The huge lake Ladoga, surrounded by forests, in the north of Saint-Petersburg.
Of all time, the forest produces in humans a mysterious attraction effect, both enchanting and frightening, the carrier of a symbolic charge powerful. Our staff member Monique Durand went to the encounter of forests here and elsewhere, imbued with meaning and dreams. Fifth of eight articles.
“I am Leonid “, can stumble along in there. I say : “Brezhnev ?” and the name of the one who ruled the USSR from 1964 to 1982. The complicity is immediate. Leonid speaks a word of French and two of English, and me, not a word of Russian. But it is crazy what you can understand without understanding. Taxi driver, in his sixties, he leads me to the winter Palace, a place of beauty and history. It is here that lived the tsars from 1762 until the revolution of October 1917, the year in which the Russian company has done a head-to-tail. I go out a few minutes in the taxi to see more about this place in the huge Palace, which overlooks the Alexander column and the headquarters of the museum of the Hermitage. I do fast because as Leonid does not have the right to park there. The time to take a few shots and I found this man serious telling off by a policeman who asks him for his papers. In front of a stranger, I feel this big guy humbled. We set off again. “Control ! Control ! ” he said, disturbed, upset. “I want to cry like a child “, he adds with his two words of English.
I would have in front of me, incarnated, this famous Russian soul, feverish, swift to joy and to tears, “that fascinates and frightens at the same time,” writes the French Myriam Desert, this soul which oscillate constantly between determination and oblomovchtchina ? Oblomovchtchina ? “Mix of complacency and resignation which would be attributable to the large capacity of endurance of the Russians “, explains the specialist in quebec Henri Dorion, whose mother was born in Russia.
In any case, I have adopted Leonid. It will be my driver-guide throughout my stay in St. Petersburg.
We walk along the south bank of the Neva river, this great river that runs through the city, like the Seine crosses Paris. Formerly, Leonid y sailed, chief engineer on the barges, which provided, among other things, the transport of timber, pine and birch mainly. He lost his job during the upheavals consequential to the passage, in the 1990s, from a centrally planned economy to a capitalist economy. It has had to reinvent itself a livelihood : the taxi.
Having always stayed near the water, birches and pines, he has a house in Vyritsa, forty kilometers south of St. Petersburg, on the banks of the Oredezh, at the edge of a forest. He spent all his summers.
The huge lake Ladoga
Tania Leskova, 40 years old, had started his career well away from the forests : in the workshops of fashion design. She had created a collection of wool called Chibo, style, south american, and dreamed of making his mark in the field. “The birth of my daughter has completely changed my life. “The trees came in great pomp through the eyes of his little Catherine. “I had never paid attention to an oak tree that is blooming. “And now, Tania begins to see, become a lover and dying of forests, lakes and camping.
The decoration of choice : the huge lake Ladoga, which is 17 times our lac-Saint-Jean, located in the north of Saint-Petersburg. In the middle of the ducks, eagles and otters, this place is closer to what it considered the essential. “I’m a believer. We are of christian tradition, you know. Here, the churches are still filled. “The bolsheviks had prohibited the religious practice in the name of State atheism and destroyed many churches. Under Stalin, the bloody dictator who reigned from 1929 to 1953, many Russians were sent to Siberia, in the hell of the gulag, because of their faith.
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Tania was born in 1980, ten years before the end of communism. “I remember the bunches of bananas all black that hung in the State stores, where there was nothing. Even today, I love bananas rotten, a delight ! “” I learned to sew from mom, she says, who earned her living through sewing. “Once a month, both went to La Grenouillère, a tavern decor, velvet green in the heart of Saint-Petersburg. “My mother drank a long coffee and me an ice-cream. I knew no other life and I was not unhappy, far from it. “
Early 1990s : end of communism, liberalization of the regime, the USSR is dismantled and becomes the Russian Federation. “When I saw the first fashion magazines that arrived from Germany, with women putting on makeup, wearing high heels, I discovered that another world existed. “
But let’s go back to the forest, dear to Tania, bordering the lake Ladoga, where she spent her summers with her little Catherine, who grows like a golden wheat. What had to happen happened : the tycoons of real estate are cleared, sparking grumbling and opposition. “We started to cut oak trees and to be constructed to build dachas, she said, dépitée. For how long will we return ? My husband has just come find us at the campsite for the weekend. The week, we are only women. I fear the violence. “
The passionaria of the oaks
Eugenia Tchirikova, a compatriot of Tania, dreaded the violence. She had organized a mobilization of citizens to save the Khimki forest, an ancient forest of oak and birch trees that we had cut down to build a highway between St. Petersburg and Moscow. The harassment of authorities and the fear that social services will pull him his two children have decided, in 2015, to go into exile to Tallinn, capital of Estonia, the new refuge of the Russian dissenters. “Ecology doesn’t matter to me, as to any person who does not want to be prevented from breathing,” said Eugenia, 44 years of age.
The M11 motorway was inaugurated last fall by Vladimir Putin. But the passionaria of the trees has not disarmed. Since his exile Estonian, it works to support the Russian civil society. “Of the hundreds of resistance groups have sprung up all over Russia. I trust that after Putin, they will be able to carry out changes towards democracy. “But they will have to be patient, because Putin has just put the Constitution in his hand. He could remain president until 2036 ! “A real coup, accompanied by propaganda and targeted repression “, according to the opponent Sergei Guriev, an economist, contacted in his exile in paris.
The evening fell. Leonid brings me back to the hotel along the river. I think this Russia that I will not be touched, as the breeze touches at this point the thread of the Neva river. In this society which considers that it has always been a victim of the contempt of the West and felt humiliated after the breakup of the USSR. This company used to be quiet, to which the policy stinks in the nose and that is far. I seem to see a chasm between an oligarchy in power, and a society of men and women starving other possible, who lives, sings, prays, and camped under the trees, found its freedom, otherwise confiscated in the public domain. “Our freedom is a surface only “, I had said to Anton, a student, a seller of matrioshka dolls bearing the likeness of president Putin, in front of the famous church of the Savior on the spilled Blood. While another student, two steps, drinking a beer in Russian called the American Illusion. Complex society, with its share of paradox and elusive.
Leonid drove slowly so that I can admire. Of emotion that is rare for Saint-Petersburg at night, which the lighting white, of an austere beauty, are reflected in the Neva river. The city becomes like a long moonlit forest.
Next week : the brothers of the forest.
This report has been funded with support from the Funds of international journalism Transat-Duty.