Russian influence in Europe: ‘USD 187 mln pastiche in UNESCO-protected site': media on Russian ‘spiritual centre' in Paris

19:53 Oct. 19, 2016

‘USD 187 mln pastiche in UNESCO-protected site': media on Russian ‘spiritual centre' in Paris

Russian 'spiritual centre' in Paris (by

European and American media reacted critically on the pathetic Russian Orthodox ‘spiritual centre' in the Paris downtown

The Guardian sees the Cathedral as "pastiche" and inappropriate building for this a UNESCO-protected site, directed to make an image of Russia as a huge powerful country.

Media described it as ‘a vast Russian "spiritual and cultural centre" crowned by a golden-domed Orthodox cathedral – widely seen as a grand expression of Moscow's quest to project an image of itself as a powerful, religious country'.

The construction project has also been marred by architectural, financial and political disputes. French officials have expressed concern that the building is a stone's throw from a sensitive government compound. As well as housing France's supreme magistrate's council, the neighbouring Palais de l'Alma contains the Élysée Palace's postal service and the private apartments of senior presidential advisers.

Then-Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, described the plans drawn up by architect Manuel Núñez Yanowsky – featuring five golden onion domes, white limestone, and glass – as "pastiche", "mediocre," and "utterly inappropriate for the site".

After François Hollande succeeded Sarkozy as France's head of state in 2012, French heritage officials issued further criticisms, before Russia withdrew its first application for a building permit. The project was then redesigned under the supervision of architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, and a building permit was issued in December 2013. 

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Pan European Web-media The Local emphasized on political role of this "spiritual" place and its location. The project reportedly sparked concerns from France's intelligence agencies because of its proximity to nearby government buildings, including the foreign ministry just a short walk along the Seine, media tells.

"You could link this project to pastoral needs, but it also likely a desire by Russia to open a cultural and religious showpiece in Paris beyond its embassy," writer and Orthodox priest Christophe Levalois told AFP.

Paris already has an Orthodox cathedral, the Saint Alexandre Nevsky built by the Russian community in 1861, but it is aligned with a different branch of Orthodoxy based in Istanbul – rather than Moscow which is seen as more politicised.

Antoine Arjakovsky, a historian linked to Saint Alexandre Nevsky, stressed the "strange and problematic ambiguity" of the project, financed by a theoretically secular Russian state, which "mixes religion and politics a stone's throw from the Elysee (presidential palace) and the foreign ministry."

As well as opening at a difficult time in Franco-Russian relations, it is also awkward for French President Francois Hollande amid a feverish national debate in France about the role of religion in public life after a string of attacks by Islamic extremists.

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French daily La Depeche pointed that opening ceremony was very modest and without Putin, who cancelled his visit, planned much in advance, because of tension in relations of France and Russia. Russia was presented by the Minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky.

The Russian president, who had canceled his scheduled visit of long-standing, last week, in full quarrel between Paris and Moscow on Syria question, has sent a message read by his Minister of Culture, saying that center is "the testimony of the solidity of the Franco-Russian bilateral relations".

In a statement, Vladimir Putin named the canter a symbol of the "desire of the peoples of our two countries for a constructive dialogue and cooperation". The Russian president, who has called the project "very difficult", has, however, thanked the French authorities for their "continued support". 

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Ouest-France newspaper mentioned that the only French on the ceremony was Paris city mayor. The author also told that Cathedral is not popular among Russian orthodox in France. 

"The Russian minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinski, the Russian ambassador in France, Akexandre Orlov, was presented at the inauguration. In contrast, no French authority has announced its participation in the event," report states.

But this new location is not so happy among the orthodox of Russian origin in France. It related to the archbishop of the rue Daru in Paris, which is dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Media see it as a tendency of extension of the Muscovite Church territory on Paris. This Church is considered more conservative and nationalist, and continues to support Vladimir Putin's exercise of power, author stresses. 

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Voice of America emphasized on the dramatic period of Russian-French relations that was a reason Putin was absent on the opening ceremony. "It's not time for ‘red carpet' opening", author says.

"Yet even before its inauguration Wednesday, the new 7 million Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center has provided the backdrop for high drama, underscoring geopolitical tensions, partisan sniping and the complicated relations among the Russian diaspora here," report reads.

"People shouldn't read all of Russian politics through this cathedral," says Orthodox theologian Jean-Francois Colosimo. "It's much more complex. In all Orthodox countries, cultural diplomacy passes through religion."

That was before hostilities in Ukraine led to European Union sanctions against Moscow, and before Russia's intervention in Syria deepened tensions with the West, VOA stresses.

Russia's diaspora is riven by historical and religious divides, with some of its churches loyal to Moscow and others to the rival Patriarchate of Constantinople. Over the years, Russia has steadily gained control over former church property in France that dates to tsarist times. The Russian church is now eyeing other property, including a cemetery in the city partially managed by the old diaspora. 

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