A summer in the USSR

When Match reporters played tourists on Soviet roads. A first. In 1956, Jean-Pierre Pedrazzini, Dominique Lapierre and their wives traveled 13,000 kilometers there for the holidays. A feat born of a touch of daring and the context of the de-Stalinization initiated by Khrushchev. But the liberalization displayed will quickly find its limits. In October, Pedrazzini discovers Russian tanks in Budapest. Hit by a burst of machine guns, he died of his wounds in France on November 7, before seeing the report of his great trip appear.

They are in their twenties, they mingle with the stars and greats of this world. The brightest window on the 1950s was then called Paris Match; Lapierre and Pedrazzini are its princes. What kind of exoticism do a journalist and a photo-reporter with a halo of glory aspire for their vacation? “We would like to travel around Russia by car, with our women. This is what these cheeky people demand from Bulganin in person during an official trip by Vincent Auriol to the Kremlin. The old marshal seems amused. They owe the de-Stalinization initiated by Khrushchev the authorization which will make them the first tourists to pass the iron curtain behind which the fierce USSR is taking refuge.

Departure from Paris on July 14, 1956, aboard a Simca Marly station packed with equipment and food. On the 23rd, the French arrived at the Soviet-Polish border. « On the other side of the river, headlights suddenly come on. » That was the signal. The USSR was waiting for us in the middle of the bridge, which no Western car had ever crossed. »

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From the life of the collective farm to the rank-dress of a department store saleswoman, nothing escapes their sensitive and passionate gaze.

Accompanied by an interpreter, they spin across plains spurting out from a Russian novel, discover a world where billboards proclaim only patriotic slogans. In Minsk, Tbilisi, Rostov, the little people crowd around the car, fascinated. At the sight of the inscription “French journalists”, we recite Hugo to them, we hum the airs of Yves Montand. Socialist Russia welcomes our four travelers with open arms. Its inhabitants offer them dinner, serve them vodka. They visit the railway worker, the surgeon and the worker, observe the household appliances in Moscow apartments, share black bread and borscht with the Ukrainian peasants. From the life of the collective farm to the wardrobe of the department store saleswoman, nothing escapes their sensitive and passionate glance. They photograph, in Sochi, families vacationing on the Black Sea, in Kiev a wedding where icons of the Virgin, proscribed under Stalin, reappear.

After an epic summer, “Pedra” and Lapierre cross the barbed border in the other direction, carrying this message heard a thousand times: ““ Mir ”, peace! Tell the people of France that we want peace! A few days later, covering the uprising in Budapest, the flamboyant Pedrazzini was struck down by a burst of machine guns. The 500 films he brought back from the USSR will not be developed until after his death. There he grasped something of that eternal mystery called the Slavic soul.

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