When Alexandra Szacka speaks of Russia, of Russians, one has the impression of seeing her heart racing, her tension rising. As if she were talking about a recent breakup.
“I have an uncontrollable love for Russia, but it’s a disappointed love,” said the former Radio-Canada journalist as she finished her dessert at the restaurant of the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec in rue Saint-Denis, in Montreal.
We’ve been talking about his first great passion, journalism and, particularly, international journalism, for well over an hour, when the subject of the war in Ukraine comes to the fore with what was to be our last sip of coffee.
The fascination for Russia, we have it in common. I lived there for two years, I studied there and I returned there many times with a notebook and a pencil. Alexandra Szacka, she inherited the love of this country and its culture long before setting foot there as a journalist and spending three years there as a correspondent from 2007 to 2010. family history. My mother spent World War II there. My father, Julian, studied there. His first wife was Russian. We were raised there, my sisters [Agnès and Joanna Gruda] and me. I love this language, literature, theatre. But politically, I can no longer feel this country, the delusions of grandeur and unbridled imperialism,” says the one who has just published her memoir, I will go around the world.
In this biography, Alexandra Szacka reflects on the stories that have marked her the most during her rich journalistic career which has spanned more than 30 years. We revisit the Tiananmen Spring of 1989 as much as the Ukrainian uprising on Maïdan Square in 2014. But long before talking about her career, the adopted Quebecer recounts the exile of her native Poland when she was a teenager. A forced exile caused by hints of anti-Semitism. An exile that broke her heart, but which quickly allowed her to understand what mattered most to her: freedom.
Servitude. The word is strong, but Alexandra Szacka persists and signs. “I understand that historically Russians have had little freedom. They went from being serfs [during the tsarist period] to being Stalin’s slaves. I understand their story, but I do not forgive them. »
The Russia she was able to survey, she says, is not only the birthplace of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Modest Mussorgsky, the cultural heroes of the past, it is also a country full of wealth and possibilities. There are, she recalls, a few exceptional figures who fought for democratization and openly opposed the fratricidal aims of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza are now imprisoned. Boris Nemtsov was assassinated outside the Kremlin. “But how do you explain that most Russians have tied themselves hand and foot to Vladimir Putin, a kleptocrat who will lead them to their death? I see it as a tragedy. A double tragedy. »
The second tragedy is, of course, the one suffered by the Ukrainians, attacked by the neighboring country, the enemy brother. But in their regard, Alexandra Szacka makes the opposite observation. “The Ukrainians, I find them so courageous, so far-sighted. And that’s what I saw in 2014 in Maidan. What I saw were people taking charge, wanting to get out of it, wanting to be democrats. Yes, among them there were extremists, but there are also some in the United States, ”says the one who experiences the current conflict with her guts as much as with her head. “I knew this war would happen. And I know that Poland or the Baltic countries are next on the list if Putin wins this war. »
If she has long refrained from expressing her opinions – duty of reserve obliges – Alexandra Szacka speaks today with a disarming frankness. In I will go around the world, she does not fail to talk about the boys’ club and the other pitfalls she had to overcome to practice her profession at the height of her skills. “But let’s be clear, I’m not a victim in life. There are things about my ride that I didn’t like, but I just pedaled harder to get where I wanted to go. I had the career I wanted. I just wish it was sooner,” she says, again bluntly. She is proud – with good reason – to be one of the first allophone journalists to have acceded to a position of correspondent abroad.
Having worked in fifty countries, often far from her two children, she has also experienced her share of heartbreak. “When I worked for the North-South show, my children were very young and we were leaving for several weeks. I left presents for the children all over the house. I once recorded an entire Jacques Prévert book so that my daughter, who was 7 or 8 years old, could hear my voice every night. I put a lot of emphasis on my career, but having children has been the best experience of my life,” she says.
Today, her two children, grown up, travel to the four corners of the world. Like their mom.
Even though she has been retired from Radio-Canada since 2019, living a dream life in the Tuscan city of Lucca, Alexandra Szacka still has to face her share of heartbreaks today. When the war in Ukraine started, she was dying to get back into the field. To use his knowledge and experience to report on this double tragedy that is transforming our world. “I have long been insufferable. I was only talking about that, she said, laughing. The job we practice, there is no cure. It’s way too interesting,” she told me. I will not contradict her.
Coffee and me: I love Italian cappuccino in Italy. Nowhere else is it so good and inexpensive.
The people I would like to bring to the table, dead or alive: Anton Chekhov, Marie Curie, Leonard Cohen and Elsa Morante, my favorite writer. My mother, Ilona Gruda, would also be there.
People who inspire me: My daughter Léa-Catherine, who has been a fighter since she was little, and my son Thomas, who has a beautiful soul, the soul of an artist and a thinker.
The last book I read: Living Quickly, by Brigitte Giraud, le Goncourt 2022.