ReportThe ties that unite Russia and the Côte d’Azur are old and deep. In Nice, the relationship between the diaspora and the mother country is however complex. Vladimir Putin’s fight from 2007 to regain ownership of St. Nicholas Cathedral, the Orthodox church and cemetery divides locally.
The gate is ajar, but there’s no question of letting anyone in. A handful of cerbers, square shoulders and close-cropped hair, walkie-talkies in hand for some, stand guard. From time to time, after words are exchanged with the window down, a few cars enter in dribs and drabs. A gray Bentley with Russian registration, two sedans from Moldova, a French Porsche Cayenne and even an intriguing black van with tinted windows and Ukrainian plates. Pedestrians also arrive. The women who enter the enclosure wear a veil over their hair. From avenue Nicolas-II and boulevard Tzarewitch, located a few steps from Nice station, you can see, through the bars of the fence, a pretty garden, a few palm trees and, looking up again, the five bulbs emerald green of St. Nicholas Cathedral.
The main Russian Orthodox building in Nice, a small architectural gem inaugurated in 1912, is one of the most visited monuments in the city. Nearly 200,000 tourists and worshipers go there every year. Free entry. But, on this March 13, the first Sunday of Lent, said to be the “triumph of orthodoxy”, the place looks like Fort Knox. Five young Texas students, visiting for the weekend, are turned away.
The security guards are overseen by a man in his thirties, less built than them, black hair back. He is holding a metal detector. And confirms, with a contrite face but with firmness, that there can be no free pass for press cards. “Here, we are in Russian territory”, he explains. Before adding, a few moments later: “It’s private Russian property. And the church was formal, impossible to receive journalists. For security issues. When the Russian embassy gives instructions, it is impossible to circumvent them. » No journalists, no tourists.
For several days, the possibility of an anti-Russian demonstration – or pro-Ukrainian, a matter of point of view – has chilled the atmosphere. An authorized time, the gathering, planned in front of the cathedral and at mass time, was canceled by the prefecture the day before. On March 11, Archpriest Andrey Eliseev, rector of the cathedral, received a brief and threatening letter. “You are Mr Putin’s friends. Go to Russian [sic] soon otherwise you and your friends will be murdered. You have a month. » Signed: ” A friend. »
This day of prayer, a police car patrols in front of the gate, just in case. On a lamppost in front of the building, a tiny white sticker was stuck, we can not know when. There are four slogans: “#stopwar #standwithukraine #stopputin #slavaukraini (Glory to Ukraine!)” But no sign of protest near the cathedral. Only the sound of the bells breaks the Sunday silence.
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