French-Russian exhibition in Moscow displays Anna of Kyiv’s Gospel as a Russian historical artifact

The Gospel of Reims is preserved in the Reims library in France. It is closely associated with the daughter of Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyivan Rus – Anna, Queen of France. Photo: Bibliothèque de Reims. bm-reims.fr (Official publication) 

Culture, History, Russia, Ukraine

Article by: Nadiya Konstantinovna
Translated by: Christine Chraibi

An exhibition dedicated to Russian-French cultural relations was opened in Moscow on September 17, 2021. Among many historical objects lies the famous Gospel of Reims. Historians associate this outstanding manuscript dating from the Kyivan Rus era with the daughter of Kyiv Prince Yaroslav the Wise – Anna, who became the Queen of France. It is important to note that this ancient manuscript is presented as a written legacy of Russian history.

How do Ukrainian intellectuals react to this exhibition? How is it that Russia once again openly appropriates Ukrainian historical objects?

Grand exhibition and covert propaganda

The exhibition, entitled France and Russia: ten centuries together, opened on September 17 in the Moscow Kremlin Museums and will last until January, 2022.

Many prominent museums were involved in this project, namely the National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Library of France, the Moscow Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, etc.

About 200 exhibits are displayed.

The Gospel of Reims is one of the most outstanding Slavic manuscripts of the 11th-12th centuries. It consists of two parts.

One of them, written in Cyrillic, arrived in France with Anna Yaroslavna. This scripture, which is kept in the Reims library, was used for centuries by French monarchs who ascended the throne of France.

Kyivan Rus

The Gospel of Reims – the section in Cyrillic displays the Ukrainian language of the 11th-12th centuries. Historians assumed that it was written in the Kyiv scriptorium of St. Sophia Cathedral. The second passage, written in Glagolitic script in the 14th century, originates from Croatia. photo: Municipal Library of Reims (Creative Commons)

In the meantime, social media exploded in outrage as angry users pointed to the propaganda around this exhibition. Oleksiy Kopytko draws attention to the fact that the organizers mistakenly consider the marriage of Princess Anna Yaroslavna of Kyiv and King Henry I of France to be the first act of Russian-French relations. According to Kopytko, this is the cornerstone of Russian-French friendship.

The Gospel of Reims, which, according to historians, Anna Yaroslavna brought with her from Kyiv to France, is prominently displayed. Journalist Anna Shestak says that the fact that this historical manuscript dating from Kyivan Rus is showcased at an exhibition in Moscow demonstrates the Ukrainian government’s lack of interest in its monuments and historical heritage.

Europe remains silent!

The fact that the Reims Gospel is presented as a Russian artifact once again indicates Moscow’s crisis of identity, states culturologist Taras Voznyak.

Kyivan Rus

Taras Voznyak. Photo: Andriy Bashtovyy (Radio Svoboda.org, RFE/RL)

Voznyak maintains that Russians cannot and will not recognize the fact that Tsar Peter I (aka Peter the Great, 1682-1725) openly appropriated the name of its neighbouring state (Ukraine Rus), renamed Muscovy to Russia and began identifying Muscovy’s history with the history of Ukraine-Rus. He underlines that this should be called “historical theft” and that unfortunately, Russia’s interpretation of history is widely accepted in the West.

“Europe is convinced that Kyivan Rus continued as Muscovy and that Moscow was founded before Kyiv. France has long pursued an anti-Ukrainian policy – first, propagating Nord Stream-2; second, blocking Ukraine’s accession to NATO. Today, this historical manuscript is called Russian. This is just another brazen step by Putin. Ukraine should send a strong note of protest through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Culture or the President of the National Academy of Sciences,” says Taras Voznyak.

A long and difficult fight ahead

Taras Voznyak believes it will takes year to change Europe’s perception of Ukraine so that Europeans stop looking at Ukrainian history through Russian “eye glasses”.

“It’s going to be a long and difficult fight. The best way to regain our historical past is not to bother modern historians and let them do their work. In addition, the rigid archaic National Academy of Sciences should be overhauled. It should receive more funding from the government and young historians and experts should be hired,” says Voznyak.

Kyivan Rus

French engraving depicting Queen Anne of Kyiv (daughter of Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kyivan Rus) in ‘Histoire de France’ by French historian of the 17th century François Eudes, sieur de Mézeray. Anna Yaroslavna was Queen of France ruled in 1051-1060

Historian Yaroslav Hrytsak is convinced that Ukraine must constantly defend its rights and prevent Russia from monopolizing its ancient Rus heritage.

“It’s like saying that France appropriated Charlemagne’s crown for itself and denied it to Germany and Italy,” states Hrytsak.

Kyivan Rus

Yaroslav Hrytsak. Photo: Andriy Dubchak (Radio Svoboda.org, RFE/RL)

Yaroslav Hrytsak maintains that the French know very little about Ukraine. Even during the Cold War, France leaned toward the Soviet Union, so it is very difficult for the French to accept Ukraine’s declarations.

Hrytsak advises to work more in European space on several fronts, especially in the cultural sphere. A concrete example was the Pinzel exhibition, which was highly acclaimed at the Louvre in Paris.

Radio Liberty asked the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to provide information on whether Ukraine has reacted to the exhibition. Government spokesmen refrained from comments, requesting RFE/RL to contact relevant press services with an official inquiry.
Kyivan Rus

Monument to Queen Anne of France in the French city of Senlis, May 15, 2011. Photo: Ukrinform.ua

Translated by: Christine Chraibi

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