Tuesday 9 December 2014

The prickly problem of the Russian Christmas tree

The tallest Christmas tree in Paris this December is also the thorniest. Standing almost half the height of the Notre Dame towers, this impressive evergreen was not paid for by parishioners or the city of Paris, but by the Russian government. With tensions running high between Moscow and other European capitals, this gift - or gesture of geopolitical grandstanding - is a feast for the eyes, but something of an embarrassment for the French state.

According to the Le Parisien newpaper, a call for donations earlier this year to churchgoers and local shopkeepers only brought in €30,000 - a long way from the sums being quoted by suppliers. "The church has no money" explained Archbishop Patrick Jacquin, who then reached out a little further for donations. Step forward Paris-based Russian diplomat, Igor Tkatch, who organised not only for a tree to be found in Russia, but also for its transport across thousands of kilometres on the back of a truck.

Although the church paid for the installation of the tree on the parvis, the remainder of the bill was picked up partly by the Russian embassy in Paris, partly by the Russian government itself. It must have seemed a small price to pay to place such a symbol on the French Point Zéro

As British paper The Guardian reports, Russian diplomats denied accusations of provocation, instead describing the tree as a marvellous symbol of the unity, fraternity and mutual understanding between Christian peoples.” This gesture of friendship though has not stopped Russian media from a little gloating. This year Parisians don’t have enough money to pay for their own Christmas tree,” declared the state TV channel, whilst French-language journal 'Le Courrier de Russie headlined its report "Moscou sauve Notre-Dame de Paris d’un Noël sans sapin."
This mischief making by the Russians - in fact a gift placed in their lap by church authorities - is a little embarrassing for the city of Paris. They have stated that they were not asked to contribute, but given strict secular guidelines, it is unlikely that they would have provided any resources. The French church has declared itself surprised by media reaction, but it seems likely that they have in fact instrumented the story in order to draw attention to their own supposed poverty.

"I hold out my hands to anyone who is not happy and wishes to pay for the tree next year" declared Archbishop Patrick Jacquin to France's religious daily La Croix. "I find it very good that for once we discover that the church has no money." He also pointed out that the church has already opened discussions with the Ukraine for next year's tree.

There remains one final mystery. At the inauguration ceremony on November 22, a plaque was added thanking the Russian ambassador for his generosity. This plaque has now been removed, although its not clear by whom exactly!


Findia Group said...

This is not a very big problem

Adam said...

Well it is approximately 30 metres high...

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