Paris… near Vitebsk

French chronicles of the Belarusian village
This story began in 1970s when a son of a rural engineer came to Minsk to enter one of the popular universities. He did not succeed though. Once members of the attendance committee asked him to come for a talk.

— Is it a joke? — one of the professors asked the boy pointing on the application form he had completed several days ago.

— Why? Everything is correct there, — the boy was really surprised.

— So, you want to say, that your birthplace and place of the current residence is Paris?

— That is right. Paris. It is a village in the Postavy District in the Vitebsk Region.

Soon after this the name of the village was changed. In 1973 the Belarusian Paris was renamed and was given the name Novodrutsk. The official reason for the renaming was that Paris was joined to a neighbouring village. Such fads as foreign names were not allowed at that time.

How does the Belarusian Paris look like? One has to travel for about half an hour enjoying the scenically attractive landscapes. The landscape is undulating but very beautiful. Here and there one sees lakes, forests or spacious fields. Legends say that was Napoleon who gave the Belarusian village the name Paris.

One morning the great conqueror came out of his headquarters situated in a little Belarusian town. Napoleon looked around and uttered: “I’m going to build a new Paris here”.

— There are facts that support the legend, — Paris’s “mayor” Yanina Sharinskaya explains. Napoleon’s army was really staying nearby. Near the village there is a monument and a communal grave of Russian soldiers fallen during the war in 1812.

According to another legend the village was called Paris just because one of the local landlords named it like this.

For almost thirty years the village has been called Novodrutsk. Young people got used to the new name. In the talk of elder people one could still hear the old name. At the same time young citizens were not eager to forget that they might be living in a place prestigiously called Paris. Then the time of great changes came and Leningrad became St. Petersburg, Kuibyshev was renamed Samara and Sverdlovsk was again called Yekaterinburg. The Parisians took the chance to approach the district authorities with an offer.

They wanted that the village be renamed. Their offer was rejected. The authorities thought it was an unnecessary waste of time and money. The citizens did not give up. They applied to the district authorities several times, until the latter agreed to rename the village. The last notification addressed to the authorities was signed by around 300 citizens, approved by the toponymic committee with the Council of Ministers and discussed at the meeting of the district council of deputies. At last they arrived at a decision and allowed the renaming.

…Yanina Sharinskaya is actually a librarian, but locals call her “the major of Paris”. The local library houses real historical rarities. For instance, there are some books marked “Parisian rural library” and an impressive sign-board saying “Parisian village club”. These relics were entreasured by locals although the authorities tried to make them forget the old name of the village.

— Just imagine, Alexander Bartoshkevich, the chairman of the agro-industrial company Zolotoi Venok (Golden Wreath) has been keeping the sign-board in his office as the apple of his eye for about two years.
Alexander Bartoshkevich believes the sign-board will become the first exhibit of the museum that is expected to be opened in the village.

— I am sure the renaming will be to our good. Local businessmen have offered to include our village into the tourist route that is around here. We may as well build some cafes for tourists, open a museum and engage in agrotourism. This will involve construction of a new road and recreational development of the village. The local authorities will regard the village as a potential source of income then.

All this is nothing but dreams. Parisians themselves understand that all these plans are hard to realize. They have not even changed the sign with the name of the village. Nevertheless, journalists both local and foreign are quite frequent quests in the Belarusian Paris. All of them as one try to make a comparison of the Belarusian Paris and its French “brother”. However, it difficult to find any. The Belarusian Paris has 375 citizens. There is a secondary school, a post office, a shop, a rural recreation centre and a hospital here. Last year there was also a pharmacy… So you will not find any exquisite places in the Belarusian Paris.

— You, scribes, are looking for a comparison in the wrong places. We have a lot of ties to the French Paris. Follow me, please. I will show you something, — Yanina Sharinskaya says.

We are walking together along the main street of the village. Lazy Parisian cats are gazing after us. We turn to the right, and I see a little house. The door is closed.

— Pavlovna, open the doors! — Yanina Sharinskaya shouts. Then she taps on the door. In a couple of minutes a woman opens.

— Pavlovna, tell this journalist about your husband, — Yanina says.
It appears that the citizens of the village are not as ordinary as they seem. Here is the story of Pavlovna’s husband.

Boris’s life story could be a good script for a Mexican soap opera…

His passport is a unique one. In the column “birthplace” it was written “Paris, France”, however as a “place of permanent residence” Boris had “village Paris, Postavy District, Belarus”. Boris was a double Parisian as a matter of fact. Once, many years ago, Mikhail Boris left his wife and son in Belarus and went to France to earn his living. He appeared to be quite successful in the foreign country. Soon his family joined him in France. The family moved to Paris, where one more son Robert was born. In the meanwhile, the situation in Belarus changed for the better and Mikhail’s relatives persuaded him to come back. He was hesitating for a long time, but at last his homesickness made him return.

— They came back and difficult times came. There were times when the family had nothing to eat, but they withstood, built a house. Children grew up and went to school. At first, Robert could not study, because he did not know any Russian. By the way, locals called his mother “Frenchy”.

Both Parises were equally cherished by the Boris family. But they never regretted their return to Belarus. Robert passed away many years ago as well as his mother “Frenchy”, but old photos that reside all over the house remind Pavlovna that the two cities-namemates are her destiny.

— You see, Frenchmen used to live in our Paris. But it is not what we are mostly proud of. We make very good wines and home cheeses. Wines are made from the grape and berries we grow here. As for the cheeses, it was the Frenchy who brought in the custom of making them. We do not have any special recipes, you know. We just put a piece of our soul in the process of making them that is the reason why they are so tasty.

by Dmitry Kovalev
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