June 29 marked the 120th anniversary since the birth of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. He is well-known not only as a pilot and a writer, but also, most importantly, the creator of “The Little Prince” (The Little Prince), one of the most favorite books of the older generations of people.
In Russia, he is a household name for many older people and almost all students of the departments of foreign languages, as The Little Prince is the staple book for everyone studying French there. Saint-Exupéry is also a very prominent figure in Moscow where came for a few weeks in April 1935 and suddenly met with his fellow writer Mikhail Bulgakov. According to his contemporaries, he tried to understand the soul of Russia. On May 17, 1935, Saint-Exupéry was the only foreign reporter to fly over the city in the huge Maxim Gorky plane just a day before it crashed. Some accounts claim that Mikhail Gromov, the legendary Soviet test pilot, gave him a ride. The trip to the Soviet Union resulted in Saint-Exupery’s six essays on this country.
Moscow welcomed Saint-Exupéry, who was viewed as a citizen of the world. Monuments and portrait sculptures to him are erected in different parts of Russia. Many educational institutions are named after him. His nephew Hervé de Saint-Exupéry, a member of the Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation and Lieutenant Colonel of the French Air Force, visited Moscow twice with his adolescent children. After the first meeting with the Russian pilots Igor Volk and Mstislav Listov, his daughter Alban decided to become a pilot too. And today she already flies aircraft.
The Saint-Exupéry Library and Cultural Center in Moscow was a prominent cultural and educational phenomenon closely associated with the name of Saint-Exupéry for over a decade. It got his name in 2008 and was later headed by Mstislav Listov, a popular reporter, documentary filmmaker and test pilot. Unfortunately, today, this unique cultural institution with an aerospace status and European fame, has almost been eliminated through the workings of Moscow City’s “cultural officials” but the name of Saint-Exupéry is cynically exploited by them against the will of his heirs expressed in letters to Vladimir Putin and Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow.
As told by members of the board of trustees, Vladimir Gasoyan, the hero of the Soviet Union, and Sergei Nefyodov, the hero of Russia, it was in this odd way that Moscow City authorities decided to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s birth.
“Alas, this is the final stage of attempts on Saint-Exupéry for the last six years. At first, the cultural center almost became a victim of the notorious “optimization.” There was a resounding public outcry at that moment. Alexander Kibovsky, the new head of the Moscow Department of Culture, took that into account. The Centre was saved. Today, city library No. 7 where we are now has already turned into a revenue-making facility. Its premises are rented out for extra-budgetary income, half of which is taken awat by the Moscow City government.
In March 2019, without any claims against his work, Listov was dismissed from his executive post in the Centre and transferred to the post of head of a department of some kind that exists only on paper. By order of Marianna Levitova, the CEO of the Centralized library system of the Central administrative district, the former director of the A. S. Pushkin Library was appointed to the Centre. She became a second director in just a year.
It is obvious that the new acting head is very far from the aerospace theme or Saint-Exupéry’s oeuvre, the Russian-French traditions and historical connections in this area. She has been delegated there exclusively for making profit by renting out halls of the Centre that was decorated in a spectacular way previously.
French are Outraged too
“The most outrageous thing,” says Mstislav Listov, “is that the so-called “cultural managers” essentially eliminated the institution that had been fulfilling its lofty objective for 11 years. It brought tangible benefits to everybody who came there. During these years, the doors of the Antoine de Saint- Exupéry Library and Cultural Center were open for everyone, more than 1,000 Muscovites and guests of the Russian capital familiarized themselves with unique exhibits. Moreover, it is recognized in Europe by the descendants of Saint- Exupéry and has brought up many new pilots. Pilots, astronauts, military leaders, teachers and scientists are outraged. Letters to Sobyanin and Putin were signed by dozens of people. Whom for and what for do these culture bosses with the habits of scammers work? They are not just indifferent and cynical people, but they are officials who have lost conscience and respect for our history of aviation and astronautics. They are illiterate people who, contrary to the Trianon Dialogue requested by Presidents Macron and Putin, are destroying the Russian-French relations, consecrated by such names and symbols as Saint-Exupery and the Normandie-Niémen aircraft regiment.
“If the country's leader says that patriotism should become the ideology of the state, and ignorant officials act on the contrary, some conclusions come up, don’t they? They are hastily establishing some “noble assembly” or the union of noblemen and the English Club [the original English Club was a highly selective society of Russian nobility in the 19th century – ed.] working on a commercial basis in place of the widely known and popular center of patriotic education, engagement of young Russians in the aerospace subject and successful public diplomacy – something that was confirmed by ambassadors of Russia and France and somewhat earlier by vice-mayor Lyudmila Shvetsova. Additionally, after they saw that we made it public, they hurriedly backpedaled and began to offer justifications claiming that it was the World of Noblemen festival, and allegedly, the English Club is just a place where people can practice English. But previously English and French were taught there by a professional teacher. And there are lies everywhere.
Participants in our numerous events and recitals, including heroes of the country, sent letters to all authorities up to the Presidential Administration, and had three appointments there. Unfortunately, the answers given by the Department of Culture were sent by the same people who are the source of this mayhem.
For a normal person it is difficult even to imagine the level of their cynicism. The forced flat ban to use the name of Saint- Exupéry in the name of a cultural institution, sent by his heirs from France to Putin and Sobyanin, was ignored by this “cultural mafia.” They shamelessly laid the blame on Listov. Allegedly, this was done by his initiative. However, a written and notarized consent to the honorary name of the library was given by the heirs on their terms personally to the deputy head of the Department of Culture. In 2019, these conditions were grossly violated.
It is impossible to imagine a more absurd statement, namely, that someone could have dictated to François d’Agay, the President of the Antoine de Saint Exupéry Youth Foundation, a highly cultured man known to the whole world, what he should do with our Center.
(To be continued)