French Spring festival:

An Interview with Mathieu Ardin


On the eve of the 14th “Printemps Français” festival, Mathieu Ardin, the executive director of Institut Français d’Ukraine and the Attaché of Culture, shared the secrets of this year’s festival, his own impressions of Kievan life and the development of French-Ukrainian cultural exchange.

Mr Ardin, tell us please, will there be something new in the program of this year’s “Printemps Français” festival?

we have been organizing this festival since 2004. Ukraine and France celebrate 25 years of diplomatic relations this year, so we made up our mind to highlight the topic of cooperation between two cities such as Kiev and Toulouse, which have been considered twin cities since 1975. We decided to remind that Toulouse is a reliable partner for Kiev, so there will be several events connected with this city. For example, on 19 April, a famous singer from Toulouse will perform together with the artists of the operetta theater in the City Hall.
It is a well-known fact that “Printemps Français” starts with a grandiose street performance. This year on 1 April, there will be a performance (a philosophical one, Galileo) for the opening of the festival on Sophiivska Square. There also will be a performance for the closing of the festival (for the first time, by the way) on the 29th of April near the People’s Friendship Arch (a dance performance: “Transports exceptionnels,” a modern interpretation of “Beauty and the Beast”).
Also, 12 Ukrainian dancers from different cities under the leadership of the French choreographer prepared the program and will go on a tour of the Ukrainian festival cities.
Within the festival, a well-known play, Antigone, will also be presented. In my opinion, it is an excellent opportunity for Kiev and Toulouse to exchange experiences and acquaint more of the public with their cultures. In addition, under the “Goût de France” program, chefs will arrive in Kiev and prepare French dishes in the local restaurants. However, that is not all we are going to surprise you with!

Is it difficult or easy to develop the cooperation in the area of culture and spread French culture in Ukraine? What cultural areas are the most interesting for Ukrainian people?

It is easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy, because Ukrainians are very curious and brave people, and they are fond of French culture. However, it happens that they have created an image for themselves and would like to discover and study that France that no longer exists. It is necessary to struggle with the stereotypes and persuade people that France has changed, but nevertheless remains as beautiful as it had been before. Our main task is to introduce Ukrainians to modern France and, frankly speaking, it is not that easy.

H
ow popular is Ukrainian culture in France?

You know, for a long time the French believed that Ukraine is situated in Russia. But after the revolution of 2004, they realized that this had been false. After a while, they forgot about it again. After the events of 2014, almost every Frenchman is aware that Ukraine is a separate, independent country.

H
ow long have you been living in Kiev? What were your first impressions of this city and its residents?

I visited Kiev in 1979 for the first time and I also came very often in the ’80s and ’90s. I was the head of Institut francais d’Ukraine from 2006 till 2010, and from 2014 till present time. My first impression of Kiev is that the city is very green: there are a lot of trees and odors of flowers. As I came here in spring for the first time, I remember the smell of lilac very well. Over the years, Kiev has changed and started to resemble other European cities: a lot of cars, high-rise buildings, shops, cafes. It’s very good, of course, as it shows that the city lives. However, I’m very sorry that the number of trees is decreasing, and the number of yards is decreasing too.

C
ould you compare the restaurants of French cuisine in Kiev with the French restaurants in Paris? Do Ukrainians know how to cook French dishes?

At first I saw a huge difference, but after a while, I must admit that the French dishes are perfectly cooked in Ukraine! Basically, the chefs of these restaurants had the practice in France in order to understand our cuisine, render our dishes and as a result create new ones.

D
o you like Ukrainian cuisine? What is your favourite dish?

I really like Ukrainian products. I’m not sure that Ukrainians are aware of this, but your products are of excellent quality and incredible taste. Cottage cheese, pork, vegetables, fruit — they are completely different in France. As you have the products to cook with, consequently the kitchen is also very good. My favorite dish is varenyky with cherries.

W
hat are the strengths and the weaknesses of Kiev as tourist destination for the French, for example? What do you personally like in our city?

Kiev has a lot of strengths: beautiful architecture, fascinating museums, comfortable hotels with different pricing policies, availability of city beaches (to be able to go to the beach in summer, which is located right in the city — this is rare for European cities) … Among the weaknesses I can mention the state of the roads and the rubbish. However despite this, Kiev is a wonderful city, and you need to advertise it so that as many people as possible find out about it.

A
re there any places in Kiev that represent French atmosphere?

To my mind, there are no such places in Kiev, because it exudes a singular charm. Kiev is a city with a majestic history, its own peculiarities. In a word, there is no other city like Kiev in the whole world.