Mistranslation leads to tension between the US and Bulgaria

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A botched language translation of a speech given by James Warlick, the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, at the  “Europe as a Global Actor” Conference last week apparently infuriated Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov.  And since this is the age of the internet, President Parvanov took his beef directly to Facebook.

According to Novinite.com, during his speech at the conference, Mr. Warlick took the liberty of commenting on an ongoing dispute between President Parvanov and his Defense Minister, Anyu Angelov, on how much support the Bulgarian armed forces should provide for international peacekeeping interventions. President Parvanov is firmly in the “stay-at-home” camp, while the defence minister wishes to continue to honour Bulgaria’s commitments to its international partners, expanding the armed forces as necessary.

So when it was reported that Ambassador Warlick called the dispute a “farce discussion,” President Parvanov was not pleased. He posted the following statement on his Facebook page (and English translation is below):

“The discussion between President Georgi Parvanov and Defense Minister Anyu Angelov about the defense policy of the nation seems a little bit like a farce. This is what US Ambassador James Warlick said today. I will only point out that since the time of General Kaulbars, a special envoy of the Russian Emperor, no foreign envoy has ever behaved like that, like a governor-general. If there is something farcical, it is Warlick’s behavior.”

Historical footnote: General Kaulbars was sent to Bulgaria in the late nineteenth century after Prince Alexander I Batenberg abdicated. His mission was to influence events in Bulgaria according to what the Tsar wanted, and he took it very seriously. The Bulgarians sent him packing, and he’s been a despised figure ever since.

President Parvanov’s fiery statement garnered more than 145 likes and 57 comments. There’s only one problem: Ambassador Warlick never said the discussion was a “farce.” His actual statement was much more measured:  “It’s a little bit of a false discussion, and that’s what I would like to reflect on a little bit right now”.

Oops. The brouhaha provides one more illustration of the importance of accurate translation as well as the wisdom of working disputes out in person, rather than on Facebook.