VIVE LA FRANCE! "Long Live Ukraine!," proclaimed Charles de Gaulle during his forgotten visit to Kyiv

Love for France and interest in the mysterious figure of General de Gaulle stirred Kyiv. I remember thousands of people lining the streets in June day in 1966, anxiously waiting for the appearance of the exalted French guest.

There is also a special family memory in this kaleidoscope of events: my daughter, who had just learned to pronounce her first words, kept repeating her own version of "de Gaulle" while sitting comfortably on my shoulders. Finally he appeared for only a moment-of giant height, gray-haired, imposing, in an open car – and, unable to address the cheering crowd, he just kept waving his hand at it.

Nevertheless, the French President did say what he intended during his brief two-day visit to Kyiv on June 27-28, 1966. As soon as General de Gaulle stepped on Ukrainian soil, he stated, "Ukraine and France have a long history of friendship and mutual respect. Strong ties between our countries have existed for many centuries, and the events that took place in your city of Kyiv during the war only confirmed these sentiments on the part of France." At the reception in Mariyinsky Palace, de Gaulle delivered a brief lecture on the history of French-Ukrainian relations: "We in France have known for a long time, and I would say even for centuries, what Ukraine is. We have a special, heart-felt attitude to Ukraine and its people. We know the role of Ukraine and especially Kyiv in the gradual evolution of Great Rus'.

"You know what your princes had done to this cause, making sure that this wonderful country was not strangled by invaders in its cradle.

"With regard to our relations and ties, I should say that they are very strong and ancient. Let me give you two examples. The first, and the oldest one: Anna, the daughter of Kyiv Prince Yaroslav the Wise, was the wife of French King Henry I. And the second example. I would like to remember the captured French soldiers that were brought to this land by the enemy..."

What a bizarre situation! The high-ranking Kyiv officials kept saying trivial phrases such as "we in Ukraine, just like everyone else in the Soviet Union...; the Ukrainian people, just like all other peoples of our multinational country..." Now, while leafing through the yellow pages of old newspapers, one gets the impression that the banner of Ukrainian patriotism was then lifted for a short moment by a Frenchman instead of a Ukrainian.

The two short phrases "Long live Kyiv! Long live Ukraine!" obviously stretched the limits of diplomatic protocol. The French President intentionally pronounced them twice: upon arrival and departure from Kyiv. What meaning did General de Gaulle put in them? Today we can only speculate. It is known that the French President personally requested a trip to Kyiv during his visit to the Soviet Union. Taking a great interest in French and world history, he wanted to experience first-hand a cradle of European civilization. Of note was also the general's unfailing habit to thoroughly weigh each and every word before saying anything, so one can suppose de Gaulle did not honor Kyiv and Ukraine by accident.

Then who did the French President address his words to? To the Ukrainian political elite? But it did not exist back then, because there was no state, there was the so-called Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic – an "inseparable constituent of the USSR," which de Gaulle conspicuously called "the Ukrainian Republic." Perhaps, he addressed millions of Ukrainians at large? Unfortunately, his words remained unheard at the time, and now, for some unknown reason, nobody in independent Ukraine ever recalls that special visit.

The French President's slogans on Ukrainian soil seem akin to the words he said from the balcony of Montreal City Hall during his 1967 visit to Canada: "Long live free Quebec!" It is true that he did not use the word "free" during his visit to Ukraine, but he also did not use the word "Soviet," which was then part of the country's official name. De Gaulle could not stand ideological cliches. The French President's address to the French Canadians caused a great scandal between official Ottawa and Paris; however, a similar scandal did not occur between Moscow and Paris. The Kremlin did not react to de Gaulle's statements or simply ignored them: Soviet authorities were aware of a global diplomatic game the French President had initiated. He had already announced his country's decision to leave the NATO military organization and, apparently in a move to support France's national interests, had turned to the East in search of new allies.

Back then the USSR, the owner of a powerful strategic nuclear arsenal, seemed one huge monolith, and western political scientists racked their brain over the question of who will defeat whom. De Gaulle was one of the first politicians who realized that the Cold War was coming to an end and who put forth a new concept of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Once he said that he had done many wrong things, but had never had wrong visions of the future. In the 1930s, as an almost unknown officer of the French army general headquarters, he predicted the imminence of World War II, France's defeat, creation of an anti-German coalition, and victory over Nazi Germany. In 1940, when France had already lost in the war, de Gaulle turned out to be more far-sighted than Stalin. "I think," he said, "that Russia will enter the war sooner than the United States, but both these countries will eventually participate in it... Hitler raves about Ukraine. He will not be able to resist the temptation of deciding the fate of Russia, and this will be the beginning of his demise. On the whole, the war is a terrible problem, but it can be solved. It is necessary to bring France back into the victorious camp."

Is it possible that back in the sixties the French President envisioned an independent Ukraine in the framework of his new concept of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals? Positive answers to this question are, of course, inappropriate, but the assumption itself is not entirely groundless. De Gaulle, as one of the most far-sighted twentieth century politicians, might have imagined Ukraine a part of Central Europe under the French leadership. Perhaps, he just thought that the time for it had not come yet. But whatever the case, the sincere support and message that the great French President gave us at the time when the word "Ukraine" itself was essentially under a ban, will always be unforgettable for us.

This summer, 22 years after de Gaulle's visit to Kyiv, we proclaim,

"Long live Paris!"

"Vive la France!"

Photo:
General de Gaulle