Pierre Malinowski reckons he has dug up more than 600 bodies so far. He was five years old when he found his first corpse, while digging with his father. The remains of a “Poilu”, the nickname for French soldiers who fought in World War I trenches. “At that age, either you are shocked or you are interested”, he muses. Young Pierre developed a lifelong interest.
The amateur historian got hooked on historical research through his father, a military historian who spent 25 years studying military archives at the French Armed forces’ archives in Vincennes. Alain Malinowski would take his son with him on excavations at weekends.
Initially, Pierre Malinowski’s quest to find dead soldiers was driven by a desire to honour those who had laid down their lives for France. Later, he broadened his search to include other nationalities. Thus in 2016 at Cormicy, north-eastern France, he found the remains of an unknown soldier belonging to the Russian Expeditionary Corps killed on the Western Front.
He joined the French military himself aged 17-and-a-half, with his initial four-month training taking place in the French Foreign Legion. Following this, he re-enlisted in a Marine Infantry Paratroopers’ regiment. Over the next eight years, he was sent on foreign operations to the Middle East and Africa, including one year in Lebanon.
When he left the Army in 2014, Pierre’s career took a new turn. He worked for two years as a parliamentary assistant for Euro MP Jean-Marie Le Pen, the historic leader of France’s National Front party. His boss encouraged him to go to Moscow and try and build contacts there.
This required him to readjust his views about Russians. Pierre Malinowski’s great-grandfather was a Polish veteran who had fought against Russian Bolsheviks in the Polish-Soviet war of 1920 before coming to France to work as a farm hand in 1921. “For them, the Russians were the baddies”, Pierre explains about his Polish relatives. The Russians themselves turned out to be much more relaxed about any bad blood between the former rival powers, and Pierre became a fan.
The former soldier became determined to build “a new bridge for Franco-Russian Relations.” History provided the perfect starting point: “You can’t attack history,” he points out. He decided to steer clear of politics and business and instead set up the Franco-Russian foundation for Historical Initiatives in 2018, to help repair relations between the two countries.
The friendship between Russia and France is the most beautiful friendship of all time. Yes, we were enemies during Napoleon’s time, but it’s all water under the bridge, and in the two World Wars, France and Russia were on the same side
“The friendship between Russia and France is the most beautiful friendship of all time. Yes, we were enemies during Napoleon’s time, but it’s all water under the bridge, and in the two World Wars, France and Russia were on the same side”, he insists. Pierre Malinowski hopes that by concentrating on the long history of friendship between nations that have mostly been allies, French people will come to realise how much Russian has done for France.