Françoise Huguier. “Once upon a time there was a botanical garden” (29.09-27.10)

Minsk is one of the most amazing capitals I’ve ever had the chance to visit. Europeans imagine it to be austere but it has an inexhaustible energy. Almost entirely destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War, Minsk was rebuilt at the instigation of Stalin who wanted to make it the twin city of Saint Petersburg. This city has been able to appropriate the elements copied and imposed by the regime. The mosaic fronts of buildings, the kitsch interiors, the large avenues and public monuments in the city centre, some subway stations, even a few passers-by, are clearly reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s aesthetic. The first places I visit are the Botanical Garden and the Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War. Not much in common, but two fascinating experiences. Flower dresses and bronze busts populate the entire city and my mind. Old things have their place in the ultra-contemporary urban machine. Memory and ambition make here and now a unique household.  During my journey, thanks to the people who accompany me and the encounters I have made on the spot, I discovered captivating places and stories. Notably the story of the “Children of France”, these Belarusian nationals convinced to return to the USSR by Stalin’s envoys who promised them work and accommodation. They lost their French citizenship and never found the possibility to return in France. A few dozen of these people still live in Belarus. I had the chance to meet one of them, an ageless lady, French-speaking of course, whose memory still contains old songs dating back to before the 1914 war.  The French government recently decided to give them back their French citizenship.

The new life is organized around frozen history, nothing is monolithic. The varnish of the glorious past embedded in concrete is recovered with contemporary colours and experiences. I had no clear idea about Belarus and its history when I arrived. Today, I know more about its history but I am at the threshold of discovery. I told you, this country has many surprises in store for us.

Françoise Huguier
Joséphine Bisson

With the support of The Embassy of France in Belarus