict between France and Morocco.
The No Country for Old Men actor went to the French capital on Thursday to advertise the premiere of Sons of the Clouds: The Last Colony, a documentary he produced. The film, which was completed two years ago, explores the human rights violations and the hardship experienced by people in Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony that was occupied by Morocco when Madrid pulled out in 1976. Western Sahara remains on the United Nations list of non self-governing territories.
During the presentation, Bardem remarked that in 2011 a French ambassador in the United States had privately told him that to France, Morocco was like "a lover you sleep with every night, whom you're not particularly in love with but must defend. In other words, we look the other way."
The actor's words were published in Le Monde and other French media outlets, causing an immediate reaction by the government of Morocco.
On Sunday the Moroccan communications minister, Mustapha Khalfi, demanded explanations from Paris "beyond a simple statement by the Foreign Ministry to repair the damage done by those words, whether they were falsely attributed or real."
Khalfi called the remarks "scandalous and unacceptable" and said they "are a blow to all Moroccans."
Meanwhile, several thousand people protested in Rabat in front of the French Embassy. On Monday, with the crisis still raging, French President François Hollande was forced to get on the phone with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. While no details of the conversation have emerged, both leaders agreed to "work in the spirit of the exceptional relations that unite Morocco and France."
Bardem told EL PAÍS on Wednesday that he regretted the way his comment had been blown out of proportion, adding that he had not revealed anything that was not in the film. “France and Spain last year opposed an historic initiative by the United States to set up a human right supervision mechanism in the Sahara. The [UN[ Minurso mission will be renewed this April and the only important thing is to debate that. This is a feeling which is clearly neither anti-Moroccan nor anti-French; it is simply pro-human rights.”
Meanwhile, the Spanish production company Morena Films, which has ties to Bardem, issued a statement on Monday clearing up that the comments were not made by the French ambassador to the United States, but by the representative before the United Nations, Gérard Araud.