Although I am a fifteenth generation Sgitheanach (a true islander from Skuyö – Cloud Island – Isle of
Skye) and able to trace my lineage back to the time of Somerled (c.1164) and the Viking invasion of the Western Isles, the Breton people are a kindred spirit in my eyes. My surname is a translation
from Gaelic, unless you speak my mother tongue it is unpronounceable (Dhraichigh – a sept of the MacDonald clan), but on all official documents the name Dhraichigh always appears. Because of this,
many people have asked me over the years why do I refer to Breizh (Brittany), now my home, as “A Nation within a State”. Well that is what it is, a similar situation to that in Catalonia (Catalunya
in Catalan, Cataluña in Spanish, Catalunha in Aranese) (Spain) and the Basque Country (Pais Vasco in Spanish, Euzkadi in Basque, Pays Basque in French) (France/Spain) and to a lesser degree the
United Kingdom, where you have England, Wales & Scotland, all separate nations within a greater state. Some even consider Cornwall to be a separate nation within the country of England. Even
Belgium has, to a degree, a situation where there is a distinct language divide: in the south of the country the people are of French origin and speak Walloon (sometimes referred to as a French
dialect) and in the north, of Dutch, Germanic origin and speak Flemish (a container for a number of quite different Dutch dialects).
The common denominator between them all is that they have their own language, and no it is not a dialect it’s a totally separate language, that is spoken, by most of their people. In the vast majority of cases the language is exclusive to any given nation and figures prominently in their self-definition. However, these people are usually bi-lingual, in as much as they speak, read and write their native languages (Basque, Breton, Catalan, Flemish, Gaelic, Walloon, Welsh) and the language of the “state” such as English, French or Spanish. Many of you will ask: “Aren’t these dead languages?” No they are certainly not, they are in everyday use by millions of people, it’s just that certain “states” are attempting to make you think that is the case, the French constitution, for instance, states categorically that the language of the Republic of France is FRENCH – no mention is made of Brezhoneg (Breton)!! A certain M.Chirac, in his wisdom, has refused to allow a small constitutional change, so, having steadfastly refused to sign Article 27 of the Declaration of Civil and Political Rights which would obligate it to respect the linguistic rights of Bretons, France is not in a position to sign the European Charter of Indigenous Minority Languages even though Brezhoneg is now legally admissible in court. However, since there is little funding for Breton interpreters, and since only activists have tried thus far to enforce use of the language in court (and often been told by the judge to speak French), it is hard to tell what would happen today if a monolingual Breton elder appeared in court. The same struggle also covers the ability to write cheques in Brezhoneg, which has also been found admissible by the French courts. In practice if a Breton speaker shows up at a government office, and cannot be understood by the clerk, it is not unusual for the clerk to go and find someone who understands Brezhoneg. In my part of Breizh it is not uncommon for government workers, doctors, nurses, shopkeepers, lawyers, etc. who actually, are very often, either understand Brezhoneg or understand some of it are dealing with a Breton speaker, who is not really fluent in French, the language they will speak is a mixture of both. The main words will be Brezhoneg, the grammar mostly French, the order of the words very close to Brezhoneg. Unfortunately this happens when a “state” is trying to remove a minority language from a section of its population and where the speech of the minority language is being corrupted by more and more intrusions both grammatically and vocabulary wise from the dominant language. However, such accommodations are by no means guaranteed by law, and thus, has caused a furore in many provinces, none more so than in Breizh, where 93% of the population are said to be proud of their heritage.
Whilst on the subject of language, Brezhoneg is a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and is mainly spoken in Breizh Izel (Pen-ar-Bed [Finistère]), however French is more predominant in the south-east and Gallo in the north-east. The last having some points of vocabulary, idiom, and pronunciation with Breton. In the early years of the twentieth century hardly any of the western Bretons were able to understand French; however, there has been a deliberate effort on the part of the French state to uproot this language. Hence there has been a decline in the number of people able to understand Brezhoneg. Today, this decline is being reversed by Diwan an association that proposes schooling totally in Brezhoneg, inspired by the Ikastolak movement in Euzkadi (the Basque Country) and the Ysgolion Meithrin movement in Wales. To that end it has set up schools that are free and open to all, the first being at Lampaul-Ploudalmézeau near Brest and the latest being in Paris. Unlike other schools in France, including private schools, the institutions belonging to Diwan operate almost totally without any subvention from the French government. The latest development being the opening of a new Breton language university at Karaez/Carhaix. Today, the old stigma of Brezhoneg as a language for farmers, fishermen and old people has gone, replaced by a new pride in Brezhoneg as a modern language, a Celtic language and a desirable element of the Breton heritage. It is only too obvious to me, as somebody that lives and works in Breizh, that there is a vast undercurrent among the people to see their language live. The reverses suffered by the language over the last two centuries are deeply regretted by the people and they truly wish to see it survive, even if they are sometimes at a loss to say how this may be done. I am in absolute agreement with the two-stage policy being put forward for the Bretonization of Breizh, that is to start in Breizh Izel (Western Brittany) so as not to overstretch the financial resources of the Breton language bodies (not funded by the state) and gradually extend eastwards.
The people, I speak about, are proud people, unbowed and fiercely nationalistic, being one of the oldest civilizations in Europe with their own cultural history. For an outsider to be really accepted, the only way is for them to learn to speak or at least understand our language. How many times do you hear people say: “ No, I am not Belgian, British, French, Spanish; I am Basque, Breton, Catalan, Flemish, Scottish, Walloon, Welsh” when asked about their nationality. It’s not that they have a particular sign or flag, it is how they feel in their hearts and that will never be taken from them. This is borne out by their stubborn insistence on identity and sense of belonging, also a stubborn resistance to change despite of the best efforts of the “States”. No matter where you look in these areas you will see the cultural spirit and the traditions are still alive and thriving in the twenty-first century.
So, What is “A Nation within a State”?
That is difficult to explain in today’s changing world, because terms such as nation, country, land and state appear to be used as near-synonyms, for a territory under a single sovereign government, or the inhabitants of such a territory, or the government itself; in other words, a de jure or de facto state. Although these terms have precise meanings, they are interchanged in today's parlance and open to many interpretations. So we have to look to earlier times to understand the meaning of the word “nation”. It derives from the Latin term nātĭō – and has the following meanings:
The action of being born; birth
A breed, stock, kind, species, race;
The goddess personifying birth
A tribe, or set of people (very contemptuous);
A nation or people;
So nātiōn (Latin spelling) is derived from the past participle form of nāt‑us "having been born" from the verb nāscī "to be born". From that definition, the premier requirement is that characteristics should be shared – so a group of people with nothing in common, cannot be a nation. On the other hand, if sharing is present and there is some degree of uniformity and camaraderie then there is a nation. Lastly, some of these characteristics have to be exclusive so as to distinguish nations from neighbouring nations. So, members of a nation are distinguished by a common identity, almost certainly by a common origin in the sense of parentage and ancestry. However, characteristics can, and are, disputed and this often leads to a denial that a nation exists.
From that standpoint, it must be assumed that the word “nation” implies ancestry and descent. In most nationalist movements claims are made that shared origins and descent are an integral part of national identity. So it is this shared ancestry that unites a nation and separates them from other nations, who do not share that ancestry.
So the big question is: Ancestry with who? Usually previous generations of the same nation. But more succinctly:
As the descendants of the past inhabitants of a national homeland.
As the descendants of past speakers of a given common language, or previous groups of people that shared a national culture.
In the majority of cases these factors are presupposed to coincide.
It should also be taken into account that “nations” span the centuries, as no-one has ever set a timespan, and that the dead are included as full members as are future generations. You will also hear stories about events that happened hundreds of years ago, where the dead are referred to as “our people”.
Then you have “Voluntary or Free Will”, by that I mean the members of the nation, by their daily participation in the life of the nation, show their consent to its existence, and to their own continued membership.
Now I turn to culture and heritage:
In the majority of cases, nations normally have a shared culture and unlike a language the national culture is normally unique to any given nation, however, it could include elements shared with other nations. It is assumed that this culture is also shared with previous generations and includes cultural heritage from those generations, as if it were inheritance. As with most ancestry, this link to past culture is usually symbolic. Take Carnac as an example, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, owned and managed by the French government, yet no French people or state existed when it the stones were erected, four to five thousand years ago. Similarly other states have appropriated ancient sites, literature, art and even entire civilizations as “national heritage”.
No matter what some people try to say, in all forms of nationalism, populations believe that they share some kind of common culture.
Now I turn to that thorny subject of nationalism in its various forms: This is where things become exceedingly awkward as everybody has a different opinion as to how to define the word “Nationalism” as it is an ambiguous term when left undefined as it always claims to defend historical values or cultures, judged to be of national significance, against a real or imagined external attack. So in the first instance we all need to understand the differences between:
* The nationalism of stateless people, such as the Basques, Bretons, Catalans, Galicians, Scots & Welsh, who wish to be heard in the United Nations, the right to self-rule, and be recognised by the UN.
* The nationalism of nation states, such as France, Spain and the United Kingdom.
It may manifest itself as part of official state ideology or as a popular (non-state) movement and may be expressed along civic, ethnic, cultural, religious or ideological lines. These self-definitions of the nation are used to classify types of nationalism. However such categories are not mutually exclusive and many nationalist movements combine some or all of these elements to varying degrees.
Many see “nationalism” as an inclusive categorization of the human race – assigning every individual to a specific nation. In fact it is the opposite way round as everybody has their own ensigns, symbols, culture, music, literature, myths, legends and in some cases even a national religion. But within that every individual encompasses the national identity, remembers national heroes, eats the national dish and plays or supports the national sport.
So to synthesise the traditional and modern conceptions of a nation, the following are needed:
* A fixed homeland (current or historical)
* High autonomy
* Hostile surroundings
* Memories of battles
* Sacred centres
* Languages and scripts
* Special customs
* Historical records and thinking
The hardest thing to understand is the forms of nationalism, these are:
* Civil – where the state derives its legitimacy from the active participation of its people.
* Ethnic – where there is some element of descent from previous generations.
* Romantic – this is a form of ethnic nationalism, whereby the state derives its legitimacy as a natural consequence of the expression of the nation or race.
* Cultural – whereby a nation is defined by a shared culture.
* Liberal – in this form nationalism is compatible with the liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality and individual rights.
* State – this form implies that the nation is a community of those who contribute to the maintenance and strength of the state, and that the individual exists to contribute to this goal.
* Religious – whereby the state derives political legitimacy from adherence to religious doctrines.
* Pan – whereby the “nation” itself is a cluster of ethnic groups and cultures.
* Third World – this is an attempt to ensure that the identities of Third World peoples are authored primarily by themselves, not colonial powers.
* Diaspora– one of the most difficult of all to understand as this is “long-distance nationalism”, i.e. the Scots and Irish in Canada & U.S.A. It acts as a "phantom bedrock" for people who want to experience a national connection, but who do not actually want to leave their new found community. The essential difference between pan-nationalism and diaspora nationalism is that members of a diaspora, by definition, are no longer resident in their national or ethnic homeland.
* Then you have Joseph Stalin’s definition of nationalism – “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”.
Definitely NOT included in the term “nationalism” is racism and extremism, the former implies a belief in the superiority of one nation over others, but in practice some (but not all) nationalists do think that way about their own nation. The later, which, could include jingoism, fascism and chauvinism, all appear to me, to be xenophobic or anti-immigrant groups that prefer to use them term “nationalist” rather than the more pejorative term “racist”. However, many of these groups have a large electorates and are represented in parliaments.
Now to make thing totally confusing, there is yet another form of nationalism, very rare and not often seen – Conflicting Nationalism. That is where all or part of the territory is claimed on behalf of more than one nation, by more than one nationalist movement. A classic example of this being Belgium, which was formed by secession from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1830. However, despite the fact that a nation–state has a disputed territory in this way, does not make it any less of a nation–state. As a consequence of this, if large sections of the population reject the national identity, the legitimacy of the state is undermined, and the efficiency of the government is reduced. That is certainly the case in Belgium, where the inter–communal tensions dominate politics. If legitimacy fails completely, the result may be a civil war, which either leads to restoration of national unity, or to the creation of one or more new states.
Returning now to the original subject, The Nation within a State and its relationship with Breton Nationalism:
The nationalism you see and feel is something of a paradox, being that part of the traditional province of Breizh is within the region, Pays de La Loire. Needless to say that has been a bone of contention since Loire Atlantique was devolved from the province by the Vichy government. Talking to the Nantaise, they still, to this day, consider themselves to be Breton and are campaigning to be returned to their roots. This reunification is one of the main issues being raised in this debate and one that is shared right across the entire spectrum of Breton Nationalism. So this paradox has given rise to some fundamental questions about the processes of nation formation and the identity politics of Breizh and analysing its special status within France. The region forms the western border of France and some consider it a potential rival centre to Paris. A second aspect of Breizh that remains important today is exemplified by the major festivals, which take place in the region every summer, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from France and indeed Europe.
It should also be remembered that Breizh is one of the six Celtic nations of the world, the others being Cornwall, Ireland, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales, so there is somewhat of an affinity with the nationalist fervour in those nations. Today, it combines not only the political aspirations but cultural aspects as well. On the political front, Breton Nationalists aspire to self-rule, whether within France or independently of it, and to be recognised by the United Nations and other international bodies. On the cultural front, language is a major component with speakers of Breton and Gallo clamouring for equality with French within the region, and some are seeking to replace French entirely. The past decade has seen the reinvigoration of Breton music, traditions and symbols and the forging of strong links with other Celtic regions. However, many of those that support cultural nationalism do not share the aspirations of those who advocate political nationalism. So the question that has been asked by many is: Has this concept of “Celtitude” helped or hindered the quest for an autonomous Breton identity?
That depends on an individual’s outlook, including my own, so I digress for a moment to explain “Celtitude”. It was only two years ago that I discovered that the word “Celt” is a Germanic word: it means “Secret”. The reasoning behind the meaning is when the Germanic tribes in the fifth century came upon “The Celts” in Europe they could not understand how these people were so intelligent, knowing so much about, history, music, architecture, construction and nature, yet there were no books. Where did they learn it all? Where were the books? The answer is quite simple, there weren’t any because the Celtic tradition was an oral tradition, whereby when two people met they would exchange information and stories: For example: I would tell you and story and you would tell me one and we would remember those stories or I would sing you a song, you would learn it and then teach it to your children, so it was never written down in case it was infiltrated by the wrong people. So what we have today, in the form of written Celtic history and tradition dates from around the eleventh and twelfth centuries with anything earlier being handed from person to person orally. Some of the songs and verse we know about today are from these earlier times but the music has been lost. To be Celtic is to be very spiritual, your life is like an ocean, there is a coming and a going, the elements are with you and there is no fear, very beautiful.
Anyhow, returning to the subject in hand, from the point of view of the French state, Breizh is considered to be an integral part of the Republic. However there are a myriad of views being put forward by various interested parties, from allowing the Bretons to have a devolved government to the proscribing of Breton Nationalist parties and the Breton and Gallo languages. Somewhere between these two extremes is the way forward, maybe a region called “The Great West”!!
As it stands today the Union Démocratique Bretonne is regarded as a Regionalist rather than a Nationalist party by the powers that be in Paris as the UDB is seeking devolution rather than full independence along the lines of the Isle of Man and Irish Republic, more akin to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly or self-rule within a larger state, similar to Euzkadi (the Basque Country). Then there is Parti Breton, who are actively supporting the candidature of Mme. Ségolène Royal for the presidency of the Republic as they firmly believe that she will support their quest for autonomy, because of her pragmatism -- her "we have to see what works and what doesn't" approach and her willingness to implement ideas and reforms on the basis of their efficiency, regardless of their ideological background. Another side to her character is that she is convinced that “citizens, when experiencing a problem or hoping for progress, are the “legitimate” experts of the question that is asked”. Next comes Treger Disuj, considered by many to be an anarchist group, to my mind they are part of a grouping Coordination Bretagne Indépendante and Libertarian (libertarian federalists) and includes such groups as Huc' H in the area around Rennes and Ti year Dispac' H around Pontivy. Many of the mainstream cultural groups keep these people at arms length. An even more sinister side to Breton nationalism is the emergence of a small terrorist organisation, the Breton Revolutionary Army (ARB). In June 1999, the ARB attracted widespread attention when it placed a bomb outside party headquarters of Lionel Jospin, the Prime Minister, in the village of Cintegabelle, near Toulouse. Thirteen houses and six shops were damaged, although nobody was injured.
The cultural movement is varied and diverse, having more active participants than the political movement. The past decade has witnessed an unparalleled surge in the popularity of Breton Culture, not only within the region but also throughout the whole of France.
The name Breton movement, or Emsav in Breton ([ẽmzao], meaning to uplift, renovate), is used to group the major Breton political and cultural movements. Some feel the term (or the movements themselves) does not adequately reflect the diversity, internal divisions and conflicts within Breizh.
Traditionally, the history of the Breton movement is split into three epochs, First Emsav being the birth of the Breton movement in 1914, Second Emsav covering the period 1914-1945 and Third Emsav for the post-war movements. The historic memory of the Second Emsav has been tarnished in the memory of many by the collaboration of some leading Breton nationalists during the Nazi occupation of France. After the war, the movement was widely discredited politically and several of these members arrested as collaborators, so the second Emsav went into limbo and Breton Nationalism went into a state of suspended animation for about twenty years. pretty much disappeared.
The Third Emsav is closely associated with the upsurge of social interaction during the 1960s and has grown on its own without any links to the previous nationalism movements and, in sharp contrast with the previous ideology, occupy the left side of the political spectrum with affinity ranging from social-democrat liberalism to Marxism revolutionary which can help to explain the reluctance that some members of the movement feel toward the term 'nationalism' which, in France, carries right wing connotations. The movement has continued this momentum through the growth of regional identities across Europe in the 1980s and up to the present day. Recently, a new branch of the movement, ADSAV, a far right wing movement, has appeared; however, it is very much in the minority and has no connection with the organisation of the third Emsav.
Then there is economic nationalism; an excellent example of this is “Brittany Ferries”, set up in 1973 by a co-operative of Breton farmers to ship fresh produce to the United Kingdom, the rest is history. Since then other businesses have come together and label their products "Produits en Bretagne" in order to advance the image of Breizh in other countries. A satellite/cable television channel, TV Breizh, has been created and transmits in both Breton and French and is aiming to serve as a link between Breton-speaking children and non Breton-speaking parents, France 3, a national television channel, is now transmitting Breton language programmes for a few hours a week. A few years ago this degree of linguistic support would have been unthinkable. In the past two years Omer Telecom - Breizh Mobile, based in Laval, has come into being, as a regional mobile telecommunications operator covering the whole of Breizh, Haute Normandie and Pays de La Loire. In the fishing industry, Breton is now being used as the language of Radio Communication, especially when operating off the coasts of England, Ireland and Spain, as the fishermen have realized that it cannot be understood by those listening in, so they have the advantage of being able to keep the best fishing grounds amongst themselves. However, what I find to be most amusing, and it must be very galling for a certain M.Chirac, is that one of the main railway terminals in Paris is manned almost entirely by Bretons from Breizh Izel (Lower Brittany) with the result that all messages, communications and conversations are in Breton.
Therefore, the conclusion must be drawn that over the past one hundred years, the Breton movement has experienced a real development, and progressive integration throughout the Breton community. Although its influence across the whole of the political spectrum has declined and there has been few, if any, electoral successes, Breton Culture is very dynamic and increasingly asserting its identity. Some people are inclined to say that the Breton Movement is at a dead end, as there is not political activity. However, the majority of the issues raised by the nationalist movement are political, sovereignty returned by the recognition of the nullity of the free-Breton treaty of 1532, the claim for the strict respect of the treaty of 1532 that bound Breizh to France, "Which has been ridiculed since the revolution of 1789" and that infamous night when the deputies of the third state voted to abolish all the privileges (a veto over taxes by the local parliament and the people's right to be tried, or conscripted to fight, only in their province). Forced colonization of Breizh by France (the ruin of the Breton economy in the eighteenth century), recognition of the Breton people, recognition of the integrity of the own territory problem of Loire-Atlantique (detached administratively from Breizh in 1941, without any consultation with the populous). Today, with the nationalist impetus in the ascendancy in all its various forms, I can foresee the day, maybe not in my lifetime, when we, the Bretons, will achieve our goal and become a nation state and not a nation within a state.
I would like to remind all readers that this article is dedicated to the Breton people, their language, their traditions and culture. It was written because of my affinity with the Breton people and their quest for recognition as a nation. I promote their cause because my heart tells me that all nations should have a state, and not because of any nationalistic particularism, that I reject. I have learned to speak, read and write in Breton and I offer no apology for that as I think that the Breton language fully contributes to the world's cultural richness and diversity. There are no second-class languages. Furthermore, I condemn any form of violence or discrimination against individuals because of their languages, religions or origins. As a result, I call for vigilance against any misuse of legitimate cultural claims by extremists, terrorists and nationalists. The Breton language (as well as other languages) must not be a pretext for exclusion and for isolationism, in either direction. A language belongs to everybody or nobody; it must not become a prison.
Finally I dedicate this script to my dearest friends Dan ar Braz and Gilles Servat, tireless campaigners for the Breton cause and the most talented musicians it has been my privilege to know. I thank you both for allowing me to be your friend. Nolliah Casey and Donal Lunay for their help, guidance and inspiration and finally Jacquie-Althia, my loving partner for the past forty-three years, thank you for teaching me your wonderful language and being my shoulder to cry on.