Chechen children’s journey to St Petersburg

7-12 November, 2010 the children from Chechnya accompanied by their teachers from the schools of Grozny, the capital of the republic, and the village of Novye Aldy visited St Petersburg. They really wanted to see this beautiful city.

Various people and non-governmental organizations knew about this trip and got prepared very well to the visit of this unique “touristic group.” An initiative group of the residents of St Petersburg met several times to plan the route which would include the world-known cultural places and interesting meetings. The visit was full of content: in a short time the children saw the Hermitage, Russian museum, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the Lyceum in Pushkin, met with the famous actor Oleg Basilashvili.

The social part of the visit was very rich as well. On the day of arrival the guests and some residents of St Petersburg met in the “Russian-German exchange” organization. The evening was very interesting and ended symbolically. All participants blew up the balloons and wrote on them all bad things which complicate the keeping of friendship. Collective deliverance from all bad things symbolised in the burst balloons was very emotional.

On the next day, the children with their teachers met with the members of the party “Spravedlivaya Rossiya” in the Mariinsky Palace. This meeting was organized by the former member of the General court and activist of the party “Yabloko,” M. Amosov. A discussion on the topic “Why do we need legislators?” was held there. On the same day, the most remarkable event, in my opinion, occured: the children together with the children from St Petersburg attended a children opera “Brundibar” composed by the Czech composer Hans Kras which was perfectly performed in English by the actors of the theater “Zazerkalye.” The plot of the opera is very simple: a brother and a sister from a poor family want to sing on the street to earn some money and to buy a glass of milk for their sick mother. The only obstacle is a local “monopolist”, grown-up organ grinder Brundibar. In the end of the opera the good and the children beat Brundibar.

The history of the opera itself is very tragic and touching. It was performed 55 times in the Teresin ghetto in occupied Czechoslovakia. This ghetto was shown as “heaven for the Jews,” especially for artists: “Please, look, the Jewish children perform a very good story.” Then all residents of the ghetto were killed, only a few people survived.

That unique performance ended with a touching episode. While the famous Jewish song “Tumbalalika” was played on the background, the young actors turned, and the audience saw that all of them wore a yellow David star – a mark for Jews.

After the performance, there was a serious discussion. The grown-ups said that we all live in the time of Brundibar, that we should unite and made Brundibar unable to come back. The Chechen teachers said that there are still wounds after the wars. It is still painful what is happening with Chechnya but they believe in the power of friendship.

There were many other interesting, entertaining and creative things to do. Ilya Lazerson, famous cook, conducted a refined cooking session for the children; Rip Griffit, American artist and photographer, organised a master class on modern photography. The students of the Art lyceum in Krasnoye Selo demonstrated their composition “Poets of the Silver Age.”

This celebration of friendship finished on November 12 in the Mayakovsky library. The Polish community of St Petersburg organised a festival of different cultures. Representatives of many ethnicities participated in it. The visitors from Chechnya also showed their dancing skills.

On November 13 the guests from Chechnya left. It was sad, but each of Chechen children brought back home good memories from St Petersburg. The Russian and Chechen children promised to see each either in St Petersburg or Grozny.

The train has left, but the memories remain. So did the thoughts: was this trip more important for them or for us? I know that the Chechen children wanted to see Petersburg very much, but I would say it was more important for us. Because we can say now: “We haveve done everything possible those children would have good memories about residents of Petersburg and share these feelings with others.”

It is a pity, that there was only one visit like this. It would be much better if there were more.

Ilya Berdyshev

INSERT: On the 5th of February, 2000 the fighters of the special police squads from St Petersburg killed many innocent civilians in the village of Novye Aldy. According to the data, 82 people were shot; several dozens of houses were set on fire. The workers of Memorial managed to document 56 murders in the village and its outskirts.

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