Since I had first settled in Connemara, on the extreme West of the country, I had only had sporadic and occasional contacts with the other Breton refugees in Ireland, apart from summer visits from time to time. Each one of them was primarily taken up with the struggle of difficult material circumstances. Many of them saw no solution to this, other than a return to their country. I was not the only one who had made plans to regularise my situation vis-à-vis the French State.
Charles Le Goanac’h had returned to Paris around the middle of 1954. He had been sentenced in absentia with the P.N.B. group, in March 1947, to ten years hard labour, the same sentence that had fallen on Yves Delaporte. The latter was the first of the Bretons to have endured the ordeal before the military tribunal and to have been acquitted. There was little chance of Le Goanac’h meeting with any other fate.
He was acquitted in September 1954. He had made the most of his stay in Paris to meet with one of the directors of the Insurance company L’Union with whom he had worked before as one of their agents. He was offered the management of the office L’Union was setting up in Nairobi, Kenya. Charles therefore returned to Ireland to get married in January 1955, before emigrating with his wife to Nairobi. He remained there for many years before returning to take up his retirement in Brittany.
It was in 1955, shortly after me, that Jacques de Quélen and Raymond Delaporte in turn decided to regularise their situation. Jacques and his wife, right from the beginning of their exile, had felt the need to reconstitute the family unit, which had been broken by the repression. The latter had been over on a visit in 1954 that had enabled her to see her family again and the oldest of her children from whom she had been separated. A year later, the military tribunal in Paris in turn acquitted Jacques. He settled in Brehec and in Saint-Brieuc where he became a secondary school teacher.
Raymond Delaporte was sentenced to five years of prison by the same court, not for collusion with the enemy but for undermining the security of the State, the principal charge covering attempts against the integrity of the national territory. But he was immediately granted an amnesty according to the terms of the 1953 law. For him also, a return was now possible. Keeping a home base in Ireland, he thus settled in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, original seat of his family. He worked there for a few years as an insurance agent. He was rapidly disappointed by the “debretonisation” he witnessed in the countryside and towns of his homeland. Also, he was certainly not made for the work he had taken up, which he had never done before. Eventually, keeping his house in Châteauneuf-du-Faou, he returned to Ireland, where he had maintained close contacts, and was offered the management of the reprographic services at Cork University. He also gave some Breton classes there. This enabled him to devote more time to the linguistic work he had always been interested in. He had no wish to take up any political action in Brittany again. This had really only moderately interested him, in spite of the important role he had played as leader of the P.N.B. from 1940 to 1944. He had taken it all on as his duty rather than out of choice.
I felt however that he owed us a testimony of his actions in the past. I constantly reminded him whenever I saw him again that it was important to write about this. He did not dispute it but would invariably reply that he was working on a dictionary and had to finish that first. To which I would invariably reply that any well-read Breton could write a Breton dictionary but only R.Delaporte could write the history of the P.N.B. during the war and the Occupation. I do not know if he has left behind any scraps of this history. I hope that if so some historian or researcher will publish them one day. It is just as important for a people to listen to the voice of those who have fought for its rights as it is to those who still speak its native language.
This did not prevent Raymond Delaporte from believing that the Breton language and culture and the maintaining of the country’s identity could not be ensured without the intervention of a political solution that would give Brittany back at least a part of its autonomy. I was myself more than ever convinced of this. After my acquittal, I did not hide the fact that I was again confronted with some difficult choices. Should I contemplate a return to Brittany, or even to Paris? But what could I do for a living there? I had already reached an age when it is not easy to start up a public or private career again. Should I, on the contrary, continue the career I had successfully embarked on and concentrate on enlarging it, improving it and developing it further in this isolated corner of Connemara? Had I been the only one concerned, I would not have hesitated: but my children were growing up: the older ones would soon be of an age to start university studies. Could I or not impose another uprooting on them and, if so, did I have sufficient means to make a new start? Neither my parents nor myself possessed the considerable personal wealth that would have made these choices materially any easier with five children.
1957 – Family group – M. and Mme Y. Fouéré with their 5 children.
Life, in the meantime, continued its course during that sunny summer following my acquittal. It was full of all the usual occupations, the children playing on the beach, work on the pond, the rounds collecting merchandise and packing of it for export. I put off the answers to these questions until later. First I had to make that visit to Brittany and Paris in the autumn. My grandmother in Callac had passed away: but I could stay with my parents in Saint-Lunaire, where my library of books and my archives, as well as my furniture, were stored. In Paris, my sister in law, Suzanne Mauger could offer me a bed during my stay there.
The fishing season was drawing to an end. The older children had returned to their respective boarding schools. Towards the end of September, I left Marie-Madeleine in charge of the business’s secretarial work: no exporting of merchandise had to be done until my return planned for the end of November, after All Saints’ Day, which I would spend with my parents. In Paris, I revisited Les Halles after fifteen years when I had been working on my thesis, on the meat markets, for a PhD in Law. This time, it was towards the seafood pavillon pavilion that I directed my steps. I wanted to meet two or three sales agents who sold our merchandise in Paris. One of them, Richard Desandre, was already practically a friend: he had come with his wife to visit us several times, and had given some good advice for the packaging and exporting of our merchandise, in order to improve its quality on arrival at the market.
I also paid a visit to the Ministry of Information who had seen to the expropriation and seizure of the press companies at the Liberation, and also to the selling off of the confiscated items. Ten years after the event, the service no longer really existed. There were just a few administrative rejects and female employees; just knitting and killing time. I obtained no information from them, or from their branch in Rennes that they referred me to. They did not even remember where the files were. It is true that these must have contained a number of turpitudes that were best kept hidden and forgotten. The archives in the prefectures had, on orders from the powers above, already been purged of the most compromising documents on the crimes, the robberies and illegalities of all kinds that had marked the “revolutionary” period of the Liberation and of the Resistance. Those in the Information Services had probably been no exception to the rule.
In Rennes, on the other hand, the Registration Services solemnly handed me back my Savings Book, showing that the credit it contained, which was now an insignificant amount due to the galloping inflation in the post Liberation years, had not been withdrawn. They also returned hundreds of brochures published by the Institut Celtique that had been stored long ago in my offices of rue de La Monnaie. I asked Pierre Roy to collect them with a truck in order to bring them to Kendalc’h, the federation of cultural associations that was gradually being developed. It seemed to me to be the rightful successor to the Institut Celtique that Roparz Hémon had organised during the last years of the Occupation. But they did not return either the collection of newspapers or the archives and correspondence they contained, nor the collections of Breton publications I had left in my office and that belonged to me personally: these were certainly the most valuable. I have been told that some of them turned up in the Regional Archives, others must have been looted. I congratulated myself, once more, on having taken the precaution when I was in prison of arranging for my library to be taken to a safe place. My father, after having left it in boxes for a few years, where some books were in fact deteriorating, had finally been able to unpack them and store the lot, tightly stacked, in some large cupboards of his house in Saint-Lunaire. In addition he had fixed up a large room over his study and had stored his own library there, with books covering practically all the walls. I spent a good part of my time there during my visit, sorting and doing an inventory of the books and files in the cupboards. Yves Briand came in the summer of 1956, at my request, to sort the files that were there.
It was a mild autumn. The beaches were practically deserted and along the avenues leading to the Décollé the holidaymakers’ houses were all closed up. I went several times on the circular route that links the Dinard beaches along the seashore through Saint-Enogat and La Goule-aux-Fées to those of Port-Blanc. On the horizon, the ramparts and tall houses of Saint-Malo, not yet completely rebuilt, had regained the appearance I remembered. In Dinard, I visited Le Mercier d’Erm and also, the architect, Victor Lesage who had been president of the Fédérations des Bretons in Paris, for a long time. My father was even happier at my acquittal than I was. He was eager to invite the members of his municipal council to meet me over a glass of champagne, in order to celebrate the occasion. I went with him to Bas-Breil, the old family farm, now run by Marie, my first cousin, and her husband Francois Frotin. I accompanied my parents to Callac for the All Saints’ Day ceremonies and visit to the graves of the maternal side of the family. The square was still surrounded by grey fronted houses. The old man taking the collection in the church still muttered “Doue de’bardono d’an anaon”, God forgives the souls of the departed, on receiving each offering. The stone pillar at the entrance to the cemetery still bore the inscription “Hodie mihi cras tibi”, Today me tomorrow you. That always intrigued me when I was a child.
I also made a quick journey with my father to Brest and Quimper. It gave me the opportunity of passing by Saint-Pol-de-Léon to visit de Québriant at his place in Kernevez, and to visit Chanoine Favé, who had become archpriest of the cathedral, both of them ex-members of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne. In Quimper, I made contact again with my old friend Marc Le Berre, at his bookshop in boulevard de Kerguélen, and with Yann Ar Beg who, after a forced exile in Paris, had returned to his chemist shop. Some that I met in Brest, who were only distantly in contact with the Breton movement, were very surprised to see me. They thought I was still an outlaw. Le Télégramme had been careful not to publish the news of my acquittal. Pierre Mocaer had only learnt of it from Le Gorgeu, running into him at a meeting during the summer.
“ After telling me the news,” he reported to me, “ he had added that it was better this way, and he was glad this page had been turned in such a manner.”
In charge of the Télégramme, Coudurier, without any doubt did not agree with this.
In Rennes, I saw nearly all my friends from the cultural and political Breton movement. Many of those who lived there long ago had not returned to the city and their ranks had thinned out. Two young Breton militants from Rennes, Christian Hudin and Patrick Coué had been to visit me in Ireland during the summer months of 1954. They were part of Kendalc’h, and the Jeunesse Etudiante Bretonne. I met them on several occasions, in particular at the Kendalc’h annual general meeting held that year in Rennes. I went to it as a spectator, accompanied by Xavier de Langlais. I also took part in the meal with the participants of the congress: there were, for me, many new faces, leaders of the young Celtic groups and bagpipe players groups. But Pierre Roy was there and Pierre Mocaer who was president of the association then. In veiled terms, as he was always very cautious in his statements, more so now even than he had been before, Mocaer hailed my return during the little speech he made after the meal, although he was hardly listened to by a noisy audience. Hudin and Coué offered to organise in Rennes, under the aegis of the Jeunesses Etudiante Bretonne, a conference that could eventually mark the new start of a political movement with the national spirit that was absent today and that most agreed was necessary.
In Nantes, I saw Gab Le Moal and Francois Gouasdoué who had become partners in a biscottes or toasted bread business. In Paris, at the beginning of my journey and again on my return, I had long discussions with Joseph Martray and with key members of the Ker Vreiz team organised by Pierre Laurent, engineer with E.D.F. Thus it was that I met Yann Poupinot, with whom I had been in correspondence during the preparation of his book La Bretagne contemporaine, Yvonnig Gicquel, a student with J.E.B. who was preparing a thesis on the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne and Jean Kergrenn, a friend of Pierre Lemoine, whom I had met for the first time at the Interceltic Congress in Dublin two years previously. They had all helped Martray during the first stages of C.E.L.I.B. Nearly all would subsequently become a part of the small team that would give birth to the Mouvement pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne, better known under the name of M.O.B.
I had also seen Jacques Marzin again who, twenty years previously, had been a founder with me of the Etudiants Bretons de Paris, also Toulemont and some others who endeavoured to continue the propaganda in favour of the teaching of Breton. Marzin offered to organise a conference at the Maison de la Bretagne where Martray now had his offices, during which Kerlann, leader of Ar Falz after Yann Sohier and at present in forced exile in Paris, would take stock of the cultural situation. After him, I would bring out the essential elements that over the centuries up to recent times had shaped the Breton personality and formed the distinctive identity of its people and culture. A few months earlier during another conference at the Maison de la Bretagne I had spoken of the problems in modern Ireland.
It was also in May 1956 that the conference organised by Hudin and Coué in Rennes under the aegis of the Jeuness Etudiante Bretonne or J.E.B. was to take place.
I needed to draw conclusions from this first visit. After a ten year absence, I had once more been able to set foot in my homeland, to meet those who had not given up defending its interests and its rights, and some that were still seeking the liberties it needed.
I had to reflect, devise, think about what could be done, what was possible in the immediate future and know how to decide what was and what was not. It has never been part of my nature to throw in the towel. The easy way would be to let time and circumstances take their course: but time is becoming shorter and shorter and circumstances, whatever they are, always have to be sought out. Is this not, in fact, the only way to influence them?
I had time to think over these problems in the wind blown solitude of my Atlantic rock in the course of the long winter evenings, brightened by the turf fire, when these were not occupied by the daily tasks that had brought me back to Cleggan. The exporting of the merchandise had to be organised to some of the larger cities of Europe where our clientele was expanding. The season with end of year festivities is always an intensely busy one for all seafood businesses. These imperatively required my presence until the next journey I planned to make in the spring of 1956.
The situation had certainly changed. The Breton movement was painfully trying to get back on its feet again: it was taking on a new lease of life, which had been crushed by the repression. It was gradually giving birth to what some historians have called the “Troisieme Emsav” to distinguish it from the first, which had preceded the First World War, and from the second, which had developed between the two wars and had been brought to a halt in 1944 and 1945. It was possibly easier that way, but not particularly clear. Each one of these ‘Emsav’ is but the expression of the will and struggles of a people to safeguard its identity, assert its distinctiveness, to occupy once again the place that it should always have had in the chorus of nations within our continent. This struggle remains essential, fundamental, permanent and ongoing. It is united in its diversity and in its variety. Only its modalities can change. Throughout the centuries, France has wanted to remain as it is and to progress according to its own values. Why can Brittany not do so also? If it is unable to do so, it is precisely because of the centralised intellectual and administrative political system, intolerant and Jacobin, that France still continues to follow.
Yet this was the system that had to be changed and probably destroyed if we wanted to live our own life and see the Breton public thrive under the fundamental values it once had and that were theirs alone within France and Europe. All these fragile values of civilisation, behaviour and ways of thinking had to be maintained, cultivated and developed, without which the men and women of my country could no longer be what they are. Nobody else could do it for us. We needed powers to make decisions that we did not have. This was the essential struggle and it was a global one. It went beyond the struggle for the teaching of Breton and for the improvement of material conditions of the Breton people; it contained them all and encompassed them. Without it the other struggles would always remain in vain, imperfect, insufficient and simply minor matters. I was aware once again as I listened to them all that Bretons often have a tendency to consider as essential those causes and events that are of secondary importance or on an ad hoc basis, and as of secondary importance the causes and events that are important.
This global struggle for our rights and liberty could only be a political one, not for ideas or ideologies, but for the changing and destruction of a system whose enforcement, for us, was fatal. It implied the setting up of new institutions that would free us from the grip of the centralised Jacobin French. But from that point of view, after the liberation and the repressions that had been unleashed against all the “Girondins”, the situation was even worse than it had been before.
The State and the system had taken up and enhanced the politics of imperial centralisation. Shaken by the defeat, they had picked up strength and confidence, taking advantage of a military victory that other nations had won, but they had shamelessly attributed the paternity of it to themselves. The “sovereign” and omnipotent State had taken back the royal powers it had been so afraid to lose or to share after the collapse of 1940. Thanks to Maréchal Pétain, it had been able maintain the principle and the fiction. Thanks to General de Gaulle it had taken back the essence, the prerogatives and the realities. Through the Fourth Republic’s successive governments, it had taken up its politics of imperial centralisation and cultural integration. Hypocritically, it increased the centralisation and powers of an indivisible State even more. This did not prevent it from assuring that it was devolving and decentralising. But exams for positions in a prefecture or Town Hall secretary that were recruited locally before, were now nationalised as were insurance companies and large credit establishments. By creating l’E.N.A. or l’Ecole Nationale d’Administration, a prestigious ‘grande ecole’ training future government officials, it was at the same time “nationalising” and moulding the thinking that would inspire the holders of both the highest and most modest public service positions. The bureaucracy, technocracy and numbers of State civil servants increased all the time. It was not without reason that René Pleven exclaimed “the state wanted to centralise decentralisation”. The latter however continued to preside over the destinies of ministries whose senior civil servants persisted in applying all the centralisation measures that he undoubtedly did not approve of.
The increasing influence of Marxist theories added to this development. It corrupted a generation of academics and teachers, working towards the creation of a standardised society through the obliteration of a people’s distinctive identity, of their religions and beliefs, through the uniformisation and universalisation of their way of thinking and reasoning. These ideologies merge perfectly with the requirements of Jacobinism and centralism. Was not Soviet Russia the great ally who put into practice these requirements that could one day absorb the West? Was it not advisable to take some precautions against it, taking out a sort of insurance for the future? It was forgotten that, in fact, there was hardly any difference between the practice of Nazism and Stalinism. Even if it was known, the comparison was carefully avoided and not spoken of. A sort of “intellectual terrorism”, aggravated by the War and the “Resistance”, ruled over the press, the media, public opinion, politics and the way of thinking. Freedom of thought was thus reduced to thinking what everybody else thought on recent history, in order to avoid being rejected and singled out. Many were aware of course, except for those who never question anything, that France only figured in the ranks of the winners through default. But whatever happened no one said it nor spoke of it. Even as I write, in spite of the decades that have gone by, this phenomenon has not completely disappeared.
The French communist party had practically become the only political component and the only one with influence on the French left. It formed the largest parliamentary group of the Chamber. The 1945 elections had elected 160 communists, 142 socialists, 152 M.R.P. or Mouvement Républicain Populaire, a right-of-centre political party, 60 radicals and centrists, and 65 moderates. The P.C. drew 20 to 25% of the electorate: those on the left who did espouse communism had become few and far between: they were only spoken of as “non-communist left”. The old S.F.I.O. or Section Francaise de l’Internationale Ouvriere, the French Socialist Party between 1905 and 1971, was breaking up into small groups after several scissions. Radical-socialism, so powerful under the Third Republic, had practically disappeared. The M.R.P.’s Christian-democrats, a political group of ill-defined contours, had now taken on their action and role as transition group and maker of ministries in the Third Republic’s government and its assemblies. They had been the main beneficiaries of the Liberation in posts and positions. While the communists, trying to usurp all the merits of the French Resistance for their own benefit, took charge of the revolutionary and bloody purges that enabled them to physically eliminate some of their enemies, the M.R.P. had accepted the main responsibility for the dirty job of legal purges, thus satisfying the clamours from the “Resistancialists”. Its role as well as its electorate was inexorably diminishing in favour of a classical and chauvinist French nationalist right that was regrouping in Gaullism. In fact, the return to power of de Gaulle in 1958 rapidly brought about the complete disappearance of this hybrid party where, in the midst of an amorphous mass, both the worst and the best were to be found.
A powerful Soviet disinformation was added to the systematic French disinformation concerning events during the war and immediately after the war, which corrupted the press, intellectual circles, schools and universities. Some years previously, the very long trial of Kravthenko, lasting twenty-five days, had demonstrated its power and perversity. Should truth not be considered a bourgeois prejudice, Lenin had said? Solzhenitsyn had a reason for asking his compatriots to live according to the truth. “Under Tsarism there were thousands of people in prison: now there are millions”, he had exclaimed, because this was the truth. But official propaganda towards the end of the fifties, in collusion with the new intellectual class and practically all the dominant political parties, carefully hid that truth. It was even dangerous to speak of it. It was safer to block your ears and close your eyes: civic courage was not very widespread at the time.
The communists like the Gaullists retreated into an intransigent French patriotism. They all wanted a strong State, autarhic, assembled and indivisible. The former, undoubtedly because they had not yet abandoned the idea of taking it by force, as they had planned to do before de Gaulle came along to block them by obtaining from Moscow the dissolution of the “patriotic militia” that were to be used for that purpose: the latter because of their imperialist tradition, their chauvinism and conservatism, inspired by “eternal values” which, in their eyes, France and its State embodied. With the former as with the latter, the European revolution that was under way only met with suspicion, hostility and skepticism. Both of them claimed to have such a meticulous “nationalism”, and the communists had an added preoccupation for the interests of the great soviet nation, that the merest progress towards European integration and accord were seen by them to be contrary to national independence. The latter had found its cantor in the person of Michel Debré, a fanatical Jacobin. Their combined influence, that of the communists and that of the Gaullists, had contributed to the French parliament’s rejection of the European Community Defence project, in August 1954, as it also contributed later on to the withdrawal of France from N.A.T.O. and de Gaulle’s efforts to block England from entry into the Common Market.
Thus there was a sort of bipolarization of French political life. Its development fully justified André Malraux’s remark, speaking in the name of Gaullism: “Between the communists and ourselves, there is nothing”. Only a sort of vague tide, ill defined, uncertain, shapeless and variable and often inconsistent, separated the two poles. The conjunction of these two opposites, one on the right and the other on the left, as Jacobinism has no borders, were to return later, in fact, when after the 1962 elections we were subjected to various attacks against the Breton movement in general and to repeated divisive manoeuvers by skilful manipulators with powerful means at their disposal. Some of them, in fact, were to succeed at the time.
In 1955 the Treaty of Rome was still in limbo: it was only to be signed in 1957. France was a part of the Council of Europe, whose work, decisions and advice were not restrictive in any way. France had even signed the European Convention of the Rights of Man: but she refused to apply it in her own territory as in her overseas dominions. The stipulations and the appeals she anticipated represented an intolerable infringement of her sovereignty as of the absolutism exercised by her administration and embodied in her institutions.
The Algerian war was beginning to poison the atmosphere. All the French political parties agreed in refusing to see it as the classical struggle for national freedom. It was decided to call it an operation to maintain order, in order to comply with the myth of the State’s unity and indivisibility and the theoretical equality of its citizens. Had the Brazaville conference not already proclaimed that: “The aims achieved by France in their civilisation of the colonies have set aside any ideas of autonomy and any possibility of development outside of the French empire”. We were still at the stage when, in the third year of the French Republic, Boissy d’Anglais exclaimed, “There can only be one form of good administration. Considering we have found it for the European countries, why should we deprive the colonies of it?” Herbert Luethy, one of the most penetrating analysts of contemporary France, could only correctly write some years ago “The history of France is in reality the history of an administration”.
Then, early 1956, the French State had remained fundamentally, in its institutions, its thinking and its law, the imperial administrative fortress that I had known. It was still in the interest of Brittany and its people to dismantle this fortress. Its walls had to be knocked down and the cracks enlarged. I had tried to do it before the war, and also during the Occupation, as Vichy simply carried on from Paris but with less means at their disposal. The struggle was certainly not over now that Paris had taken back all its rights. Should I once again contribute what I could?
The fact of the matter remained that in 1956 the struggle for emancipation had to be carried out mainly within the framework of the French State. This framework was archaic and outdated but still existed. Only the national struggles of our people could break it up: if possible with the help of and accompanied by all those in Europe who were waging similar struggles. Martray and those he motivated were of the same opinion. Thanks to the support of the French movement La Fédération led by André Voisin, Martray had once more taken up the struggle for decentralisation and regional reform, the very same as we had carried out together through the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, also as Maurice Duhamel had already outlined as far back as in 1928. At the same time he had endeavoured to extend the struggle by creating l’Union Fédéraliste des Communautés éthniques européennes. These were the two aspects, the two sides of the struggle that had to be jointly taken up and pursued once more.
The creation of the C.E.L.I.B. or Comité d’Etudes et de Liaison des Intérêts Bretons, followed in 1950. It had succeeded in gathering together parliamentarians from all factions elected by the departments of the Breton regions, apart from the communists who continued refusing to participate. Its goal was to defend Breton interest of every nature and organise the economic expansion of Brittany. This new organisation, with Joseph Martray as general secretary, had taken off under the leadership of René Pléven as president. It had acquired a publication, “La Vie Bretonne”, assisted initially by La Fédération, but now sailing along under its own steam. Financially supported by the county councils and all kinds of other authorities, C.E.L.I.B. had opened its ranks to municipalities, the Chambers of Commerce, as well as professional and trade union organisations. From 1953, it had apprised the French government of a plan “for the development and modernisation of Brittany”. It had become an effective pressure group and, in 1955, had just been officially recognised, becoming the first Comité Régional d’Expansion Economique in France.
Consequently, it had attracted a choice recruit and militant of high standing in the person of the geographer, Michel Philipponeau, a professor from the University of Rennes. A parliamentary commission with elected members from all factions of the region, except the communist faction, had been organised shortly after. The C.E.L.I.B. had extended further by creating a cultural commission, open to representatives from Breton cultural movements. The cultural movement had gradually reorganised, particularly with the creation of La Fédérarion Kendalc’h that incorporated the Celtic groups and the brotherhood of bagpipe players gathered under the Bodadeg ar Sonnerien. Kendalc’h had just published a monthly paper called Breiz.The creation of a cultural foundation or Emgleo Breiz had enabled it also to gather the Breton students, who were a section of those defending the Breton language and of the organisations militating for it to be taught and disseminated. Their struggle mainly rested on the application of the Deixonne’s Law, bearing the name of its spokesman. It had been voted on by Parliament in December 1950 and had only been adopted thanks to the tenacity and persistence of René Pleven, Chairman of the Council at the time who soon after became president of C.E.L.I.B.
The origins of it was a bill proposed in favour of the teaching of regional languages, tabled by Pierre Hervé, communist deputy for Finistère at the time who, soon after, dramatically broke away from his party. I had met him long ago at the Cité Universitaire in Paris where he was president of the Etudiants Communistes and I was president of the Etudiants Bretons. His project had been considerably amended, watered down and modified in the course of its passage through commission and before its adoption in session. The central services of l’Education Nationale had, naturally, done their best to make it practically ineffective. Some Breton militants, nonetheless, were trying to make the best of it, insufficient though it might be. In fact, it only provided for the optional teaching of regional languages, practically devoid of any penalties in the exams. It was still a far cry from the measures we had obtained from the Vichy government, thanks to the efforts of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne, which had all been withdrawn at the Liberation.
The services of the Education Nationale were doing everything possible to restrict the scope of Deixonne’s Law. I was not surprised, remembering the struggle that I had had against their services before the war with Ar brezoneg er Skol as well as under the Vichy government, when I was spokesman for the Commission de l’Enseignement du Comité Consultatif. The few years I had spent in the administration long ago, had given me the opportunity to notice that a number of laws considered of secondary importance, though having been voted on by parliament, are never really applied if they come up against the hostility of the administration in charge of doing so. Here again, nothing had changed.
Moreover, a deep division, cleverly sustained by the French State, existed in the ranks of writers and defenders of Breton, thus damaging their effectiveness. The stupid spelling argument continued to divide them. As it worsened, it became political, though it was never openly declared. Most Breton writers and editors of teaching books and publications had, for essentially practical and pragmatic reasons, remained faithful to the standardised spelling completed in 1941. Roparz Hemon, who at first had fought against it, had since put his name to it. But, driven away from the university, he was one of the “reprobates”, having been like many of us a victim of the anti-Breton repression unleashed after the war. He had been obliged to emigrate and now lived in Ireland where he enjoyed the peace and freedom of mind necessary for the pursuit of his literary and linguistic work. Another Breton group also promoting the teaching of the language had on the other hand rallied to the so-called “university” spelling that was advocated by Chanoine Falc’hun who, after the war, had become professor of Celtic studies at Rennes University. Both groups heartily detested each other. Amongst the latter, there were those who had no hesitation in referring to the spelling adopted in 1941, as “German” or “collaborationist”, as if a spelling could be either of these. Those who supported it were also called nationalists or autonomists by the latter, in an attempt to discredit them. Very dubious tactics undoubtedly inspired them. The dividing line between those that were and were not Breton nationalists was not so easily defined. Naturally, the services of Education Nationale were delighted with these quarrels and threw oil on the fire: they were in fact just as opposed to one spelling as to the other. Their main preoccupation was, and still is in fact, to postpone as long as possible an effective teaching of Breton as of all the other minority languages still spoken on French territory: they knew that time was and still is on their side. It was mainly the “university” group, more or less gathered in Emgleo Breiz led by Keravel, that were represented in C.E.L.I.B.’s cultural commission. Those maintaining the 1941 reform that were using Roparz Hemon’s name, were not on the commission. But they would soon regroup in Kuzul ar Brezhoneg or Breton Council. Pierre Denis, better known nowadays as Per Denez, was becoming their inspirer and main leader.
Having myself participated in the setting up of the standardised spelling in 1941, I was obviously in favour of it. But I felt it was essential to appease these feelings that were running high and making personal relations between the two groups of militants so disagreeable. Thus during my visit in 1956 I went to see Francois Falc’hun. It was not easy to enter the house in Rennes, where he lived, at the end of rue de Fougeres. He seemed depressed, bitter and obsessed. He recounted at length the miseries he had suffered and blamed it all on the supporters of Roparz Hemon’s spelling. He was constantly receiving insulting and threatening letters. He opened the drawer of his sideboard to show me the miniature coffins he had received in the post. Some in fact were good samples of cabinet making.
Alongside him, Pierre Trépos, whom I also visited at the university, Place Hoche at the time, played a purely secondary role and followed his lead. Who could entertain any illusions, even amongst those in favour of the university spelling, regarding the good faith of the senior civil servants in the Education Nationale to give the teaching of Breton its rightful place? That there were two spellings suited them very well: they would even have preferred it had there been three or four. You had to deceive yourself to believe in it, unless you were incurably naïve!
Only time would tell. I never would have thought that a simple spelling quarrel could have caused so much hatred and hard feelings. The latter was certainly fanned by the academic authorities.
The defence of the Breton language and its teaching were, and still are, of prime importance. But the teaching of history is no less important and nobody spoke of it. After all, the one and the other were but a minor part of the overall freedom that had to be re-conquered. But unfortunately, there was not even the shadow of a political movement that could have synthesised and gathered together all these limited claims: as those of C.E.L.I.B. were also only limited claims.
Most of the many people here and there that I had been able to meet in Brittany and in the Paris region all agreed however on the need for an overall movement. None of those more capable ones felt able to do this, often for reasons of career, work or family life. Also, none of them felt they were sufficiently well known and experienced to take it on with any chance of success. It was impossible to take up again, even in name, a Breton national or nationalist party whose predecessor had been suppressed, dissolved, forbidden, calumniated, discredited and charged by French propaganda, by its media and all its “resistancialist” circles, whether from the right, the centre or the left, of all the sins of the collaboration. Many of its ex militants and leaders had been dispersed. Nearly all its executive had been hit hard in some form or other by the repression: they had lost their work, were prohibited from remaining in Brittany or obliged to settle away from their country. Those who remained or had been able to return to Brittany were discouraged. Many of them had taken the mentality of ex servicemen. They had thought they were so near to the victory, the independence or the autonomy they had fought for in 1940 that their disappointment had been much greater. Most of them had lost the enthusiasm necessary to accomplish political tasks. They suffered from a failure complex, and were not far off from believing, and French propaganda sought every day to convince them, that they had been mistaken. In the small towns, they also sometimes suffered from the discredit of their fellow citizens. They were not all strong enough to overcome it. The most capable ones sought refuge in cultural activities, only involved at a distance with the political and social life. Certainly, their convictions and their loyalty remained. But they could not be relied on to act, to take up again and re-launch a political struggle. The best they could do was to join forces with it when the time came.
Thus a new generation of militants had to be made aware and gathered together, younger, having escaped from the traumas of the war and free from the hatreds and grudges of the past, as also of the sufferings this past had caused. In the ranks of this new generation, some stars were beginning to shine. The problem was to unite them and gather them together. To inspire them with enthusiasm and courage, without which any cause, even the noblest one, cannot hope to succeed.