"The Breton national consciousness has never been stronger than now"

Yann Choucq

Breton lawyer

- It has now been clear for a year that there exists a strong, active pro-reunification movement in Brittany. But the French government says it is not willing -not at least in the short term- to modify borders of regions. How is that being perceived in Brittany?

- It is being understood as the intellectual and philosophical impossibility of the French state to accept any modification of its own system. In France, the principle of equality is mistaken for the principle of uniformity. It should be recalled that Brittany's partition was Pétain's regime decision during World War II in 1943. It was a surprise that President Francois Hollande announced that ​​a reform to reduce the number of regions should be done. The first proposal map that was unofficially released planned Brittany's reunification. But immediately the regions' feudal lords rushed to Paris. A new proposal map appeared almost daily.

- In some of those proposal maps it was foreseen the merger of the current region of Brittany with the region of Pays de la Loire, where the historically Breton department of Loire Atlantique is now included.

- A large majority of Bretons reject a merger with the Pays de la Loire, which is a completely artifical region. We just want to re-unite with Loire Atlantique. In the end, ​​the map has been left as it is now: Brittany on the one side, the Pays de la Loire -including Loire Atlantique- on the other. Incidentally, the new map was approved on first reading with a minority of AMs: those who voted against, abstainers and absentees were many more than those who voted for.

- Now the law is to be reviewed in the Senate and after that it will go back to the National Assembly. What are the prospects now?

- A pro-reunification demonstration has been called on September 27th. We think it will be even larger than June's, which was the largest of the last 30 years. We are promoting an initiative inviting supporters of reunification to show the Breton flag hanging in windows and balconies. The parliamentary session begins on October 2nd, but on September 28th half of the Senate is due to be renewed in an election. The leftist majority now in power -which also has a majority in the Senate- is likely to lose. The influence that this development will have remains to be seen.

- As regards the Breton movement demanding reunification, we have been witnessing the confluence of civil society groups -for example all those belonging to umbrella association Kevre Breizh- with a group of Breton political parties...

- And the French Greens, who have argued for reunification at the the National Assembly.

- ... But votes to those Breton parties are usually well below the French-wide parties. Do you expect that events happening during this last year and the apparent loss of prestige by major French parties could give more votes to Breton-only parties?

- I have no answer to this question. The Breton national consciousness has never been stronger than now. Opinion surveys show a very large majority in both the region of Brittany and the department of Loire Atlantique supports reunification. But for years I have said that the ability of the Breton people to organize themselves in order to politically translate that demand has not been growing. For example, the movement of the Bonnets Rouges has been quite spontaneous, with many sectors and many demands. But a core group which could be capable of generating a political force does not exist.

- Take the Corsican example. Corsican political parties have increased their share of votes, and they have even managed to win Bastia municipality... they have translated their movement into a political choice. Why does not this happen in Brittany too?

- It is very difficult to forge a Breton national consensus among different political forces. Each Breton individual wants to see the Breton people recognized, even its sovereignty restored, but the problem is that they always say, "I am Breton and something else." And "something else" is always more important than being Breton. Many want to see a sovereign Brittany, but only their specific way. The most important thing should be regaining sovereignty, and only after that, deciding which kind of organization people want. But the new generation can overcome this, because it is not blocked by conflicts of previous generations.

- Are you referring to ideological constructions? That is to say that they want a sovereign Brittany but only if it is a left-wing, a right-wing one...?

- Partly, yes. In any case, I think the contamination of the Breton mentality bt French politics weighs heavily. The French system is fully controlled by senior civil servants, hailing from the National School of Administration (ENA): those who hail from the ENA are in charge of ministries, they are leading administrative bodies, they spend some years in banks and multinationals and then go back to public management... The current Minister of Economy is a prime example of this. They are a caste who virtually consider themselves to be the masters of the French state, either if they are leftist of rightist.

- The President of the Council of Brittany launched some months ago a proposal to get some powers devolved from Paris. What do you think of this possibility?

- I think that all the powers devolved to the democratic representation of the regions are controlled by the central government, by prefects, and are subject to their initiative and to the censorship of administrative courts. There is really no devolution. The central state and the Council of State have the last word.

- But examples of further devolution do exist outside European France, such as in New Caledonia and Polynesia.

- What I have noticed is that, for decades, a law allowing the people of New Caledonia to vote on self-determination has not been implemented, and the vote has been re-scheduled and postponed. The same goes for Polynesia.

- I was rather referring to the fact that the model of partial autonomy now enjoyed by Polynesia or New Caledonia could be exported to Brittany as a part of a deal within the French Republic. A Breton territorial collectivity could be established in order to devolve powers.

- No it could not, because autonomy for New Caledonia and Polynesia was only granted under UN pressure.

- So do you believe that the Breton movement on its own can force a change?

- I do not have a conception of an institutional solution to the problem. I think that two things are necessary. First: Breton territorial unity can be gained if we seize the opportunity of the central government's current weaknesses -the government, the President and the major parties see their popularity in decline. Second: we need the recognition of the Breton people as a human and popular entity.

- How can that recognition be achieved?

- The Breton people should have a say on that, for example through civic, popular referendums, as it has been done elsewhere.

- That is, you do not expect a recognition by the French National Assembly, but through alternative ways.

- Yes. And after that, you can get international recognition as a people despite French opposition. I think the evolution of the world can help, because the current system in which states hold the power over territories is coming to an end. We are witnessing the end of a cycle. You can now see anywhere that peoples are claiming their rights. I think that the organization of human life must be made from the basis of the identities of people who assert their desire, their will to live and organize among themselves. Relations with others can then be arranged on the exclusive principle that should govern human relationships, which is mutual respect as the only real expression of equality.

David Forniès