President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Mr Mayor Delanoe,
Ms Minister, Ministers, Deputies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy for this opportunity to speak in this wonderful hall at the historic Hotel de Ville. First of all, I would like to thank you, Mr Mayor, as well as all the residents of Paris, for a warm and friendly welcome.
For Russia’s citizens and for me personally, France has always been associated with the legendary, mysterious, and alluring city of Paris. Millions of people strive to visit this city, and once upon a time, I was among them. It finally happened for the first time 18 years ago, and my first visit will always remain in my memory. To this day, I still have vivid recollections of the moments I spent here.
Unfortunately, you only have one chance to visit a place for the first time. But every time I come to Paris, I find myself in a special frame of mind. And today, my delegation and I are particularly lucky to be visiting the city on a day with such good weather.
We see Paris as a most popular tourist destination, but it’s more than that. Since the age of Enlightenment, Russia has been enormously influenced by French culture and language, by your scientists and great thinkers. Catherine the Great, who maintained a correspondence with Voltaire and Diderot, purchased their personal libraries which today are kept at the National Library of Russia in St Petersburg.
We are proud that, as you just mentioned, immigrants from our country have left a bright and distinctive imprint on the French culture. These include Henri Troyat, Elsa Triolet, Marc Chagall, Leon Bakst, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Diaghilev and many others – I could go on for a long time. Today, the Russian Diaspora plays a notable role in the capital of France, strengthening the friendship and trust between the peoples of our nations. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Russian community for this contribution.
The history of our relations can also be seen in our architectural monuments. One of the most beautiful bridges over the Seine is named after Alexander III. As you know, it was laid in the presence of Emperor Nicholas II in honour of the Franco-Russian union, while the Trinity Bridge over the Neva River in St Petersburg was built with help from French engineers.
It is also symbolic that one of the Paris metro stations is named after the heroic battle of Stalingrad. The courageous fight waged by the Red Army, whose ranks included brave French pilots, helped bring all of us closer to victory in the Second World War.
In August of last year, we marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. Russian immigrants also participated in the Resistance. This year, we will be holding major events to honour the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory. The memory of our joint struggle and our camaraderie during the war strengthens the foundation of friendship between the peoples of Russia and France. I would especially like to note that we have always enthusiastically shared common interests.
Today, as Russia builds a new society, the conditions are better than ever before to ensure greater cooperation between our nations and increase our cultural interpenetration based on common human values. This will also influence our interstate relations and relationships between our citizens. That, perhaps, is what’s most important. It is this goal we pursue by serving our nations.
I am certain that this year of shared culture – Russian culture in France and French culture in Russia – will be very successful. We will be holding nearly four hundred cultural events, but even they do not reflect the full range of relations between our nations and our cultures. What is truly essential is for the humanitarian and economic relations between our nations to be boosted following these cultural exchanges. I am certain that this will work.
I hope that the Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia, which are being launched today, will be memorable for all of us and become another piece of evidence demonstrating the friendly relations between our nations and our peoples.
I would like to once again warmly thank you for your invitation to speak here. I wish continued prosperity to the city of Paris and happiness to its people. I hope that the friendship between our two nations will be strengthened.