The Genesis of the M.O.B.
(Mouvement pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne)
All of these observations, remarks and considerations brought back from my first visit to Brittany and gone into more thoroughly during the winter of 1955-56, my daydreams and thoughts at my desk, facing my horizon of sea and mountains, in my walks and inspection tours around the pond, were confirmed in the course of my second visit in the spring of 1956. I stopped several days in Paris on the way and on my return. I had been able to purchase a two-horse power Citroën, with the help of Francois Goasdoué, which greatly facilitated my travels in Brittany. They were still difficult to obtain at the time. I had therefore been able to further widen my contacts and extend my visits, to see them all again. I gave myself the luxury of time. I would frequently stop in the middle of the countryside, at the top of a hill from which I could contemplate the landscape of small fields and hedges still unscathed from the devastation of re-allotments, at the side of a field of furze or standing stone, at the front precincts of chapels dotted with primroses. I breathed in the scent of earth, grass and new leaves. Brittany at that time of year is a sort of pallet and symphony in yellow. I remembered the poems of Charles Le Goffic and the sayings of Chateaubriand singing “le printemps de Bretagne, enchantement du monde, sourire virginal de la terre et des cieux”. I needed my solitude just as much as I did before. Ireland in the midst of my ordeals had offered it; Brittany that I had been obliged to leave still held it for me.
It seemed to me that the work and efforts of C.E.L.I.B. as also those of the cultural movement, praiseworthy and necessary as they might be, alone, were incapable, without a political extension, of providing Brittany and its people with the solutions they were counting on, on an economic and material development level as well as in the safeguard of its cultural identity. On this point we were at exactly the same stage as on the eve of the war. Everything was decided in Paris, by Paris and the State’s administrations: everything depended on them. Anything that could be obtained on both these fronts rested solely on their good will. Whatever a ruling, a decree, even a law could achieve, another ruling, decree or another law could instantly revoke without any possibility of opposing it through any political or judicial appeal. Brittany and its direct representatives needed to have a field of legislation, of rights, of finance and rulings reserved for them alone to take, discuss, decide and apply. Above all, they needed their own institutions that would not under any circumstance be subject to the good will of the French State, its senior civil servants and its legists. C.E.L.I.B. had no “charter” aside from a few decrees. The “Breton plan” it had proposed had remained unanswered. The schools, teaching and their programs remained closely under the direction from Paris. Only a constant struggle ensured the perenniality of Deixonne’s law, which the central services had several times tried to suppress or render inoperative.
The Bretons had to regain the power to make decisions for themselves on everything that rightfully concerned them alone: organisation of the teaching, protection of their heritage, utilisation of their savings together with credit and investment policies, administration of their own resources, levying of their own taxes, defining and exercising their political, economic and social priorities. It should not be up to Paris to decide whether or not the Breton language and the History of Brittany should be taught in the schools, or up to their government to decide on the utilisation of the Bretons’ savings without consulting them. Only the obtaining of a specific institutional statute would guarantee the application of these: this type of statute was not without precedents within the new Europe that was being constructed.
Few people, even amongst the better-informed citizens, grant institutions the attention they deserve. Yet, though they do not realise it, these do mould intellectual life and ways of thinking, forming the framework of their existence and contributing to its orientation.
The political, financial, administrative and intellectual centralisation aggravates this phenomenon in France: it moulds the way of thinking and behaviour, influences reasoning and takes over the mind. Brittany and its people always needed a space reserved for them. Only the forming of new institutions and organised collective rights could provide this. They had existed long ago. The Revolution and the Empire, in spite of the Bretons’ opposition, had illegally done away with them, and they had never ceased to suffer from this since. It was a reality, in spite of efforts to dazzle the Bretons. We were also brought irresistibly and inexorably to the necessity for autonomy, whether regional or not, federal or not, national or not. It remained essential. Regionalisation was a long-term object of C.E.L.I.B. It did pragmatically take up the idea and concept of it but went no further. It could obtain some concessions that did not call into question the State’s systems and organisation. But the basic problem could not be resolved without going beyond it. Martray certainly was of that opinion, as also were all those I met. The strength of C.E.L.I.B. was drawn from its unanimity and its representation amongst the parliamentarians and notables, who otherwise belonged to very different political backgrounds: but it was not possible to broach the subject of the institutions and reform of the State without breaking this unanimity. On this point also, Paris was in command.
To popularise a reform of the State and the refashioning of institutions is not an easy thing. Few people understand the importance of it, and even less the urgency and necessity. Only periods of extended crisis and political upheavals are favourable for these relatively important types of changes, as was the case recently with the collapse of the soviet dictatorship. One of the few methods that could be used was the one I had used with the small group of Breton students in Paris to launch the Ar Brezhoneg er Skol campaign during the five years preceding the war: that of petitions, requests, individual and collective signatures, written and verbal campaigns as well as various demonstrations. We had thus been able to put forward the agreement of the majority of the municipal councils of Basse-Bretagne in favour of the teaching of Breton in the schools of the communes where it was the everyday language of the population. I had used the same method by submitting a proposal of statutes for the province of Brittany under the Vichy government to the municipalities, the associations, groups and personalities of all kinds. It was this proposal that had been submitted in 1942 to that government, with the signatures of all the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne’s members. I reproduced the text in “La Patrie Interdite“. It would simply be a case of taking up the essential elements of it, bringing it up to date and adapting it to present circumstances. The terms would also need to be toned down and the vocabulary modified.
This is how the proposal for the organisation of Brittany was born. It became the basic charter of the Comité pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne (C.O.B.), then of the Mouvement pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne (M.O.B.). The original text I had proposed, had been rounded off, redrafted and adjusted according to various advices, in particular that of Martray, Pierre Laurent and Yann Poupinot. The final text and presentation were done in the course of a restricted meeting at Yann Poupinnot’s place, in Colombes, in May 1956, before my return to Ireland where the fishing season claimed my attention again. I have not come across the notes that I made with the names of all the participants. But apart from Yann Poupinnot and myself, there was Pierre Laurent with his precise polytechnician’s mind, Yvonnig Gicquel accompanied by those responsible for the Jeunesse Etudiante Bretonne de Paris, Jean Kergrenn and Pierre Lemoine. All, apart from Pierre Laurent and myself, were of the new generation of militants. The final text that would be printed and presented in the form of a petition submitted to all for signature, and in particular to those mainly responsible for the political, economic and social life of Brittany, including parliamentarians and councillors, contained the essential elements that should be adopted for the setting up of a regional organisation in Brittany, granting it autonomy to really decide and manage, albeit in a limited manner; the creation of a region for Brittany with its five departments, of an elected regional assembly, equipped with a budget and deliberating powers as also with an executive body, for everything concerning the interests of Brittany; the setting up of a specific regional administration, an outline of its areas of decision and rulings reserved for the Breton assembly and its administration, particularly in cultural matters. As it stood, this new proposal was not much different, apart from a new vocabulary, from the previous one that we had tried to set up thanks to the creation of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne. It is hardly different, apart from the extent of powers bestowed on regions, from texts governing administrative regions that have since seen light of day. But in 1956, though moderate, they still appeared “heretical” to the upper levels of the French administration, detrimental to the unity and indivisibility of the State.
Those who refer to the text of this proposal will undoubtedly notice that no reference is made to the European dimensions the so-called “regional” problems were beginning to assume. The latter only became important, and at times burning issues, thanks to the struggle of our “Stateless nations”, seeking their rights and liberties. The only reference in the P.O.B. is to the development of international rights guaranteeing “the rights and liberties of all European communities and regions”. We were still essentially battling within the framework of this French State whose intolerable stranglehold we were endeavouring to break, and from whom C.E.L.I.B. was trying to extract some measures and rulings likely to serve Breton interests. This was purely the immediate struggle.
This European dimension had always seemed to me to be a necessary one to the development of our struggle. This is why I had wanted to recall it during the conferences and discussions that marked as it were my return to politics in May 1956, after a ten-year absence in forced exile, amongst those who wanted to take up or continue the necessary struggle for the rights and liberties of Brittany and its people. We sought to dismantle these absolute powers of the State from the bottom, asking it to share its powers, but it was also necessary to dismantle them from the top. The construction and advances of European institutions, after what we hoped would be the last European civil war, the development of European rights, the adoption of an international convention for the protection of the rights of citizens and the different people of Europe, could only help and complement the struggle we were waging within the French State in which we were integrated. Other peoples waged a similar struggle to ours, within the States of which they were part.
There was a large audience gathered together in Rennes on the 16th of May 1956 to attend the first conference, organised under the umbrella of Jeunesse etudiante Bretonne, with Joël Guégan its president at the time. He had asked Jean-Louis Bertrand to present me to the audience. The public was mostly students, but a certain number of older members of the Breton movement and some survivors of the purges were also there. I repeated this conference on 29th of May at Kervreiz, in Paris, and again on the 6th of November 1956 in Quimperlé, during a meeting organised by Celtic groups.
I developed the same theme in these three places, emphasising one or other of the ideas presented. It was published at a later stage in the Ar Sonner, the B.A.S.’s publication. A separate publication of it was done by the Comité pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne, under the title “De la Bretagne a la France et a l’Europe”. A large print-run was decided on, as the brochure also had as an appendix the text of the Projet pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne that we wanted to distribute as widely as possible. One could cut out the page with the petition and return it signed to the secretary. It seemed important that the address for this should be in Brittany. Pierre Le Padellec, whose father had ten years previously been assassinated by the French Resistance for his Breton militancy, was finishing his studies in Paris. He suggested using his address in Bubry on a provisional basis. Shortly afterwards the secretariat was transferred to Ronan Goarant’s place in Lorient, when a support committee was created there.
It is still possible to find copies of the brochure ‘De la Bretagne a la France et a l’Europe’ in secondhand bookshops. (Also from the Fondation/IDBE, see under 2.Books) I will therefore simply put forward some of the subheadings from the text to give a better idea of the ideas I exposed, in this first public demonstration since my acquittal, in order to make it easier and clearer to read. I started off by throwing some light on the concepts, invariably confused, of the distinctions to be made between the Nation and the State. Brittany had been a state just as France was. Brittany had not ceased being a nation, even though it had lost its Statehood: “In Brittany State and nation are never confused one for the other” – “In Brittany the nation goes before the State” – “In France it is the State that creates the nation” – ” The State is not to be confused with the nation” – “Several nations can coexist in a State” – “History can not always be perceived through the French end of the spyglass” – “The organisation of the French State is by dictatorial rules of conduct” “The French concept of nation-State against Europe” – “The dogma of One and Indivisible against liberties” – ” The French concept of One and Indivisible at the origins of separatisms”– “Only a multi-national and federal French-State can reconcile unity and liberties and can contribute to the unity of Europe” – “The administration needs to be diversified and the State federalised” – “The struggle for our specific Breton liberties is also a struggle for France and Europe.”
It was around these main principles of doctrine and action, independently of the simplistic ideologies that had caused so much harm to Europe and its components that the struggle should hinge on in future, in my opinion. It was also in going over the text of this brochure that I became convinced of the need to write and diffuse works establishing once more the forgotten and contested historical truths and, as an extension of this, offering new perspectives on Brittany’s struggles as well as those of Europe’s other nations without States. During my rare moments of leisure in the summer of 1956, I began to gather together the necessary notes for the writing of ‘La Bretagne écartelée’ and of ‘L’Europe aux cent drapeaux’. This task continued over the next few years. Until now, I had essentially been a journalist: but articles pass on, quickly forgotten after having been quickly read. Few think of reading them again or of keeping them. A newspaper is thrown away whilst a book is kept and taken up again, is studied. I had to become a historian, analyst, political scientist and legal expert: an immense task that I would obviously not come to the end of. I had already reached an age where one considers leaving behind an account, a message, an idea, an echo of actions taken, a landmark in the life and behaviour of a people, a stone in the building of its future.
It seemed to me particularly necessary, as I had been able to gage the extent of the ignorance and incomprehension our struggle was up against amongst public opinion in general. Ten years of lying propaganda, of slander and amalgamation had done its work in Brittany. By decapitating the Breton movement, doing away with its political publications, exiling those who had written them, creating a reign of fear and intimidation amongst those who had defended it, the new Jacobin repression employed at the liberation had attained its goal. Breton public opinion was narrowly controlled under the guise of conventionality. The role of “La Bretagne écartelé“, my first book, was to set the record straight, on the true history of those years 1938 to1948, by putting a stop to “looking at this history through only the French end of the spyglass.”
My acquittal had been acknowledged with a certain amount of disdain by a number of local representatives in French political circles in Brittany, as also by those government civil servants who owed their positions to the Liberation. It reminded them all of the Liberation’s special legislation and the excesses committed in its name: they preferred to forget all of that, now that those who had benefited from it were well settled in places and posts that had been usurped in many cases. The Director of Public Prosecution Orvain, who had pleaded against me before the special court in Rennes in 1946, as a zealous servant of the government’s orders, was still in place in 1955. He ignored my lawyer from Rennes, Jean-Louis Bertrand, for several weeks, by carefully avoiding meeting him or speaking to him. He undoubtedly felt vexed to have been, after an interval of ten years, disclaimed by his peers: maybe he considered my acquittal to be a cover-up.
I had decided to visit Armand Terriere, who had been director of the Catholic daily newspaper Le Nouvelliste when I directed La Bretagne, and whose loyalty and professional solidarity towards me had never failed. After having been suspended for a long time, he had finally again been able to return, thanks to the archbishop of Rennes, to take office as the head of the Nouvelles de Bretagne in the same role that he had held before at the Nouvelliste. L’Ouest-France that had replaced L’Ouest–Éclair, as a result of the same special legislation, had not felt it could remain silent regarding my acquittal: but had published the information with a few lines in small type in the corner of a page of secondary importance.
Le Télégramme, successor to La Dépêche de Brest where, as mentioned before, I had exercised the functions of political director, had preferred to publish nothing at all. Coudurier, through a memo to his editorial team, had given strict instructions, which his son maintained when he succeeded him, that my name should never be mentioned in the columns of the newspaper he directed. This same prohibition lives on. It still exists as I write. It also extends to the name of Joseph Martray, who had also been at La Dépêche under my direction.
Whenever they were obliged to report on meetings or gatherings of C.E.L.I.B, which gathered together a number of Breton personalities or notables, there was sometimes mention of a phantom general secretary whose name was never given. Martray and I both knew about it. To the extent that whenever we saw a correspondent from LeTélégramme during the meetings one of us was to speak at, or organise, we would normally take the correspondent aside and tell him he should avoid mentioning our names as if he did so his article might not be accepted.
If I had to deal with a State civil servant, even a subordinate, I would be politely received but always with some reserve and without any warmth. I remained not the kind of person you would care to associate with in their eyes: they especially did not want to risk their reputation. As a result of the conference I had given in Rennes, the academic authorities had convened the office of la Jeunesse Etudiante Bretonne. The students were criticised for having invited me to speak and for having held the conference-debate under the aegis of their organisation. Rennes’ political circles that were greatly influenced by Henri Fréville undoubtedly prompted this, as also did the prefecture.
Some time later, after the creation of the M.O.B., two of my conferences were forbidden by the Rennes and Nantes local prefectures, on the pretext of “the danger to public order it could present”, as claimed by a delegation to the prefet comprised of representatives from the Communist party and the M.R.P. I was certainly guilty of being an avowed opponent to the Jacobin State and of fighting to dismantle it. Much later still, Ortoli, then president of the European community’s commission, who had remained more unconditionally a Jacobin French Gaullist than a European, had refused to allow one of my conferences on “l’Europe aux cents drapeaux”, intended for the stagiaires and European students in the services of the commission, to be held in the public buildings of these services. This speaks volumes about the manner in which some people respect the freedom of expression, of opinions and way of thinking that it is the duty of democratic societies to maintain. For the French Jacobin of all ideologies, to call into question the sacred indivisibility of the sovereign nation-State remains a crime, but it is a crime that the defenders of our liberties and of liberty pure and simple have to commit.
Recently, in an article about my book “La Patrie Interdite“, the historian J.J.Monnier, director of Peuple Breton, questioned the true reasons for the “unfair ” judgment that sentenced me in 1946, considering that, as he says, “I was not any more involved than the majority of my contemporaries and even less so than a number of others.” He does certainly point out the role played by the “grudges” of the ex-directors of La Dépêche de Brest. But in addition he puts forward the hypothesis that my determined action made me a “potential competitor for the M.R.P.” amongst the more moderate Breton personalities, and that “my Breton actions were used as a pretext to set aside a man of politics who was a nuisance for the parties and for the hexagonal press in Brittany”. The political factor undoubtedly played its role, at least locally. Although, this forgets too easily that the Liberation on the whole was used to remove a number of civil servants and political personalities from their posts and from public life. I was far from being the only one, as it happens. The M.R.P. was not the only reason, in spite of the important role played by Henri Fréville in the charges against me. The socialist, Tanguy Prigent, deputy socialist for Morlaix, who had become a minister under de Gaulle, certainly played a role in the arrest and charges brought against de Guébriant, with a view to removing him from the trade union and public role he played at the head of the local trade unions and the chambers of agriculture for Finistere. The charges against me had opened up and reinforced an alliance and unnatural collusions between the extreme left that was mainly communist, responsible for the “bloody” purges that Le Gorgeu, being a good Jacobin, was obliged to listen to, in spite of his aversion to the “disturbance” they caused, on one hand, and those of the M.R.P. on the other, whose leaders took charge of the legal purges, thanks to the ministers they had in the 4th Republic’s governments.
The deep underlying reasons for my arrest and the sentence that followed were not only as a result of a timely local alliance between diverging political tendencies or interests. It must not be forgotten that Henri Fréville’s M.R.P. was just as Jacobin, centralising and defending of the One Unity and Indivisibility of the State, as was the radical-socialist Le Gorgeu. The conversations with the former, as reported by Alain Peyrefitte in “Le Mal francais” leave no doubt on that score. Both were also supported in this matter by the new French administration, that of national Education, as of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Jacobinism and centralism are State doctrines and ideologies in France. All the central administrations, all the hexagonal governments, of the right or of the left, are deeply imbued with it. Le Gorgeu, as also Fréville, were but the zealous interpreters and executors of this State doctrine. A State doctrine that transcends all others can only be defended by reasons of State. Justice, fairness and even simple common sense have nothing to do with it. Political Regionalism as I saw it, and that I defended, did not find favour in the eyes of the State’s structures, any more than did federalism, autonomism and separatism. What an opportunity not to be missed during this second persecution of the Girondins at the Liberation, to get rid of one that personified the former and, even worse, that had led him to achieve some concrete results! Reasons of State are thus termed because they are without reason and fulfill requirements.
Commissaire Le Gorgeu qualified as “autonomist” the modest successes of the Comité Consultatif de Bretagne in favour of the teaching of the language and History of Brittany. Henri Fréville in the reports he signed accuses me of being in reality a partisan of “pronounced autonomy”. My main crime, in his eyes, is to have introduced an “unacceptable political regionalism” to La Dépêche de Brest, which he qualified as dangerous, whilst “regionalism in that newspaper, before my arrival, was depicted through articles on history, geography, legends or pictures of local incidents”, a completely “harmless” regionalism, with never any political element. In the sentence inflicted on me in 1946, all this had also played a role.
In ‘La Bretagne écartelé’ I showed how even the mildest sentences inflicted on Breton political and cultural militants had always held their Breton action to be an aggravating circumstance. And here I was, committing a subsequent offence by being acquitted! The spheres of government and their local representatives, political circles, were gradually beginning to get used to the strictly apolitical action of C.E.L.I.B. for the defense of Breton interests. Advocating political regionalism or federalism was another story. They thought they had got rid of all that after the clean sweep of the Liberation!
“You are starting up again!” Raymon Deugnier said to me with concern. He had become prefet for Côtes du Nord and I had come to pay him a long visit. “I found it all again in the text you sent me of your conference in Rennes: internal autonomy, federalism, independence within interdependence, all those ideas we discussed together so often and that are, undeniably, of interest. I have been receiving police reports about you. Do not make the mistake of thinking that the 4th republic’s government is any more favourable to all this as was that of Vichy and those of the 3rd, in spite of the few concessions that you obtained, owing to the circumstances! You have been acquitted of the crimes of collaboration and undermining the integrity of the State. But that does not mean that you have been proved right in the action you took, and that Paris today looks on it any more favourably than it did before.
It would certainly have been surprising, if my activities had not attracted the attention of the political police. All citizens in France, involved in any activity, are under surveillance, even more so if their activity is of a political, social or trade union nature.
I had the confirmation of all that shortly before the formation of the M.O.B., during a friendly conversation in Paris with the cinematographer and journalist Georges Duchesne. It opened my eyes even further to my standing with the French administration and the services of the political police. Duchesne, filming at the time for Pathé news, had produced a sequence on the Breton movement: he especially recalled the destruction of the 1932 Rennes monument by Breton activists. The sequence ended with interviews in Ireland of some Breton refugees. I had of course helped him in any way I could. To his great surprise, the Ministry of the Interior and the film censorship services had refused to allow the Pathé news authorities to broadcast this sequence. He hesitated considerably before revealing that the administration services and the police he had dealt with had given him a veiled and “confidential” warning regarding myself, a warning that he had not been forbidden to reveal to me.
“We are keeping a close watch on M.Fouéré. If anything should happen, any serious incident concerning the Breton movement in Brittany, he will be the first one we will blame.”
“My thanks,” I said to him, “for frankly reporting this warning to me and I should undoubtedly also thank the one who told you and whom I do not know. But if by any chance you come across him again during any future dealings, be sure to tell him that although I am flattered by the attention the State is paying me, I will not be intimidated, nor will I modify the behaviour and actions I have always maintained.”
Here I was, once more threatening the sacrosanct principles of the unity and uniformity of the State. In France, ideas are well liked. They can be discussed ad infinitum, have articles devoted to them, books and brochures: but the French State does not like it if one tries to put them into practice when they contradict the fundamental dogmas on which it has been founded.
I was certainly long since aware that France is a “formal democracy” but not a complete one, and that the rights of its citizens, whatever they may think, are not at all as great as they are led to believe, because of the limitations that are in fact brought to bear on them. All this inevitably presented me with practical problems for an eventual return to settle on French territory. I had already reached an age when it is difficult in the modern economy to find employment in management or in charge of private concerns, large or small. I had put out a few feelers, made some enquiries, but they all came to nothing. It would have been nonsensical to abandon the business I had succeeded in building up, and that was still developing, without first finding other employment or activity to replace it. My commitments were increasing with the age of our children and the worry of their education. I had just barely come out of a “tunnel” that I had been locked into for nearly ten years. After years of precarious, difficult and eventful living, marked by the constant struggle for survival, I had barely had time to learn to breathe again. I had quite definitely been eliminated without recourse from my journalistic activities, as had practically all my ex colleagues. There were certainly no prospects of having my post in the prefectural administration returned to me and it was not in me to beg for it. Some had nonetheless suggested it to me. I preferred to continue carrying as a sort of award the sentence that had been inflicted on me and that my acquittal had nullified. I did not have to renounce any of my actions. I was too fond of my independence to contemplate such a solution. In fact, had I been reintegrated in the administration, I would have been sent to perform my duties in Reunion or Guadalupe, as my Basque friend Eugene Goyenetche had been, and he was not even a member of the prefectural staff but a departmental archivist.
I could hardly contemplate anything else but the setting up of an independent commercial enterprise in Brittany; similar to the one I had in Ireland. It would require considerable capital that I did not have. In addition, I would certainly be subjected to administrative and fiscal controls or other frustrating red tape of all sorts. These practices are not illegal according to the law, but they are unbearable, ruinous and eliminatory for those involved in politics hostile to the State. As far as the French administration and the successive governments, which in reality serve it instead of being served by it, were concerned, I was still evidently a “heretic”, a dangerous spirit they had to guard against in case of contamination.
The petition for l’Organisation de la Bretagne was gradually picking up speed. Thanks to everyone’s efforts it already had a considerable number of signatures. The latter were from very varied, dissimilar and sometimes unexpected circles. Amongst these signatures were a relatively small number from Mayors, councillors and parliamentarians. Moderate and prudent as it was, the proposal for l’Organisation de la Bretagne aroused fears and a certain diffidence. The efforts of C.E.L.I.B. had certainly born fruit for the defence of the material and cultural interests of Brittany. They were followed wherever they had the support of influential local personalities from business circles and parliamentarians from all parties. However, it was another thing to ask for true “regional powers” that were concrete and effective. The idea of an assembly, and in particular that of an executive administration, frightened off many personalities: they feared that they could be undermining the hexagon’s political parties with which they identified.
It was easy to detect that what lay behind this attitude of mind was the fear aroused by the repression that had followed the Liberation.
“It is not autonomist I hope?” Senator Esteve, a friend of my father’s, had nervously asked me when I went to visit him at the Senate to present him with the petition.
I had none of this, on the other hand, with his colleague, Ihuel, whom I had known since the thirties and who had a much more open mind and a more unbiased judgment, owing to the fact that he had been a prisoner in Germany during the Occupation. But until a regional power had been obtained and installed, everything that C.E.L.I.B. requested would most likely be instantly reduced to nothingness.
As far as I was concerned, and it was the same for the members of the initial small group, it was not only a matter of organising and publicising a petition. We felt that the result should be the creation of an organised movement, whose first supporters would be the signatories to the petition. It was therefore essential, not only for publicising and spreading the collection of signatures, but also for laying the foundations of a future movement, to create and animate local committees in the main towns. These in turn could organise political meetings, conferences, exchange of ideas etc… The work to be done in the field was of a practical and often thankless nature as well as being time-consuming. The first signatories of the petition in the main centres should be assembled and organised in the light of both these objectives. Few amongst us had the time and the means to do this, all taken up with their professions. I decided to devote as much time as I could to this during my next visits in the autumn of 1956 and the spring of 1957. One of the signatories, or a Breton militant that we might know in a region, could be in charge of calling and organising a meeting of the signatories and sympathisers to our cause from that region. On the arranged date I could make my way there to chair the meeting and thus lay the foundations for a local committee.
Once more, I took up my pilgrim’s staff, just as I had done at the time of Ar Brezoneg er Skol, twenty years earlier. I renewed old contacts: tried to reanimate the enthusiasm necessary for any political action. I happily traveled the roads of Brittany once more: rediscovering the hidden pathways, the splendours of our churches, our calvaries and our chapels, the solitude of our summits, the sacred valley of Koat-Këo, the swaying harvest, the fervour and hymns of the religious festival for Saint-Yves, the solemn splendour of the Minihy banners. Everything here was probably less grandiosely beautiful, but softer and more measured than in Ireland: the light, the countryside, the colours, the sea and the wind. My country deserved better than to allow it to become grey, diluted, nondescript, broken up, and finally to be lost.
Saint-Lunaire was still my base but was out of the way in relation to the rest of Brittany. I was thus often obliged to accept the hospitality of various people or stay in a hotel. My 2-CV was extremely useful. Between visits, I stored it either with Madame de Saint-Pierre in Saint-Brieuc, or sometimes in the schools’ garages in Saint-Lunaire, where my father could use it. Later on, I left it with my sister-in-law Yvonne who was in charge of the Navy’s social centre in Lorient and used it frequently when I was in Ireland.
I had been able to extend my visits and my contacts: Jacques Guillemot in Quimper, Francois du Fretay in Ploaré, Abel Omnes in Plougrescant, Pierre Bourdelles in Lannion, Armand Le Calvez and Madame Galbrun in Plouezec, Father Alexis Plesse in Boquen, the writer Loeiz ar Floc’h, the Reverend Father Godu, Vefa de Bellaing and Th. Salaün in Saint-Brieuc, Alain Le Berre in Brest, Polig Monjarret in Lorient and others also that I had not been able to meet during my first visits.
After a few months, the local committees, more or less active depending on those that animated them, had been created. They were in operation in Rennes, Saint-Malo, Saint-Brieuc, Redon, La Baule, Nantes, Brest, Quimper, Quimperlé, Vannes and Lorient. In Brest, Pierre Lemoine had already created ‘Ar Vro-Jeune Bretagne’, with the first issues appearing in 1955. He had subsequently obtained the assistance of Erwan Ropers. The newspaper had become a monthly. It was consistently good and bravely introduced the overall struggle we wanted to engage in. From the beginning of 1957 I regularly contributed articles for it. It would later merge with L’Avenir when the latter was created at the beginning of the following year. Julien Lemoine, Pierre’s father, worked alongside him on numerous secretarial tasks for the U.F.C.E. or Union Federaliste de Communautées Ethniques, which Martray, occupied with C.E.L.I.B. was no longer able to do. International action was also increasingly necessary at this time of the formation of Europe.
The Lorient committee, animated by Montjaret, Le Lann, Ronan Goarant and Le Fur, very soon proved to be the most active one. I maintained a constant correspondence with those responsible for the various local committees that I had helped to found. But the task proved to be too much and the mail with Ireland was not the fastest. The need for a permanent secretariat based in Brittany and not in Paris or elsewhere was rapidly felt. Ronan Goarant agreed to take on the task. He had those qualities of order and method, and the administrative experience that quickly proved to be particularly useful for the performance of all those unpleasant tasks, which was essential for the action we had undertaken. No action will succeed, nor any movement continue unless it relies on the work by devoted militants, steadily accomplished with perseverance, often in the background, doing the essential tasks of animation, correspondence, contacts and management. Money can certainly replace it: but a political movement of the kind we wanted to establish does not often have the means to pay for those services. It was in any case too soon to think of it.
Personally, once the first committees had been set up, I was of the opinion that it was best to wait another few months before fixing a date for the general assembly of the signatories that we planned to hold. But most members of our small team were in hurry to go ahead. We therefore decided to fix a date for the autumn of 1957: the Lorient committee was the obvious choice for the organization.
In the summer of 1957, the Morbihan department alone comprised a quarter of the signatories registered for the P.O.B. It was closely followed by Paris and its suburbs holding 21%, Finistere 17%, Loire-Atlantique 11%, whilst Ille-et-Vilaine and Côtes-du-Nord had 9 and 7% respectively. In addition, Lorient was more easily accessible by road and by train. The date chosen was the 10th November, on the eve of a holiday that made it easier for people to organise. I made my plans in order to be in Brittany from early October and thus be able to do the last visits and arrangements should these be necessary.
Ten years after the end of the war, Lorient, which had been occupied by the Germans until 1945, had painfully begun its reconstruction: it was far from being finished. A number of “bunkers”, difficult to destroy, were still in evidence along the quai des Indes. The German and French engineers had made the town, its harbour and the submarine navy base into a veritable sea fortress. Just as in Brest, life was only just beginning again in the town centre that had been completely destroyed. In 1957, the people of Lorient still lived amongst rubble. The town hall had been temporarily set up in a building that had suffered considerable damage, but that had been more or less temporarily fixed up until its destruction on the completion of the present town hall. It was in one of these large rooms that our constituent assembly was to take place. We certainly did not expect that the few thousand signatories for the P.O.B. would be present. But the large room we had been allocated could take around 250 people. Before the meeting had even started, at 10 o’clock in the morning, the room proved to be already too small. A temporary sound system was quickly set up in an adjacent room to accommodate the overflow of participants. For many it was truly a reunion after the dark days of the war. Though there were many “old hands”, over half of the audience represented the younger generations who had not been involved in those troubled times. A number of political personalities, of parliamentarians and elected representatives had sent their apologies. The list was so long that it was impossible to name them all. All the Breton departments at least were represented at the meeting by several of their elected representatives from the communes and the departments. The morning session was presided over by Jean Fichoux, mayor of Arzano and councilor for Finistere, who later on became senator. For the afternoon session it was Hervé de Halgouët, mayor of Renac, councilor for Ille-et-Vilaine and also president of Association Bretonne. The audience gave an ovation to Maître Fournis, mayor of Guémené-Penfao and councillor for Loire-Atlantique, when he strongly asserted that department’s membership to Brittany, in spite of the unjust administrative rulings that had provisionally separated it!
The general meeting of the signatories for the P.O.B., which gave birth to the M.O.B. or Mouvement Pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne, was in every sense a “magnificent meeting”, as described by the assistant mayor of Lorient, M.Vince, in the speech he made. L’Avenir took up the term in its first issue of January 1958, underlining the “magnificent success”. This account can only recall the highlights of this memorable day, as does also the brochure that we published in the course of 1958 under the title “Pourquoi et Comment” reproducing the texts of the main papers that were read and the speeches made in the course of the meeting – a brochure that can be referred to and is still available from the offices of L’Avenir de la Bretagne, (Also on the French site under, ARCHIVES, and copies available from La Fondation/IDBE).
After a short speech from Jean Fichoux, it was H.Le Lan from Lorient who specified the historical background and justification for the P.O.B., and then Yann Poupinot who analysed the “Breton discontent”, followed by Jean Coché describing its consequences on our agricultural world, and then myself on the need for the creation of an organised movement that would work towards a reform of the French State’s institutions and the creation of a regional organisation with powers to deliberate, make decisions and apply them to anything concerning Brittany and the defence of its people’s interests.
“This objective,” I added, “we will not achieve without a struggle. The movement that we will create should therefore be of a specific nature and limited in its objective, but it must be determined, even aggressive, in the methods it will have to employ to obtain its objective.”
We had all underlined the necessity to put an end to France’s system of government and centralised admininistration, applied to such an extent by the State as to be absurd and ridiculous.
C.E.L.I.B.’s efforts and struggles were highly commendable and we were the first to support them, encourage them and join with them. But C.E.L.I.B was only a Comité with no powers of decision. From its very structure it could only remain a pressure group. It could only intervene, study, suggest. The application of the Plan Breton they had elaborated did not depend on them but on distant administrations in Paris. Brittany’s problems could also not be reduced to merely an economic dimension: the problem was a global one; it also had a human, cultural and social dimension. What Brittany and the Breton people needed above all were powers and liberties. These powers and liberties were inseparable from the creation of truly regional institutions. Only an assembly elected by the five Breton departments together with a regional administration in charge of discussing and applying the decisions made, would be able to ensure the passing of C.E.L.I.B.’s Plan Breton, from the field of pious desirability to that of concrete realisation. No economic and cultural decentralisation could be achieved without this prerequisite.
“We ask that the Bretons be given the right and the power,” cried Yann Poupinot in a pithy turn of phrase, “ to themselves convert Brittany House in which they live, situated in France Street in the region of Europe.”
De Halgouët, recalling the “loi-cadre” or parent act, that was being discussed in Paris at the time in view of its eventual application to Algeria, a law that would have bestowed a much greater administrative and political autonomy on it than that of a mere French department, put forward this proposal as a possible solution to the Breton problem and cried:
“We must never cease to recall the origins of Brittany and to affirm that if we are at present integrated into an economic and political system of a greater entity, we must always consider that we were different originally and have remained so.”
He was given an ovation, after also echoing the Paris deputy, M.Legaret, during the parliamentary discussion on the overseas territories, a speech made with the latent concern for the uniformity that afflicts most French minds:
“We will not be able to grant a system of liberty,” he had said, “a system giving a sense of independence, of humanity and good tradition to all these people who want their autonomy, if we do not treat our own locals at home in the same manner.”
I had cited the case of a young Senegalese student in Rennes, who had signed our proposal, saying; “that he wanted to show his sympathy with those struggling to defend their regional personality against an excessive centralisation that is frequently identified with the colonialism his people have suffered from extensively”.
Most of those who contributed to the discussion after the speeches were in agreement with the necessity of a sort of “internal federalism” extended to the whole of France. The Breton students gathered together in Quimper shortly before, had expressed themselves in a similar vein. But it implied a profound reform of the French State’s institutions. We therefore had to bring “a Breton solution” to French problems, over and above our own struggle. Other regions and people suffered just as we did.
We could not have confidence in the classical political parties, centralised and controlled from Paris moulded by the State, to work towards that. The creation of a political party of Breton unity was necessary: it would transcend, as C.E.L.I.B. did, the ideological and political divisions that separated the French parties. The assembly therefore decided to form the Mouvement pour l’Organisation de la Bretagne, better known as M.O.B.
Meeting of the MOB in 1962(See French site under 5.Photos, for more photos on the M.O.B.
The afternoon session provided the representatives of the local committees with an opportunity to elaborate on the work they had already accomplished. Ronan Goarant described how the Lorient committee worked, suggesting that it should be used as a model. He gave a resumé of the results achieved to date: he had in fact been doing the work of general secretary that would be officially entrusted to him after approval of the statutes and election of the fourteen-member executive committee, chosen according to their geographical location. It is appropriate here to repeat the names of those elected, though they did not subsequently all play the same role: Jean Coché, Loïc Conan, Dr.Coudray, Yann Fouéré, Ronan Goarant, Meriadec de Gouyon-Matignon, M.Guillemet, L.Guilleux, R.Heux, Jean Kergrenn, H.Le Lan, Pierre Laurent, Pierre Lemoine, Polig Montjarret, Yann Poupinot. Before dispersing, the assembly voted a motion defining the general policies, as did also the statutes, the aspirations and goals of the new movement. It They would be to work towards the abolition of the tightly centralised system in France by “granting administrative and financial liberty to the communes and regions, permitting them to manage their own interests, thus establishing the basis of a true democracy by limiting the powers of the State and transferring part of the powers it assumes at present, to the communes and regions” and by “a profound reform that would orientate the French institutions towards the realisation of an internal federalism, in accordance with recent developments on international rights.” But we had also called on “other French regions and provinces to a fraternal action with a view to providing all French populations and communities, with the appropriate structures for the fulfillment of their respective personalities and the defence of their legitimate interests.”
A long work session the next day, 11th November, brought the members of the executive together. It was held at Ronan Goarant’s place, rue du Docteur-Roux, where it was decided the headquarters of the general secretariat should be established. The necessary decisions were also made for the treasury, and to ensure the widest distribution possible of our motion of general policies: the regional and Paris press, as also the Breton members, deputies and senators, sitting in the French parliament.
In his speech to the general assembly, Pierre Laurent had underlined the necessity of rallying and informing public opinion in Brittany. He had spoken out against the negligence and unwillingness of the regional press of Brittany to inform this public opinion on all aspects of the Breton problem, including the political ones. He referred to the case of the Breton daily, without naming it, which systematically remained silent on all the activities, and even to the name of the C.E.L.I.B.
It was not long before we had confirmation of this analysis. The Lorient press faint-heartedly picked up news of the formation of the M.O.B. Ouest France confined the information to its section on local news and gave it as little importance as possible. As for Télégramme de Brest that Pierre Laurent had referred to, it deliberately made no mention of it at all. This spoke volumes on the professional conscience of its directors who deliberately ignored the fact that those who do not inform their readers, in reality, misinform and betray them.
The Paris press on the other hand did not have that faint-heartedness and caution. Le Monde gave the news fairly good coverage. The Parisian journalists, always seeking the sensational, wrote of the renaissance of “autonomism” though we had not ourselves used that word. It reflected the feelings of the new French political citcles, already confronted with the war in Algeria and worried about being confronted with another problem with roots and motives that were in fact similar to those troubling North Africa. They had been used to the apolitical C.E.L.I.B. and were concerned to see the Breton claims appearing again in decidedly political terms. The State structures and the world of French politics had hoped to have finished once and for all with the Breton question and the political movement it had inspired since the beginning of the century, thanks to the overall repressions carried out under false pretexts, just over ten years ago. The M.O.B. would have the honour, and myself also undoubtedly, to have dared, at this precise moment in history, to confront the adverse winds and again take up the struggle that in any case could only be interrupted but not stopped.
“You would not believe,” Joseph Martray told me a few days later, “the feelings that the creation of the M.O.B. have provoked in the world of politics! I have been overwhelmed with phone calls, visits and requests for information.”
I had already noted these feelings: Christian Bonnet, who had succeeded Le Pévédic in the Auray seat, had been the first parliamentarian from Brittany to sign the P.O.B. He was on a mission in Algeria during this early November. I had not as yet left Lorient when our secretariat received a telegram from him. Simple in its conciseness: “Please ask Fouéré not to mention my name.” It is true that later on he became, with Marcellin, another deputy from Morbihan, one of de Gaulle’s “firm-handed” Ministers of the Interior.
All of these incidents had provoked certain feelings amongst the less staunch and possibly the most diffident amongst us. We decided to organise a press conference in Paris in order to clarify matters. A few days later, Yann Poupinot and myself went to visit Yann Poilvet, himself a journalist, to enlist his help. He had been a signatory of the P.O.B. since a long time previously: at the time, he worked in Étampes. We had not met him before. Both his wife and himself received us kindly. He had opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate our visit and our meeting. Soon after, he became a member of our executive committee. For several years after his return to Brittany he saw to the preparation, editing and printing of L’Avenir just as he had done for C.E.L.I.B.’s ‘La Vie bretonne’.
A few days later, Pierre Laurent and I held the press conference to clarify matters, assisted by Poupinot, by de Gouyon-Matignon and Jean Kergrenn, already all members of the executive committee. In press circles, news ages very quickly: the creation of the M.O.B. no longer aroused as much feeling. But it provided an opportunity for us to specify the goals we were pursuing.
The M.O.B. followed its course and gradually became organised. In January, the first issue of L’Avenir was published. Our objective had been reached: the national Breton political movement had started up again. This was what was important.
2012: – Recent édition to celebrate the 500th issue of ‘L’Avenit de la Bretagne´- can be viewed on the French site under the same name.