Brittany (Breizh)
Brittany and the French revolution
 The revolutionary period was particularly marked in
Brittany by royalist and counter-revolutionary
 The peasant rising of the so-called chouannerie
against the revolution was suppressed with great
barbarity, leaving a deep sense of hostility towards the
central government.
 Doue ha mem Bro!
Les Chouans
th century Brittany as an internal colony
 In the nineteenth century, France’s overseas colonies
grew- especially in Africa (eg Algeria), and beyond in
the Pacific.
 Centralisation and the desire to impose uniformity in
culture and language meant that many of the regional
languages of France were neglected and despised by
the authorities.
 Brittany in particular with its language and specific
way of life increasingly was treated as if it were an
‘internal’ colony.
 The Bretons were seen as the ‘other’, foreign but at the
same time ‘French’.
 We see this ‘colonial gaze’ in the work of such artists of
the 19th century, like Paul Gauguin, who came to
Brittany to paint what seemed like an exotic culture.
 ‘Brittany diorama’ from the French room in the Paris
Ethnographic Museum, c 1895.
 Young women in traditional costume in Pont-Aven.
Musee des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la
Mediterranee, Marseille.
 Gauguin related to the Bretons in Pont-Aven (western
Brittany) in a similar way to the natives of Tahiti where
he went after the 1880s.
 We can see in his work an eye for the exotic, otherness
of colonised peoples.
Cultural awakenings
 The beginnings of a sense of the rediscovery of Breton
roots and identity can be felt at the beginning of the 19th
 The first modern dictionary of Breton by Jean-Francois
Le Gonidec 1821.
 An important year in the cultural history of Brittany was
1838 when La Villemarqué published the landmark
anthology of Breton songs called the Barzaz Breiz.
 Francois-Marie Luzel-started publishing genuine
folktales in Breton and many songs from rural Brittany.
 .
Barzaz Breizh- the Heroic Poems of Brittany
 1867-T. Hersart de La Villemarqué published a large
anthology of ‘popular’ songs collected (he said) from
the ordinary working people of Lower Brittany.
 The songs or ballads collected tell the story of the
Bretons, across the centuries.
 (Anne Auffret and Yann-Fanch Kemener).
Cultural awakenings 19th century
 A reaction against the traditional exploitation or
neglect of Brittany by the central government in Paris
before and after the revolution manifested itself in
varying ways.
 Eventually it took shape with the formation of the
Union Régionaliste Bretonne in 1898, which gave
rise afterwards to a variety of splinter groups.
Breton culture at the end of the 19th century
 At the same time, the Bretons of Lower Brittany- les
Bretons bretonnants- or Breton-speaking Bretons
remained strongly Catholic, and adherred to their
ethnic customs.
 The Buez ar Sent (Life of the Saints) was usually the
only Breton book found in Breton homes.
Breton Nationalism: cultural
and political
Brittany in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries
Meet Becassine!
Bécassine! C’est ma cousine!
 Breton character in comic strip, who first appears in
 She is a housemaid who wears traditional Breton
 She is portrayed without a mouth (usually).
 She is a stereotype Breton, and reflects the contempt
shown by mainstream France to the Bretons.
 Between 1915 and 1950, 27 volumes of Becassine stories
Bécassine the Breton revolutionary
Becassine the movie 2001
After WW1
Breton separatism
 The Bretons paid a heavy price in WW1. The five
Breton ‘départements’ suffered immensely in the
 Approximately 200,000 Bretons died in the war (total
population of Brittany 3.5 million in 1914). Brittany
also saw a massive exodus from the rural villages to the
cities (often Paris).
 The world of Bécassine, reflects the life of one Breton
internal ‘immigrant’ to the big cities of France.
In the trenches
 The wartime experiences of Breton soldiers and sailors
had a contradictory affect on Franco-Breton relations.
For many Bretons service in the trenches of Verdun or
on the Marne was their first exposure to the France
and French of other regions. Most of the veterans
found the bounds of their patriotism now extended
beyond the borders of their native province..
In the trenches
 Contact with the broader French society also
accelerated a decline in the use of Breton and Gallo
dialects. Others saw Brittany’s disproportionate share
of the national sacrifice as proof that in the eyes of
Paris, they were ignorant peasants fit only for service
as cannon fodder.
 Prejudice towards Bretons remained strong. Voyage
au bout de la nuit by Céline.
In the trenches
Breton separatism
 After the WW1 several movements which sought some
form of autonomy or even separation from France
 The influence of the Easter Uprising in Dublin
(1916) was important.
 This same period saw a period of instability in France
with the ideological confrontation between the left
and the right. Also between the church and secular
Breton separatism
 In 1911 the Breton Nationalist Party (PNB) was formed
(Strollad Broadel Breiz).
 Brittany was during this period plagued by a tendency
to split into various nationalist factions none of which
were able to command a large popular following.
 Writing in Breton saw a remarkable renaissance during
the post WW1 period.
 Literature in Breton had seen a certain form of
renaissance in the latter part of the 19th century,
but it was dominated by the church, priests and
abbots in particular.
 In the post WW1 period a new literary journal
made its first appearance- Gwalarn- and brought
together a new secular generation of younger
writers led by Roparzh Hemon seeking to create a
new European style literature in the Breton
Roparzh Hemon 1900-1978
Roparzh Hemon
 He was the author of numerous dictionaries, grammars,
poems, novels and short stories. He also founded Gwalarn,
a literary journal in Breton where many young authors
published their first writings during the 1920s and 1930s.
 Highly controversial figure, despite his undoubted
contribution to Breton literature.
 He was in charge of the Breton language programmes from
Radio Rennes/Roazhon during the war.
 Sentenced to one year’s prison, and ten years ‘indignité
Breton separatism
 The Breton nationalists in the late 20s and early 30s
were mainly non-separatist. But they felt that despite
their sacrifice during the WW1, they had not been
rewarded with some measure of autonomy, but
continued to be the victims of France’s centralist
(‘jacobin’) and assimilatory policies towards its ethnic
minorities.’Pour l’unite de la France, il faut que le
breton meure’ (1920s)
Breton separatism
 Although the nationalists were always relatively small
as a political force, the tendency to split into factions
was always present.
 The creation of a more ‘extremist’ party- the PND
(Parti national breton)- led to some direct yet
symbolic action.
 In 1932, the 400th anniversary of the 1532 Act of Union.
Gwenn ha Du
Breton separatism
 A short time before the president of France
reached Rennes for the ceremony, the statue that
had stood there for some years representing
Duchess Anne and the king of France was blown
up by a group known as Gwenn ha Du.
 Some nationalists in the late 30s became proGerman, supporting the actions of the Nazis
before the outbreak of WW2.
 Some of the nationalists declared that no Bretons
should be called up by France in the event of war
against Germany.
Breton separatism
 Gwenn ha Du was the unofficial military wing of the
PNB. It was modelled on the IRA.
 Mainly small-scale explosions, and arson.
 The last attack was probably in 1941 in Carhaix
(Karaes). They collaborated with the Germans in their
desire to have Brittany recognised.
 Some went on to form the Bezen Perrot.(1943-44)
 After the war some members formed the 1960s group
Front de la Liberation de la Bretagne (FLB).
Bezenn Perrot
Bretonische Waffenverband der SS.
The Bezen Perrot
 Collaborationist militia wore German uniform (Bretonische
Waffenband des SS).
 The group was originally called Bezen Cadoudal (after the
anti-Jacobin Breton member of the chouannerie), but was
renamed after the assassination of Abbe Perrot (a Breton
nationalist and right-wing Catholic) who was assassinated
by Communist members of the resistance. (December
 He was the editor of a Catholic journal in Breton. Yet he
was suspected of German sympathies. He supported the
Breton separatism
 In 1939, the Breton nationalist journal Breiz Atao
was seized and closed, and the PNB became an
illegal organisation and was disolved.
 A small group from the PNB made what would be
a fateful step. Olivier Mordrel and Debeauvais
fled to Begium and then to Germany where they
hoped to convince the German authorities to give
Brittany autonomy in the event of German
occupation of France.
Breton separatism
 This attempt to ensure a measure of independence for
Brittany had terrible consequences after the war.
 The Nazi occupiers did eventually outline a plan which
would, amongst other things, create a separate Breton
state.Goering and other elements of the Nazi military
saw this as part of a general plan to dismember France
as a political unity.
Breton separatism
 However this intention was rejected after the
Franco-German armistice in 1940. (the Vichy
 The Olivier and Debauvais faction worked against
the Vichy government and try to convince the
Germans that in the ‘New Europe’, Brittany should
be a separate political entity. The Germans
however are not interested in this idea, although
they are tolerated and saw the Breton nationalists
as a useful group as a rear-guard in case of
invasion by the allies.
Breton separatism
 In fact, this pro-German, even pro-Vichy nationalist
party was supported only by a small proportion of the
Bretons, (perhaps no more than c80 active members).
The vast majority (notwithstanding certain
collaborators as in the rest of France) were pro-French,
as is shown by the massive support of Bretons for De
Gaulle’s Free French movement.
Bretons de La France Libre: 18
June , 1940
Breton separatism
 Internal disputes among the party leadership, the
loyalty which most Bretons showed (after the 16th
century) towards the French State, and bitter fighting
between collaborators and résistants, finally destroyed
this distorted vision of an independent Brittany and
tarnished the reputation of its advocates.
Breton separatism
 By 1944, the PNB was a spent force. As the WW2
drew to an end, German presence in Brittany did
not last long, given the rapid invasion in
Normandy and Brittany.
 Yet, most unfortunately, the actions of a tiny
minority (PNB) brought about a severe backlash
against all Breton cultural activity.
 The climate of revenge throughout France against
collaborators left the Breton cultural movement in
Alan Heusaff
 A native Breton speaker, he trained as a primary school
teacher but in his early twenties joined the separatist Bezen
Perrot militia (1943–44), for which he was sentenced to
death in absentia at a court martial by the post-WWII
French government, but eventually amnestied in 1967.
 After studying mathematics and physics at theUniversity of
Marburg, he arrived in Ireland in 1950. He continued his
studies atUniversity College, Galway, and, on graduation,
joined the Irish Meteorology Service, becoming a
naturalised Irish citizen in 1955.
Breton culture
 There was for this reason a mass abandonment of
Breton culture and language after the WW2.
 Many cultural organisations were disbanded. For a
while, the Breton language was prohibited from
newspapers, and publications in the language
 All school courses which contained Breton classes
were eliminated.
 Radio programmes in Breton (Radio-Rennes) came
to an end. They had been run by Roparzh Hemon
who was arrested.
Breton separatism
 Many Breton nationalists (or merely Breton cultural
activists) were arrested. (c3000).
 The Breton writer and activist Roparzh Hemon was
originally condemned to a prison sentence with hard
labour, which (after international coverage) was
commuted to a short sentence followed by voluntary
exile (he spent the rest of his life in Ireland).
 Many Bretons left Brittany and relocated to several
countries including Canada (especially Montreal).
Brittany and its culture after WW2
 In a school system which for several decades after
WW2 had totally rejected the use of Breton, it
comes as no surprise that the numbers of Breton
speakers by the 1960-1980s had dropped to
c600,000 or much less..
 What was clear was that after WW2, and the
catastrophe caused to the Breton movement and
because of perceptions of the language and its
culture, parents did not teach the language to their
children. ‘cessation in language transmission’).
Breton Dutch
Basque Catalan
The Breton Language in post-WW2 Brittany
 There has now been national recognition of local
cultural aspirations.
 No longer are children severly punished at school for
speaking Breton (the ‘symbole’).
 Funds have been made available through ‘la Charte
culturelle’ to promote the work of university teachers
and scolarly societies in researching Breton history,
language and traditions.
Brittany post-WW2
 For years France's regional languages were seen by
Paris as a taboo that threatened national unity and
should be repressed - children were punished for
speaking Breton in the playground, banned from
speaking Occitan in southern schools or Alsatian
dialect in the east.
 Before 1930 one in four French people spoke a
regional language to their parents; that figure has
Breton and the French Constitution
 The status of the Breton language took an unusual turn in
May 2008, as a proposed amendment to the French
Constitution was voted for by the French National
Assembly in Paris.
The amendment states that the 'regional' languages of
France are part of the heritage of France, but the new
amendment will only apply to Article 1 of the Constitution
and not the much disputed Article 2, which states that the
language of France is French. The amendment has
therefore received only a lukewarm response by Breton
nationalist parties like the Union Démocratique Bretonne,
because of its restricted nature.
Education in Breton: Diwan
 The first Diwan Breton-medium school was created by a
few parents in 1977 near Brest because the centralized
French state schools were unwilling to offer the Breton
language in the curriculum. The initial nursery school was
followed by the first primary school in 1980, the first
collège in 1988 and the first lycée in 1994.
 In 2003-2004, 2.761 pupils attended Diwan schools
throughout Brittany at all levels from preschool to the
Baccalaureat. A Diwan preschool opened in Paris in
September 2004. The network included 35 primary-level
schools as of the start of the academic year 2007.
Map of Diwan Schools
Compare this with:
Ysgolion Meithrin (Wales)
Gaelscoileanna (Ireland)
Ikastolak (Basque Country)
Breton today
Breton dialects today
 (does not include “Roazhoneg”)
Breton (Brezhoneg) today (hizio)
Breton bilingualism?
Breton Folklife
 Expressions of Breton identity and culture are not
strongly expressed in political terms but rather in
cultural terms, at both the popular and high-brow
 The continuing popularity of Breton ‘pardons’ (saints’
days). Here it is common to see still the very rich
traditional dress of both men and women:
The Breton Pardon
Breton costumes
The Bro-Vigoudenn (pays Bigoudenn)
Folklife in Brittany
 Massive changes in rural Brittany since the end of
WW2, in such areas as the pays Bigoudenn (SW)
means that wihtin a couple of generations
language and custom has radically changed.
 This rapid change is graphically described in the
work of Per-Jakez Helias (Pierre-Jacques Helias) in
his award-winning book Le cheval d’orgueil
(originally written in Breton- Marc’h ar
 PJH was himself from the Bigoudenn area of rural
 The best known Breton musical festivals are the
fest-noz (evening-party).
 Wherever Breton are to be found, a fest-noz will be
organized (Paris, Montreal, New-York…and
 The fest-noz is a traditional music and dance
evening (dating back to the 1950s) but immensely
Festivals:Festival Interceltique de Lorient
(founded 1971)
 The Festival Interceltique de Lorient (fr) or
Gouelioù Etrekeltiek An Oriant (br) was
founded in Lorient, Brittany in 1971 by Polig
Montjarret. This annual gathering takes place in
the heart of the city every August and features
Celtic traditional, classical, folk, jazz androck
musicians, singers,dancers, painters, sculptors,
writers and other artists.
 They come fromBrittany, Cornwall,Wales,
Ireland,Scotland, theIsle of Man, Cape
BretonIsland, Galicia, and the entire Celtic
Breton Writing
 The twentieth and twenty-first century have seen
some of the best writing ever in the Breton
 This continues today, despite the falling numbers
of native-traditional speakers (but happily the
numbers of those who learn Breton at school or
elsewhere increases all the time).
 The best place to find an entry into Breton
literature is The Turn of the Ermine: An
Anthology of Breton Literature, selected and
edited by Jacqueline Gibson and Gwyn Griffiths,
Music in Brittany
Breton language (Brezhonek)
 An Taol Lagad- television news in Breton
 Music in Breton:
 Breton dance:
Breton Music
 Bombarde and biniou
 Bagad
 Alan Stivell
 Denez Prigent

Breton Nationalism - University of Ottawa