French Chief Curator Returns Legion of Honor in Protest of Saudi Prince’s Decoration

He's taking a stand against Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record.

François Hollande is himself a Grand Master of the Legion since 2012. He's wearing the gold and red insignia of a Grand Cross.

Alain Nicolas, former chief curator of the Museums of France, has returned his French Legion of Honor in protest of the same honor being awarded, on March 4, to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Ben Nayef bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, La Liberation reports. 

In an open letter to French president François Hollande, Nicolas announced that he was returning his medal, awarded to him in 2002 by then president Jacques Chirac, calling Hollande’s diplomatic gesture “an unbearable personal and collective insult.” Nicolas, an anthropologist and pre-historian, explained in his letter, “I ​​do not wish to appear alongside such personalities who do not share the human and democratic values of France.” Nicolas holds the distinctions Chevalier of the Legion of Honor and Officer of the National Order of Merit.

Former Chief Curator of Museums of France adressed President Hollande in a letter

The Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, who’s also the Minister of Interior of Saudi Arabia, was decorated by French President Hollande discreetly (some may say secretly) in early March for his “efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism,” the daily paper Le Figaro reports. Prince Nayef’s visit was included in the president’s official agenda, but was not communicated by the Elysee Palace. It was the Saudi Press Agency SPA that first reported the decoration of the Crown Prince. According to La Liberation, the prince had himself asked for the award. 

When the news spread back to Europe, Hollande came under fire by critics on both the left and the right. Julien Bayou, spokesperson of the green party EELV, has pointed out that during his candidature, Hollande promised “not to invite dictators to Paris.”

Jean-luc romero

French politician, writer, and equal-rights activist Jean-Luc Romero, who revealed in 2002 that he was HIV positive, took to Twitter to remind Hollande of the constant human rights violations taking place in Saudi Arabia, and posted Amnesty International’s infograph showing the number of executions in SA, which already counts more than 70 since the beginning of this year. 

Others have also refused to accept the decoration following the news. French actress Sophie Marceau, who at first did not comment on the reason behind her refusal to accept the award in early March, has finally revealed her motives in a tweet on March 8. She posted an article from Le Monde that says the Saudi regime carried out 154 executions in 2015, adding, “That’s why I refused the Legion of Honor.”

The Legion of Honor, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, is France’s highest decoration. It is often awarded to notable figures in arts and culture, and was recently given to artist Carl Andre and gallerist Paula Cooper. Other art world figures who hold the distinction are artists Richard Serra, and Chinese artist Zhang Huan, among others.

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