31 december 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets with Russian Minister of Culture Alexander Avdeyev and sculptor Vladimir Surovtsev

The conversation covered the project to erect a monument in central Paris commemorating Russian soldiers. Culture Minister Avdeyev explained that this project stems from an agreement between the Russian and French prime ministers.

Transcript of the beginning of the meeting:

Alexander Avdeyev: Mr Putin, your agreement with Prime Minister Francois Fillon to erect a monument to the Russian soldier in central Paris is one of the many interesting results to come out of the Year of France in Russia and the Year of Russia in France. The French party gave a lot of consideration to this agreement... 

Vladimir Putin: It is not far from the bridge, is it? 

Alexander Avdeyev: That’s right.

Vladimir Putin: It is a very good location. 

Alexander Avdeyev: They have allotted an excellent plot of land – the one you saw – 300 metres from the monument to General Charles de Gaulle, the ideal spot. The Paris Mayor’s Office held a competition, and our sculptors, including those from the Grekov Studio, took part in it alongside the French. Vladimir Surovtsev’s work won. He has already made trial models and cast a smaller version of this sculpture, which the French liked very much. Mr Surovtsev wants to say a few words.   

Vladimir Putin: Please, go ahead. 

Vladimir Surovtsev: Thank you, Mr Putin. I believe you remember the ceremony that you and I attended at which a monument to the Normandie-Niemen squadron was unveiled. The French still have very warm memories of it. Our veteran pilots, French veterans and pilots flying today – all agree that this is the most aviation-oriented monument there is. This is the best reward any of us could want.  

I am just back from Paris where I discussed our project with Mr Mitterrand (French Culture Minister Francois Mitterrand). Every time I visit Paris I go to the Pere Lachaise Cemetery where, also at your suggestion, we erected a monument to Russians who fought in the Resistance Movement in France. It is really heartening to see fresh flowers by the monument whenever I happen to pay it a visit. It is genuinely pleasing. People take flowers to this cemetery, one of the most respected places in Paris, and do this sincerely, regardless of whatever top-level decisions may be being made. You know that Honore de Balzac, Frederic Chopin and Edith Piaf – the pride of France – are buried there. I hope that our monument will take its place among them, and that the French will show affection for it. We’ll do our best to make this happen.

I would like to convey the very best regards from the Russian émigré community in France to you. They held their meeting on the Day of St Andrew the First-called, December 13; they appreciate the help that you and Mr Avdeyev have rendered to the Cossack Museum.

Vladimir Putin: Has it been renovated?

Vladimir Surovtsev: Yes, it has. Alexander Trubetskoi said: “Should you have the opportunity, please give Mr Putin our compliments.” They uttered words of gratitude many times, during that meeting: “Thank you Russia, our Motherland remembers us.” 

We call this design Spring Brook. I believe that you as someone who is not indifferent to, among other things, equestrian sport, will readily understand this. The idea is simple enough: Who were those soldiers? Peasants who had already seen their fair share of action. It was 1916. And a horse drinking. As simple as that. I am really glad that the French accepted our design for the monument. I am sure it will be no less impressive than the monument to (the 19th-century) General Mikhail Skobelev which was erected in Pleven, Bulgaria, and which also received your support. After  the monument had been erected, the Bulgarians shook my hand and said: “Volodya, it feels like this monument has always been here.” I cannot conceive of any higher appraisal.

This (points to the model) is a monument to our soldiers: 5,000 of them lie buried in the city of Noyers-Saint-Martin.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Here it (the model) even looks different from the picture.

Vladimir Surovtsev: Scale always lends these things more vigour, power and strength. The émigré community also back this monument because it gives an impulse to a serious discussion, at your suggestion, of that great war of 1914 to 1917. 

Vladimir Putin: About our history, which is sadly somewhat forgotten.

Alexander Avdeyev: First, some raised questions: Why put horses in the French Army? There weren’t any horses in their army. It turned out that our Expeditionary Force took their horses to France. Documentaries and photos of our servicemen on horseback survive to this day.

Vladimir Putin: Beautiful. Which way will it be facing? Overlooking the Seine? That way?

Vladimir Surovtsev: The Seine is to the left, and the monument will stand like this (shows the design for the monument), as you see it now. Here is the Seine, and here is Grand Palais. It is the most remarkable location. We have two bridges here:  Pont des Invalides and Pont Alexandre III. A Russian district of sorts.

Vladimir Putin: My congratulations, again.

Vladimir Surovtsev: Thank you.