The history of Alsace is linked to its location on the border between two major areas of culture and power: the Germanic area, represented by the Holy Roman Empire first and the German Empire after, and the French area.
Straddling these two worlds, Alsace has had, at various stages of its history, its own, limited self-government. Thus, together with the Moselle region, Alsace enjoyed some degree of autonomy in Germany from 1911 to 1918. Alsace alone had its own Assembly, with executive autonomy, within the French Republic from 1982 to 2015.
Most of the territory falls within the linguistic domain of Alsatian, a dialect of High German. Alsatian is spoken by 30% of the population, although only 5% use it as a primary language (2020 survey).
The traditional language of the northern end of Alsace is another German variant, Frankish, while some municipalities in the western end (called the Pays Welche) fall within the domain of Oil languages.
Alsace’s Jewish community has historically used its own variant of Jiddisch: Judeo-Alsatian, or Yédish-Daïtsch.
Politics and administration
Since 2016, after the French National Assembly passed a territorial reform in 2014, Alsace found itself integrated into the larger administrative region of the Great East, together with the historical regions of Lorraine and Champagne. The decision raised widespread opposition in Alsace.
In 2019, the Senate and the French National Assembly approved the creation of the European Collectivity of Alsace, which will again give the country an institutional framework of its own, starting in January 2021. The new body will merge the departments of Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. It will have executive autonomy within the Grand Est Region, of which it will continue to be a part.
The Alsatian political movement continues to seek Alsace leaving the Grand Est region. It also demands some degree of legislative and executive autonomy. 68% of the population backs the demand to leave Grand Est, according to a 2020 survey.
The main Alsatian party is Unser Land, created in 2009 as the merger of pre-existing parties. Unser Land defines Alsace as a nation, and aims at achieving self-government for Alsatia with its own Parliament with law-making powers, and the official status of the Alsatian language. It places itself between the centre and the centre-left. In the 2015 regional (Grand Est) election it won 11% of the vote in Alsace.
With far less popular support, Alsace d’Abord is a far-right pro-autonomy party that maintains a discourse mainly focused on opposition to immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries.
(Last updated October 2020.)