Humiliation of Notre Dame -The Guardian

The past mark of French Glory, the Notre Dame Cathedral, now finds it difficult to fund a Christmas tree. Read the full report from The Guardian. 

The Chinese have panda diplomacy. The Russians, it appears, prefer trees.

France may have just announced it is delaying the delivery of two warships to Russia in a protest over the crisis in Ukraine, but the French capital’s celebrated Notre Dame Cathedral, in the French capital, is boasting an impressive 25-metre-high Christmas tree courtesy of Moscow.

The gift, which reportedly cost €80,000 (£64,000) to transport and install on in the square outside the cathedral on an island in the river Seine, came after parishioners and local firms failed to raise enough funds for a seasonal tree. It was unveiled by Russia’s ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, on Saturday.

“This year, for the first time in the history of Paris, the Christmas tree has come from Russia,” Orlov told Paris-based Russian journalists invited to witness the occasion. “The tree is a message of peace,” Orlov said.

“We want to show by this gesture, that despite the efforts to isolate Russia, the friendship between our two countries is so strong and deep that no politics can destroy [it].”

A Paris-based Russian diplomat, Igor Tkatch, who organised the tree, added that it was “a marvellous symbol of the unity, fraternity and mutual understanding between Christian peoples”.

Russia’s recent generosity to France, however, has been more than seasonal goodwill. Accusations that the Kremlin was attempting trying to meddle meddling in French internal politics followed the revelation on Sunday that the Moscow-based First Czech-Russian Bank had lent the far-right Front National party €9m for its election fund.

The FN president, Marine Le Pen, said the cash-strapped party had been forced to look east for money, because French banks refused to lend to it.

Critics pointed out that Pen has criticised the French decision to refuse to deliver two Mistral-class warships being built in the Atlantic port of St Nazaire, and has made no secret of her respect for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin.

However, Le Pen said accusations that Moscow was influencing the party were “ridiculous, outrageous and offensive”.

In another unexpected show of goodwill, Russia pulled back from its threat of “serious consequences” if Paris reneged on the €1.2bn deal to supply the warships – the first of which France was supposed to hand over this month – and said it would “wait with patience”. François Hollande, the French president, delayed delivery “until further notice” because of concerns over Russian military action in eastern Ukraine.

Monseigneur Patrick Jacquin, the rector at Notre Dame, said he had appealed to several foreign embassies, including Austria’s, Ukraine’s and Russia’s, for donations after his congregation failed to come up with enough money for the tree.

“The Russian authorities were the most reactive and very quickly gave their green light,” Jacquin said. “Our church has no money,” he added.

Paris city hall said it had not been approached about financing a tree.

Understandably, the Russians have been making the most of their moment of злорадство (schadenfreude). “This year Parisians don’t have enough money to pay for their own Christmas tree,” reported the Russian media.

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