The tallest Christmas tree in Paris this December is also the thorniest. Standing almost half the height of the Notre Dame towers, this impressive evergreen was not paid for by parishioners or the city of Paris, but by the Russian government. With tensions running high between Moscow and other European capitals, this gift – or gesture of geopolitical grandstanding – is a feast for the eyes, but something of an embarrassment for the French state.
According to the Le Parisien newpaper, a call for donations earlier this year to churchgoers and local shopkeepers only brought in €30,000 – a long way from the sums being quoted by suppliers. “The church has no money” explained Archbishop Patrick Jacquin, who then reached out a little further for donations. Step forward Paris-based Russian diplomat, Igor Tkatch, who organised not only for a tree to be found in Russia, but also for its transport across thousands of kilometres on the back of a truck.
Although the church paid for the installation of the tree on the parvis, the remainder of the bill was picked up partly by the Russian embassy in Paris, partly by the Russian government itself. It must have seemed a small price to pay to place such a symbol on the French Point Zéro.
As British paper The Guardian reports, Russian diplomats denied accusations of provocation, instead describing the tree as “a marvellous symbol of the unity, fraternity and mutual understanding between Christian peoples.” This gesture of friendship though has not stopped Russian media from a little gloating. “This year Parisians don’t have enough money to pay for their own Christmas tree,” declared the state TV channel, whilst French-language journal Le Courrier de Russie headlined its report “Moscou sauve Notre-Dame de Paris d’un Noël sans sapin.” (Moscow saves Notre Dame from a tree-less Christmas.”)