To punish an innocent the judges usually place him between two guilty.
All governments lie, always and in everything: when it cannot lie on the basic, it lies on the details.
Prison cells are all very similar. Classic decor : tiled floor, about two meters by four, a high window with strong bars through which only a corner of sky can be glimpsed, and only the upper part can be opened; a metal framed bed fixed to the wall, covered with a hard mattress – excellent for rheumatism and arthritis – a small sink cum washbasin; a small cupboard with shelves, in wood; a small fold down table fixed to the wall; a stool; the door with the Judas hole, movable only from the outside, and locked from the corridor side; in a corner near the door a toilet bowl, whose cistern is outside, with only the end of the chain, which goes through the wall, that can be pulled by the prisoner; cement walls painted grey or cream, decorated with graffiti; quite a large central heating pipe across under the window, excellent for drying clothes: the tour is quickly over.
The cell I am in on this first day of real prison, although in reality it is the sixth, must have had the same occupant for quite some time. I have inherited his spoils: a lid for the toilet, handmade from strong cardboard, which turns out to be very useful; a few hangers; primitive soap holder and towel rail, ingeniously made from wire and string: small brush, dust pan and rags. Such wealth already, when you think of the ingenuity and patience that is needed in order to acquire the least thing in an establishment such as this, where the ownership of just about everything is forbidden. Stuck to the wall are pictures of pretty naked girls, with perfect breasts and bushy pubes, cut out of magazines, the most lascivious one placed in a strategic position, just over the toilet seat – a collection that must have taken him some time to gather.
The inventory is quickly done: the moving in even more so: we have all become poor of possessions again. Without delay, after the large bowl of coffee brought on waking at 7 o clock, I settle down at my writing desk. Luckily I have brought quite a number of blank pages of paper and some envelopes.
The most important thing when one is in prison, this being a warning for the numerous Breton, Basques, Corsican and other activists, who will not fail to spend time there, after me, over the years to come, is to keep in shape: mental and physical shape. It is not always easy, even less so the former than the latter: there is always apprehension on going to prison, and thoughts of those you have left behind, especially if one has a family.
Physical shape: I start the day, as I have done for years every morning at home, doing my eight to ten minutes of Swedish exercises, using the space available as best as I can. Keeping up this physical shape was a difficult problem thirty years ago, during the months I spent in the Rennes prison as a result of my Breton action in 1944.
There were too many of us to allow outside in the yards, and there were at least three of us to a cell: about the same size as this one. Nonetheless, I forced myself, once the beds had been folded down and my cell mates played cards in a corner, cards that I had made by cutting out some sheets of paper, to pace up and down, five steps in each direction, for the length of time necessary to cover at least two kilometres: all that was necessary was to count the about-turns, which occupied the mind as well: one about-turn equals four meters: two hundred and fifty about-turns equal one kilometre, five hundred etc…
I will not have that problem here: we are automatically considered to be under a so called ‘special’ regime, because of being charged by the State Security Court. As a result, we are entitled to a walk for two hours daily if we so wish. Around half past nine they come to collect me for that first walk.
It is certainly not a pleasant walk: we are brought individually to what the detainees call ‘the Cheese’. A series of small cemented yards, surrounded by high walls with wire fencing at the widest end – like in a zoo – , all shaped in triangles around a central axis , just like portions of cheese in a box, the centre being occupied by a guard in a small round tower, from where he can see into all the yards. It measures ten to twelve meters long, five to six meters at its widest point at the circumference. Here again it is necessary to calculate, I have my watch, it is easier and it saves having to count all the time. Walking fast, to and fro along the longest point I do five or six kilometres an hour. It is sufficient, as long as you do not start to feel giddy, and I still have time to stroll if it is not too cold, also to exchange a few words without seeing them over the wall with those walking in the adjacent portions of cheese.
This fast walk will certainly not bring you to the discovery of some lovely scenery unless you imagine it. There are walls, wire netting, stones and bars everywhere: but at least you are walking in the fresh air and you do not lose the use of your legs. It is a simple exercise of physical hygiene which it is essential to keep up.
My white hair and my politeness – I greet all those I meet, happy to see any human face – have already earned me a certain consideration: the guards are polite and, apart from a few exceptions, do not look the part. On my way to that first walk, I had silently greeted a dark haired detainee in his forties, forceful but gloomy looking, who stood by the doorway of a cell, whose door was reinforced with wire netting. I learnt later that this was the high security section where detainees considered to be dangerous were held: you have to go through this area to get to the yards, escorted by a guard. On my way back the man catches my attention and holds out a packet of Camel or Gitanes. I try to refuse:
“Yes, Yes, take them: it will help to keep you going until you have been able to obtain some. I am happy to give them to you.”
I feel that he has really more pleasure in giving them to me than I have in receiving them, and I thank him wholeheartedly.
A few steps further on, I ask the guard:
“Who is that kind gentleman?”
“It is Mesrine, he tells me: you know of him? there has been a lot about him in the newspapers.”
I admit my ignorance.
“He is accused of a dozen or so murders and hold-ups, in France and in Canada,” adds the guard laconically.
Mysteries of human nature! I am sure that in this world or another, someone, somewhere, will take into account his charitable gesture.
I had just returned to my cell when another unknown detainee – I learnt later that it was the cinema operator – , came in to my cell accompanied by a guard, and only stayed a few seconds to hand me two packets of ‘Gitanes’:
“These will help to keep you going until you have been able to obtain some, Monsieur l’abbé.”
“But I am not an abbé: one of my colleagues is…”
“It does not matter: it’s all the same and I am happy to help you.”
I barely have time to thank him before he goes and the door closes behind him. I am moved to tears, in my distress, to experience such kindness: being a light smoker, I have in one morning enough tobacco to last me more than a month!
And now it seems I have taken holy orders: I certainly owe many promotions and titles to the F.L.B. It is true that I have frequently been told I have the face of a Canon, erudite even some have added. Seemingly it is Glenmor, our national singer, who was the first to think that. At the rate things are going I will surely be archbishop by the time I leave here, unless it is Prior or – why not? – Chaplain! Considering the strength of the Breton army I will surely need a deputy. I will be spoilt for choice, in view of the number of priests, parish priests, vicars and other religious personalities that abound in the F.L.B.: unfortunately they seem to prefer active duty to auxiliary! If the seminaries had not disappeared it would seem as if they were a Breton annexe to the military academy of Saint-Cyr Coëtquidan. De Gaulle had correctly guessed there would be no priests left in Brittany if all those from the F.L.B. were arrested: The Breton Masses in the Breton language, according to the new liturgy, are in fact officially considered by the press and the public to be F.L.B. Masses. De Gaulle felt that to arrest too many of them, would risk provoking another Chouan uprising (1793-1800). He had just been through the Algeria crisis!
He was much shrewder than are his successors, as obviously Prince Ponia has never thought of all this. Not surprising, considering that as a general rule he does not think very much, just like Bigeard: they just about managed to teach him the chorus of the ‘Chant du Départ’ (Departure Song). In any case it is doubtful that he will ever come to anything, even though he succeeded in singing as he left – in singing or in having another sing? As who does not know the nature of his links with the court of King Valéry – with all his cheering right and left in expression of his French national pride, he is in danger of losing his voice along the way, and his votes as well. His best chance is that the French are bovine – this is de Gaulle’s saying not mine!
The routine of the prison is invariable – Lights on at seven o clock. Ten minutes later the coffee with milk, or only one or the other as desired. You hold out your bowl at the door, which the guard opens: the bowl is filled by a detainee in charge of this; the pots are on a trolley. I am back to my childhood traditions: in many Breton families then, the more humble and thrifty, breakfast frequently consisted of ‘pain trempé’, dry bread on which the coffee with milk is poured in order to make a sort of soup.
The morning passes too quickly for my liking, as I prefer to write in the morning. The time it takes to do my morning exercises, to put my head under the cold tap, to get dressed, make my bed and write for one hour, it is already time for the walk, which can be extended until eleven oclock if desired.
Soup is brought at around eleven thirty following the same procedure: this time the bowl and the plate are filled. I am not a big eater: but I can understand my younger friends who find it too little: and everybody is not in a position to pay every day for the ‘plats cuisinés‘, special dishes from the canteen. As far as I am concerned I find it just sufficient and well balanced.
It is as well to remember Moliere’s sentence attributed to l’Avare (the miser): ‘one should eat to live but not live to eat’. The usual at midday is a portion of meat or fish or cooked meats, accompanied by vegetables – the latter always a bit watery but plentiful -, and assorted raw vegetables: lettuce, endives, red cabbage, carrots, beetroot etc… Around four o clock a light afternoon tea: fruit and cheese or chocolate. Around five thirty the evening meal, similar to the midday one, rice, noodles, but no meat or fish, accompanied by a long two pound loaf of bread to last until the next day.
It is possible to supplement all that by purchasing the ‘plats cuisinés‘ and various other articles from the canteen. They are sold for a relatively low price. But only those who have some money deposited with the clerk, the amount owed for their purchase being debited from this, can avail of these. In the following days, I only have recourse to this in order to obtain some butter, honey, cheese, and especially the essential items I do not have: special razor – razors with blades are obviously forbidden and there are no electrical outlets in the cells -, mirror, nail brush, toothpaste, stamps, handkerchiefs etc…
Even these can only be obtained little by little. The prison administration is like all the others, it moves slowly. It takes eight to ten days before gathering together the necessities: First some ‘bons de cantine’ or canteen vouchers have to be obtained, purchasing them if necessary, these are printed sheets of paper on which are listed only some of the articles available, the required articles must be ticked, and these sheets are collected first thing every morning by the guards. But you will only receive delivery of what you have asked for, four or five days later.
For a few days I had to borrow a razor and shave without a mirror: luckily it is difficult to cut yourself with the special razors: they are in fact only effective for about twenty shaves, and have to be recharged frequently: these are also listed on the canteen sheets!
All of these details may appear tedious to readers at large: but I have given them as they will undoubtedly be useful to all Bretons, Basques, Corsicans and others who will succeed me in French prisons, probably increasing in numbers as their national struggles develop. Our little guide for those held in custody, which irritates the State’s police so much, should be supplemented by a little guide for the prisoner and those that have been charged, also very useful for our activists, even for all citizens, none being safe today from arbitrary arrest, nor from unjustifiably being placed on remand.
After the evening meal you are left entirely to your own devices: the door will not be opened again until around seven o clock when the guard on duty comes around to bid you goodnight, in this way assuring that you are still there and all is in order for the night. The light is a ceiling light, tiring on the eyes, as in many cells, mainly those on the ground floor; it has to be left on all day. It remains on in the other cells until eleven o clock, and it is otherwise impossible to switch it on or off as the switch is outside the cell.
The evenings are therefore long, not to mention the days, and it is important to know how to fill them. It is also a question of a few days to become accustomed; a request for books from the prison library can be made; the Catholic chaplaincy also has a number of good classics. Books from outside are also allowed, as long as they have been deposited with the clerk by a person allowed to visit you. Anything that arrives by post, be it books or parcels, is refused and returned to sender. The monotony of the days is only broken once a week, when you are allowed to assist at the showing of a film, on condition that you are not in solitary confinement.
Maintaining your moral depends largely on establishing some sort of time table, which it is necessary to keep to as much as possible, for idleness is your main enemy. It is more difficult to maintain than physical shape, particularly for those enduring imprisonment for the first time. The sudden break from emotional and family ties, the isolation, solitude, uncertainty as to the length of the imprisonment and on the final result of the inquiry or pending sentence, are all a severe ordeal on the nerves, sensitivity and will. Above all you must not ‘crack up’.
All of this is common to all ‘provisional’ detainees – everybody knows that in France the ‘provisional’ lasts a long time – and should not affect the political detainee to the same extent as the others. He must have the conviction that, no matter how long the time seems, he is in prison pending a release. It is but a stage in the life of an activist, which may be repeated. It is seldom that the ordeal of the prison discourages or intimidates an activist who is sure of his right, convinced of the cause for which, through various means, he is fighting. It simply hardens and reinforces his determination. It makes him grit his teeth and clench his jaws. Did Nietzsche not say ‘what does not kill you strengthens you’? Only the fearful, the drips, pleasure seekers, over sensitive and those bereft of any backbone and character, can find it beyond their strength: but these usually are not political activists: their involvement is limited to the membership of a cosy petty bourgeois party, which all the main established parties are today, whether so-called left wing or right wing, where any risks of this nature, if not totally inexistent, are extremely limited.
I do not believe that parties or movements such as ours, being ‘non-conformists’ and ‘revolutionary’ in the strict sense of the word since we wish to destroy the State’s structures holding us in their power, can by pass this political toughening school that is the prison. Where have we seen autonomies or independence gained without violent struggles, difficult confrontations and sometimes bloody incidents? Autonomies and independence, the defence of the rights of man and people – the men from your home place and your people – necessarily and inevitably pass through the prisons of the centralised ‘colonial’ State. It is under this standpoint that our struggle falls: the education in prison must therefore form part of our political education.
It is because I became conscious of this fact that, right from the beginning of my struggle for the rights of the Breton people and freedom for my homeland, I have always taken the prospect of this risk into consideration. Although ‘Ar Brezoneg er Skol’ , which was my first step in the struggle of my generation, was a very peaceful and ‘a-political’ association by French standards. To be fighting for the teaching of Breton in schools, for the recognition of such an elementary right, seemed quite harmless. Nonetheless, having been exposed to the political atmosphere of the State’s power as it exists in the corridors of the Palais Bourbon and the Ministries; I was aware of the State’s deep rooted monolithic and unitarian centralism and was fully conscious of the fact that, in reality, it was a bomb – the first one – that I detonated against it. It was a more formidable one than the symbolical basic bombs of Gwenn Ha Du, the only ones that were set off at the time. It was for this reason that when, in 1939, I was married, I deliberately did so under contract, and opted for one based on separation of property, in order to protect as best as I could the material livelihood and interests of my future family. I was right in doing so as, a few years later, in 1944 I underwent my first ordeal in the service of my people in prison.
This first ordeal, a long and hard one, during a period when people were being shot simply because of their beliefs, has made me realise how much lighter this one is. Also with the help of the Irish philosophy which has greatly contributed to my mental energy. At the time I had two young children aged three and two: my family had no income; there were no supporting bodies. On the outside the howling mob of the enemies of our homeland, who had succeeded in misleading public opinion on the reason for and object of our struggle, clamouring for death, which would destine us for execution and torture. ‘Collaboration‘! What a perfect pretext for punishing not only those few truly guilty, but also to get rid of many innocent, guilty only of resisting the absolute power of the State, of all the autonomists and non-conformists, of all those who were in the way, whose positions, businesses, women or money, one wanted.
When I was brought in to the prison in Rennes in August 1944, I was not handcuffed as I was this time. I had walked there with only one inspector, a bit embarrassed by the role he was made to play. But immediately on arrival I was stripped of everything: I was only left with my trousers, a jacket, a shirt and my shoes. My belt was confiscated, which obliged me to walk with my elbows held against my body until I had found – secretly – a piece of string; my shoelaces were taken, my tie, my pen, my pencil; books and newspapers were forbidden, because of the possibility of ‘codes‘ – it went as far as that, Mr.Prosecutor to the State Security Court! I had only escaped from the compulsory ‘beating up’ because the word ‘political’ was on my committal form, and was one of the few at the time to have benefitted from that. It is true that Le Gorgeu, Regional Commissioner of the Republic once more Jacobin, who had me arrested, had a guilty conscience as far as I was concerned, and for good reason. He was before me, under the occupation, political director of ‘La Dépêche de Brest’, and therefore had his share of responsibility for it.
For nearly two weeks I was not able to read, write or shave. Visits also were absolutely forbidden. The only thing our families were allowed to do was to feed us by bringing us food parcels. Cigarettes, which were scarce at the time, were frequently confiscated or stolen on the way in. Families were also allowed to wash our clothes. We were only allowed to write a few lines to them on a post card every couple of weeks. The only possessions we had were a spoon and a rusty mess tin, even forks were forbidden, let alone knives, also forbidden here. The usual prison fare at the time: a round bran loaf of bread (at times mouldy), hard as the wooden stool fixed to the wall with a chain and, twice a day the mess tin filled with a mixture of water and boiled vegetables, in which only seldom was found the trace of a piece of fatty meat. As for natural functions, there was a communal bucket, set in a cavity of the wall – it had indeed been very much worse in 1944!
I have not given this account for the simple pleasure of doing so, but mainly to remind Breton activists today that men of my generation have already suffered imprisonment, and that the conditions endured then were far more difficult than those they might face today. Even though the circumstances and methods were different, the cause we pursued and the struggle we waged were the same. Then as now we pursued the struggle for the freedom of our people. Repression then and repression today are but the continuation of old repressions, whose numbers mark out the history of Brittany since it was conquered by France.
Victor Hugo, with his poet’s and visionaries’ foresight, understood very well this aspect of our history: “Brittany”, he said, “is an old rebel. Every time it rose in rebellion it had good reason to do so: against the Revolution or against the monarchy, against the representatives of the Republic or the King’s governors, it is always the same war that Brittany has waged.”
That the circumstances may have changed, that the conditions of detention are definitely not as hard as they were, should increase the determination of our political activists. The staff of La Santé are correct, at times kind, and generally polite. The food is normal and the canteen functions. There is no restriction on books, newspapers or letters you wish to write or receive, although they all go through the censor. Since a decree published in the Journal officiel on the same day of our arrival here ( resulting from incidents that marked previous imprisonments and the fact that the State Security Court no longer has any other role than the ‘repression‘ of nationalist and autonomist movements troubling all our people, from Brittany to Corsica, going through to Occitan, the Antilles and Guyana), all those detained under that jurisdiction have to automatically benefit from so called ‘special’ conditions. The administration at La Santé took a few weeks before fully implementing these, not out of unwillingness but from inertia, and because it disturbs its routine, habits and its sacrosanct rules. The cells should be individual ones, and the political detainees separated from common law detainees. Visits of an hour a day are authorised. If the investigating magistrate does not object, the ‘political’ detainees can meet in a special room at certain hours.
Two weeks after our arrival, as I write these lines, we have not yet had the benefit of this last condition. In the same way it seems that we must be kept apart, probably to prevent us hatching another F.L.B. plot to take over the prison, or prepare our escape by helicopter like the I.R.A. prisoners in Dublin had done, and we have therefore not been able to attend Mass where we would be all together. At the prison in Rennes, we were each put into separate locked box rooms with an opening at head level that allowed us to see the priest and the altar, but also a uniformed guard, a peaked cap on his head and legs apart, armed with a truncheon, who faced us with his back to the altar.
None of us, only too happy to see the doors opening as soon possible, has any intention of plotting an escape. Every day spent here is a day gained for the political unrest that is being organised on the outside. Every day of the activists imprisonment is a progressive step in the defence of their cause. This thought which never leaves us is one of the most comforting there is. It is of vital importance to the maintenance of physical and mental shape.
Another important factor for the morale of prisoners is the receiving of news. I do not mean only that which can be read in newspapers, but particularly those received by letters. Not only letters from family but also those written to you from the outside reassuring you that you are not forgotten between the four walls of your dungeon, and of the political unrest being organised on your behalf that the Support Committees rapidly organised in Brittany have already very efficiently taken in hand on our behalf. The news of the demonstrations in Rennes, Brest and Saint Brieuc on the day of our imprisonment in Paris was communicated to us over the following days by my old friend and lawyer Jean-Louis Bertrand and by Yann Choucq, had helped to alleviate those first days of our captivity.
A prisoner feels the warmth and affection of the solidarity shown for him on the outside. This was also a factor that we were deprived of in 1944, since we had practically all been put in prison or in concentration camps, scattered or exiled!
Letters received are a powerful comfort: they are one of the first acts of kindness you can do for a prisoner. Letters can be from friends, known and unknown, the latter undoubtedly as much as the former. It is one of the methods used by Amnesty International, that generous association of which I am a member, and who is concerned about the fate of non-violent political prisoners all over the world, whatever the colour or leanings of the regime and government responsible for their detention. It thus creates a chain of solidarity and a human link throughout the world between those who suffer for their ideals, whatever these might be, and those who feel that because of this they have a right to their active sympathy. This method actually also has a great moral effect on the authorities detaining them. The number of letters, cards, and testimonies of regards that are received by a political prisoner is a barometer of the activity deployed for his liberation and of the sympathy surrounding him. All political activists, all kind people and all sympathisers of an unselfish cause that leads one of them to prison must be convinced that one of the first ways of helping a political detainee is to write to him, even if they do not know him, even if he cannot reply, which is the case at times in some countries. Because of going through various censors, that of the prison and that of the State Security Court, we had to wait eight to ten days before we began to receive letters and newspapers from the outside.
I know that I am well prepared to maintain my physical and mental shape: the first days are the hardest in any case. One of the first things I noticed, and which had struck me in the police van that had brought us to Paris: where are the French? Among the prison staff there are many accents from rural areas: there are Bretons, Alsatians, Occitans and Corsicans: there are also a certain number of blacks and coloureds, these French citizens from across the sea, who are even less French than we are!
The French rarely hide in subordinate positions, although three of the four prison directors are also Corsicans. What would they do without all of us who are only French by accident and by the simple reason of the right claimed by the strongest? A simple reason that explains why the State does not want to release its hold over our people: it needs servants, police, workers and soldiers. A new way of recreating a society of lord-bureaucrats limited to directing. The Lords of old, at least did not leave it to others to wage war for them: these lord-bureaucrats benefit from making others do it. It is far less dangerous – that it may not be as noble, is not a scruple that occurs to them.
On the third day, the deputy director pays me an arrival visit, as under the circumstances it is difficult to call it a ‘courtesy’ visit, he says:
– How is the morale?
– Excellent, I reply.
Mr. Deputy Director seems surprised.
– You have already been imprisoned?
– Yes, about thirty years ago, at a time when nearly everyone else was also there.
I avail of the opportunity to ask him about the special conditions we should be benefitting from. He makes a face – no, he knows nothing, has seen nothing, heard nothing.
Yet that same day, labels appear on each of our doors, except that of Coriton who has been there since July – already an old hand – with the words ‘F.L.B. special outing from 9-11’. We are now all officially F.L.B. simply through an administrative decision.
We were not aware that the La Santé prison authorities were recruiting in order to reinforce the ranks of a banned pressure group. In any case all the Bretons are F.L.B.: the other detainees sometimes greet us: ‘How is it, Free Brittany?’ or ‘Francesi Fora’.
‘Show me what charge they have put this time on your prison form’, the guard asked me as he brought me to see J.L.Bertrand. He reads and shrugs his shoulders: “ We are beginning to be accustomed to you all here: they will keep you two or three months as usual before releasing you. Your place will still be warm for the next ones”
In fact, the prison has become an annex of Brittany: there are as many F.L.B., A.R.B. and B.Z.H. on the walls of the cells and the yards as there are on the walls of our villages, not to mention G.O.N.G. and other logos of nationalist movements whose activists have been imprisoned here. The French State is actually and completely becoming that ‘people’s prison’ of which one of our historian colleagues spoke about during a conference on regionalism, organised by Strasbourg University that I attended a year ago with M.Philipponeau and other specialists on regional and national movements in France.
Tuesday 28th October, I am being moved to another cell. I move from number 37 on the ground floor to number 69 on the first floor. I know that prisons are in the habit of moving detainees around from time to time, in order to prevent them from having enough time to organise anything in the line of a possible escape. Once or twice a week, all the bars of the windows are tested with a metal bar to see if any of them give off a ‘cracked‘ sound.
I am pleased with the change: this cell is possibly slightly smaller but it is brighter. Outlined against the sky, the top of a magnificent yellow and gold chestnut tree on the Boulevard Arago can be glimpsed. I make several trips to move all my belongings, including sheets, pillow and blankets. I do not forget the handmade lid for the toilet, which is very useful for minimising the strong odours coming from it (it is also partly used as a rubbish bin and was disgustingly dirty on my arrival), my hangers and my hand brush. Change of decor: the naked women have gone. Written in pencil on the walls are references to the book of Job, to the Psalms and the Gospels; truly a monks cell.
It is not well known that La Santé, built during the Second Empire, owes its name to a ‘maison de santé’: a hospital built by Marguerite de Provence, widow of Saint Louis, on that same site. The hospital was later transferred to another location, and then a coal market operated there before being replaced by the prison, which was considerably enlarged at the beginning of the century. There still exists in the yard that surrounds the ‘cheese’, a magnificent boundary stone on which a warrior with a halo is sculpted, armed in the fashion of the early 17th century with both hands resting on a large sword. I never fail to admire it when I happen to occupy the slice of cheese facing it.
The following day, Wednesday 29th October, I have the first visit of Erwan. We are both very moved. Every week he will be the living faithful link with the family and the outside world: he is geographically the closest one of the family. The others are in Ireland and further afield. Visits are usually a comfort for prisoners: in solitary confinement, we can even receive a visit every day, which is perfect for those from Paris, but not for a Breton who lives in Brittany or Ireland! The first family visit however can be a great ordeal. It brings home the realisation of what you have left behind and all that you have been deprived of: the warm presence of your spouse, the playing and affection of the children, the home and family environment.
I will always remember with a lump in my throat the ordeal, mixture of joy and grief, of the first visit to me of my wife and children at Margueritte concentration camp in Rennes in 1945: it was 6 months after my arrest before it was allowed! Six long months during which their image never left me, but during which the children grew and changed. Jean, a lovely chubby-cheeked baby with long blond curls, two years old, who hardly recognised me! Rozenn, three and half, who skipped around us, looking at me with that solemn and thoughtful look she often had when she was small, not really understanding the large tears that rolled down my cheeks. My wife had brought me her portrait, done in charcoal especially for me by Xavier de Langlais, in order that I might have her image near me. I had to refuse to keep it as it would have increased my sorrow, and also because the conditions under which we were kept, made it impossible for me to keep it intact. I have had it framed since. It is in my study – there is no document taped to the back: this for Mr.Recors – I am unable to contemplate it without reliving that first visit, or remembering Xavier who served Brittany so faithfully by his pen and enriched it with his brushes, a brother to me, recently gone to join his family and friends in that paradise for the Celts, where we will join him one day.
Nothing like that today – I have only been here four days and already Erwan is there smiling before me. We are able to see and hear each other, but we cannot touch each other: each one in a box room, sitting on stools, separated by two panels of thick transparent ‘plexiglas’ a few centimetres apart and pierced with holes that do not allow the sound through very well.
It is stipulated in the special conditions that we should be allowed to receive visits in a visitor’s room with no separation between us: but the Director maintains they are not equipped for this, that work is being done, and that in a few weeks or months etc…, which confirms that in spite of voting for laws and signing decrees, these will never be applied if they inconvenience the administration and the sacro sanct bureaucracy of the French State. On the other hand, the most vexatious measures for the citizens will be applied immediately if these facilitate or ease the work of the offices. In any case as everybody knows, it is the citizens who now do most of the work for the French civil servants, although they are paid for it, but the citizens do their own registrations, declarations, forms, innumerable and interminable questionnaires that the civil servants should be doing.
May I suggest to the State Security Court that La Santé be converted to serve for their exclusive use?
At least everything will be ready in advance. An increasing number of our nations’ men – and even regions – will have to be watched in order that they do not have the possibility of harming the unity and indivisibility of the State. It would be advisable to prepare a special allocation of the six prison wings. Five of them could be allocated respectively to the Bretons, the Corsicans, the Alsatians, the Basques and the Occitan, the sixth to the West Indians, those from Reunion and others; by packing them in well you could fit in about five hundred per wing. It would also be advisable to provide an extension for the Normans and those from Savoy, as undoubtedly there will be call for them also to be imprisoned there in the future. Was Didier Patte, leader of the Norman movement, not harassed and searched a few days ago? Who would have thought that Normandy was full of autonomists?
A central amphitheatre could be set up, where we could all meet once a week – under careful watch of course – in order to recreate French unity, under the satisfied gaze of our lord-bureaucrats and kings of the ‘Ecole Nationale d’Administration’ (ENA). Audio-visual techniques and educational films could see to our re-education. In this manner the prison could be a mini French State, exactly like the situation on the outside and, in fact, subject to the same constraints. Are our people also not in prison? Sociologists and researchers, the like of which abound in the wake of our lord-bureaucrats, could practice to their hearts content within the prison enclosure. The Marxists amongst them will maybe discover why the learned studies they devote to our people and our problems, although full of words and self importance, are absolutely devoid of value. They might perceive that the Breton problem cannot be understood if the Bretons are thought of as only having a stomach, discounting their heart, their feelings, their passions and the instinct for freedom that each one possesses deep within him.
All these researchers and sociologists, whose learned works are only to be found on the shelves of libraries, could, under the enlightened direction of our ENA kings, study with more facility this extraordinary phenomena of modern times that makes our people, in spite of the guided education lavished on them, refuse to accept such a socially advanced and liberal State, who nonetheless takes care of them to the extent of providing free board and lodging for the best of their children.
There is nothing gained by running risks, and nothing like planning ahead. This transformation of La Santé is all the more necessary as it would appear that the State Security Court may become one of the State’s essential bodies. To ensure security, so to speak, it could be presided over by the Minister of the Interior Prince Ponia, since he is the one who is most wary of magistrates, and should this happen would consider it an advantage to replace them with non-commissioned officers or police officers in full uniform and under orders.
Erwan, back the following Friday, brings me news from the outside: we have not yet been able to obtain newspapers, and have only had snatches of news these past ten days. He represented me at the Welsh Congress in Aberystwyth, which I was to have attended. The protests against our arrest are now being organised on an International level. An International committee composed of well known personalities is being formed for my release. The Welsh deputies are to request permission to visit us in prison. Representations on our behalf are now being made to French embassies abroad. Comforting news which helps to cheer us all up, in so far as we are able to exchange a few words in the corridors, the stairs or the yards. I am at least able to pass on to Erwan instructions and advice for the business, to be communicated to Jean who is replacing me in Cleggan as best as possible.
To run ones affairs from here, even to the simplest acts of administration is another source of worry: It is considerable for all those who are not civil servants, or those whose independent activity is their only source of income. My cheque books were confiscated and deposited in the prison clerk’s office; that is the rule! Over the next few weeks, in spite of the authorisation given to me by the judge in charge of the inquiry and numerous requests, I am unable to recover them. I am not even able to obtain permission to simply write and sign the cheques, having suggested that I could do so in the office where they are held. Therefore taxes, social services payments and urgent bills must remain unpaid, in spite of the fact that some of the delays in payment automatically involve penalties. I finally write to the Minister, and through him I indicate that I am holding the prison administration responsible for any interests and any surcharge on the delay that I may have to pay.
These gentlemen are obviously not at all concerned about this – they will not be the ones to pay the taxman or the contributions to Social Security – the latter also do not care: they will apply the rules on their side. And really, I cannot see myself going on hunger strike in order to be allowed to pay my taxes. Everybody would laugh at me! The administration, congested within their gigantic dimensions, stuck in the rut of their privileges and habits have become monsters, unaware of the existence of men and citizens: these are purely reference numbers to them or a hole in a punch card. No. 181652 (my number here) is of no concern to anybody, although a man, director of a business and even a contributor. Is there even a link between 181652 and 1100712001003 which is my Social Security number or with the number on my identity card? It seems that Ponia is planning to standardise all that and put us all on file, in order to ensure that nothing, but strictly nothing of our lives can escape the watchful eye of the State.
If I finally decide to write to the Under-Secretary of State for the prisons (after all what is a special status for?), it is because undeniably, according to the assurance of all, both detainees and prison guards, the actions taken by Mme Dorlhac have favoured the improvement and humanising of the French prison system. Of the three female Ministers, it is her actions that are most effective, in spite of a ponderous administration, without any excessive publicity: it is usually those Ministers who are least talked about who work most efficiently. They do not play to the gallery or for posterity. It is only just a few years ago, I am told by all, that the conditions of life and discipline were much harder, the food poor, the rules far more draconian.
The, always angry, warders’ barking orders of “Face the wall”, “Silence” and “Hands behind your backs”, which I had known at the prison in Rennes, had also existed here. In Rennes, no warder entered your cell without making you step back to the far side, hands behind your back facing the wall. At night we had to put our trousers and shoes at the door before the doors were locked for the night. A warden always had to look fierce, ready to hit you, and send you at the least pretext to the ‘mitard‘, an underground dungeon with no light or mattress. There is no trace of this left at La Santé today. Books and letters are not censored; transistor radios are permitted in the cells – which in fact seriously disturb my peace some nights! My window is just over the recreation yard of one of the sections in the prison: I can hear without being seen the sounds of conversations, of balls hitting the ground and of the ping pong balls on the table. I can only see out by hauling myself up to the bars with the strength of my wrists to the upper part of the window – an excellent physical exercise, but an uncomfortable position that cannot be sustained for long. I had done it once in Rennes: two days later the chief warden had warned me that he “would put a bullet in my head if he saw me again appearing at the window”!
Some incomprehensible rules still remain, undoubtedly old ones that they have forgotten to modernise. For example, it is forbidden to have or use hats, berets or caps: all of these are confiscated and left in the office. This probably dates back to the time when an escapee could have been detected on passing through the gate to the street, if he was bareheaded. The rule has remained, although today it is to the contrary by wearing some headgear that you would draw attention. The administration does not like changes, does not like slippers either – slippers are forbidden, but you are allowed your shoes of course, and ‘espadrilles’ can be bought there. I leave that for Madame the Minister of prisons to meditate on!
I only learnt later that it was forbidden to bring in anything that was sold in the canteen: one way of making business.
Would Mme Dorlhac have been in a position to bring about all the improvements I have mentioned if, during the previous years, serious rebellions, accompanied by violence, in a certain number of prisons had not attracted the attention of the public to the situation that prevailed? The eternal problem of violence which is at the heart of the reproaches against the FLB, or those that invoke their name, or those that are suffering from the repression launched against it. Would workers today be benefitting from union rights, not recognised in the last century, from Social Security, paid leave, occupational rights, had there not been, for many years, numerous illegal strikes, bloody confrontations with police and army, wounded, dead, smashed machines, factories taken over, buildings destroyed? Can one forget rue Transnonain, the rebellions of the silk weavers in Lyons, of the miners in the North? The right to vote for women, which seems normal, but was not granted to French women until after the second World War, less than thirty years ago, would it have been obtained so quickly if the English suffragettes at the beginning of the century had not set fire to theatres, railway stations and administrative buildings? Would the Irish, the Algerians and others have obtained their independence and the full recognition of their rights as a people and nation if, tired of speeches and promises not kept, of useless peaceful motions and demonstrations, they had not taken direct action, with violence and guerrilla warfare, if many of them had not been imprisoned, sentenced and condemned by the courts of the State that held power? Is it not the latter responsible for this violence, no matter how extreme it may be, as they remain deaf to the demands and peaceful conflict?
Where have various degrees of achievements, progress and liberty, ever been conquered without recourse to a certain form of violence? It suffices to read the history of all nations to find the clearest answers to this question.
I read in the ‘Express‘ of (10-11-75), which has just been brought to me, the ‘Last appeal’ of Francis Sanford, autonomist deputy from Tahiti. “For the past twenty years we have carried out our struggle peacefully and legally. We are beginning to wonder if that is the reason why the Government in Paris treats us with such disdain. In Djibouti, every time there have been battles with blood flowing, the Government has hastened to grant whatever the population wanted. This is how they obtained, a long time ago, this genuine internal autonomy that we have requested in vain for Polynesia. Is it really necessary to employ African or Corsican methods to obtain satisfaction?”
Definitely M.Sanford, one can only reply in the affirmative to the question you ask, in view of the manner in which the French centralised State, its Lord-bureaucrats and its ENA Kings behave towards you and to our claims – our legitimate claims are age old, my personal struggle is already four decades old. In fact, we are only in prison because it is necessary for us to be there – others will come after us to take our places: we will never otherwise obtain the ‘internal autonomy’, which is as necessary to our people as it is to M.Sanford’s.
Two weeks have passed and I am finally settled, if not comfortably, in my monk’s cell. I have managed to obtain practically everything I need on a material level: writing paper, books, linen and newspapers, thanks to the help of Erwan and my old friend Francois Dausset, who is director of the Club des Quatre Vents in Paris, to my Breton friends, Pierre Roy, Marc Bougeard and others. I have received many letters of solidarity and support.
Jean-Louis Bertrand also receives some for me, as well as numerous phone calls. Amnesty International has been in touch. With all of these the links of friendship and fraternal warmth are renewed. They stretch far beyond Brittanny! J.J.Mourreau collects the French signatures, and those from other subjugated nations, calling for my release. Pierre Roy leader of Skoazell Vreizh, the association for the help and support of Breton political detainees and their families, tirelessly dedicated to helping us all. May God grant him a long life in good health! He is virtually irreplaceable, although only a few years older than I am, he is a father to us all.
I have settled into the prison routine – my time table is set. I keep to it as best as I can, even though at times it is a conscious effort. Some detainees – not any of us – let themselves go, falling into habits of inactivity and laziness, refusing outings and showers. Not surprising therefore that they are careless, disorientated and lost when they return to the outside world. They no longer have the strength to struggle, fight or work: thus converting them into prisoner regulars. It is important to keep from falling into this slippery slope. Preserving a clear and active mind, keeping busy, maintaining a physical and mental shape, even within the prison world, is possible for all. It is relatively easy for a political detainee who, apart from a few exceptions, knows he will be there for a limited period of time. And I have known for a long time that, in cases like ours, prison is an honour that only the best will attain.
Nearly every morning, when crossing the high security area on the way to our solitary walk in the ‘cheese’, we catch a glimpse of Jacques Mesrine, or greet him with a wave. With the help of the newspapers covering the story of his accomplice and friend Willoquet, who has just been in a shoot out with the police, we gradually learn about his history, his incredible escapes and eventful past. Born into a good family, an architect, Mesrine is also to a certain extent and for other reasons, a victim of the French State. The latter taught him to kill, to blow up break things, and to steal when he was with the paramilitary in Algeria. Afterwards as a member of the O.A.S., the French terrorist organisation which opposed Algerian independence in the 1960’s, he had to flee to Spain and live by his wits which led him to be imprisoned. On returning to France, his father obtained a position for him as manager of an Inn in Compiègne. But the taste for violence, arms and lawlessness is in his blood. He escapeed to Canada in 1969 and there kidnaps a millionaire who had employed him as a chauffeur. Canada is not a police state. Practically all arms can be freely obtained: (the FLB is aware of this, having been ‘tipped off’ a long time ago by Bretons over there: this clarification is for the benefit of Mr.Prosecutor to the State Security Court, in case he decides to accuse me of putting ideas in the heads of their activists). This is not the case in police states with ‘rarefied democracy’ such as in France. It is therefore only criminals who manage to obtain arms, leaving honest people with no private means of defence, in spite of the increase in crime, when the need is greater than ever. Arrested, caught and caught again, Mesrine succeeded in escaping from an American prison, then from a Quebec penitentiary: he returned to the latter with a machine gun to release his fellow detainees. He returned to France via Venezuela; was arrested in March ’73 in Boulogne-Billancourt, succeeded three months later in a sensational escape from the Court in Compiegne, where he was being tried for writing dud cheques. Brandishing a revolver – which he found hidden in the toilets – he pushed the Court President ahead of him and escaped in a car waiting for him outside!
Caught again in September ’73, he has been here ever since: It was in La Santé that he met Willoquet, who re-enacted Mesrine’s exploit, by taking hostages enabling him to escape from the Paris Law Courts in January 1975. Since then he has been working from the outside on an escape for Mesrine, who advised him to take a political personality hostage, in order to force the government to release him – undoubtedly a criminal act! But he has his own concept of honour and I can understand that he wants to have it respected. He proudly declares that he has no blood on his hands apart from that of a few policemen and crooks – a far cry from the F.L.B.!
Looked at from this angle, and with the benefit of the study of other cases within the walls of the prison, does the F.L.B. not stand out as an honourable association to which one could only be proud to belong? Everybody in Brittany knows, without the need for demonstrations, that it is not responsible for the bomb attacks on the parliamentarians, which was supposedly the sole object of this campaign of harassment. This is not its style, and it does not stoop to this kind of thing, at least not at this point, at this stage of the struggle for freedom which the Breton people have achieved today. The F.L.B. is still far behind E.T.A., behind the I.R.A. and behind the Cypriots, keeping it within Europe. As to this day it has not caused the death of anybody, not even that of a policeman or a member of the State security police, whilst through an inflammatory blunder of Ponia, this did happen in Corsica a few months ago. The F.L.B. has not yet attacked a bank, nor a post office, a frequent occurrence in Ireland, both in the North and in the South. It has not yet taken hostages, nor claimed any ransom, which seems to be commonplace all over Europe. That it has blown up Tax offices and police stations, damaged a few public buildings, and even the workshops of a few modern slave traders, who in Brittany would dream of reproaching it? It is very clever, the F.L.B., to have done all of that without shedding a drop of blood!
The methods it has used so far, the precautions it has taken, often at the expense of some activist’s freedom, demonstrates that it has simply decided to employ stronger methods of protest and publicity that in the long run are certainly more efficient – history proves this – than peaceful marches, meetings and demonstrations which it is obvious that those in power do not give two hoots about. Who in Brittany cannot help but understand them, when through the French State’s fault and express wishes, our language is dying, our country is being depersonalised by the massive injection of civil servants and foreign workers, whilst our youth is forced into exile, our economic development hindered, our land handed over to the speculation of stateless developers or monopolized by the army? Since the State only understands this kind of language – as Mr.Sanford said – why not use it? Why not raise our voices? Why not make a bit more noise than is usually made by ordinary words?
Ask everywhere in Brittany if they think the F.L.B. is wrong, if they think it is not alright to go ahead and break a few windows and knock down a few stones belonging to the State, symbols of the domination it wields, and to give the French police and constabulary the run around who, ordered by their masters in Paris, are furious at being forced to run after an invisible and omnipresent opponent who is everywhere at once and nowhere? Have not some of the four way highways, completed at last, been called the F.L.B. highways because the Breton population realises these would not have been completed so quickly had it not been for the F.L.B. publicity? It is in fact only the poor man’s publicity that it can afford, since Brittany possesses no other considering its mass media is in the hands of a distant, indifferent and hostile foreign power.
Myth and reality combined, Mr. Director of Public Prosecution to the State Security Court, the F.L.B. is a typically Celtic phenomena. For us Celts, whether we are Irish, Welsh, Scots or Breton, reality is not quite real, the dream is not quite a dream. Reality and dream, real and unreal, natural and supernatural, all of this, helped along by the mist and sea wind merges somehow on this earth. There are no well defined limits between all these: which is why you will never be able to arrest someone who can be totally guilty, as there can be no Bretons who are totally innocent. You should know that our legends are not quite legends and that our actions and behaviour are not quite what they appear to be. Are we aware of this ourselves? Undoubtedly a phenomena that is quite beyond the understanding of the rationalist French, even more so than the realist English. You must resign yourself to not being able to understand any of it, Mr. Director of Prosecution: Which F.L.B. are you actually looking for? You do realise that it is now already impossible to know which numbers they go by. Are you seeking the real or the not real one, the one that is not quite real, or the one that is not quite a dream – the myth, the reality or the legend? All of this becomes diluted and passes through your fingers like the water from our fountains and the wind of our beaches. Even the vultures of the sea are no longer able to decide on which prey they should pounce. Our moors and villages are still peopled with the ghosts of our rebels and hiding places of our outlaws. Our history is full of these: they also were fish in the waters of our rivers, friends in the hearts of our men, a fire in the eyes of our young women. Go ahead and sound out all those eyes where mystery floats, those eyes that our Breton writer, Renan, describes as “our green fountains where, on a background of waving grass, the sky is mirrored”. Yet that is undoubtedly where you will find the real F.L.B.; a brief flash quickly repressed in the eyes of all Bretons, but you cannot arrest them all. There would be nobody left to guard us, nor to fill your barracks, nor to build your ships or collect your taxes. You and your masters, Mr.Director of Prosecution, and all your lord bureaucrats, and your ENA kings, are chasing fantasies!
The press announces that Giscard, on receiving the new Chilean ambassador to France, asked him to free political detainees in his country. What would he say if, in Santiago, his ambassador was received by Pinochet and if the latter was to refer to the political detainees from Brittany, Corsica, Occitan and even some French that are in prison, since weeks, without being tried, therefore completely innocent until proven otherwise? Yet Giscard had declared in his message to parliament after his accession to the presidency of the Republic: “France will confirm and increase its liberal mission by supporting the cause of liberty all over the world and the rights of all people, I repeat all people, to govern themselves”. Giscard is looking good! The typical declaration of a French statesman – anyone of them would have done the same – always ready to impart lessons to others but careful never to self-criticise. France is undoubtedly not in the world, but in a type of cut-off kingdom where it reigns without any possibility of power-sharing with or opposition from over fifty million subjects, who are also cut-off, as theoretically, they are all similar and interchangeable, whatever their language, their history or the colour of their skin!
Is there not a French myth like there is an F.L.B. myth? We should be quits: you should settle us in for a few days at the Elysée whilst you come here and take our places. The staff is ready to receive you with the honour due to your rank: you could be put into cell 96, division 2, the one presently occupied by our friend Dr. Gourvés. It is a historical cell that is known here as the Dorlhac cell, not because the honourable minister of prisons has stayed there, but because it is the cell she visited when she did her tour of La Santé.
The mail invariably brings me numerous letters – Yann Poilvet, the Director of Armor Magazine expresses his surprise: “we never imagined that you would have been arrested, under the pretext that detonators were discovered at your place: it is ridiculous and ludicrous. An old activist like you, international leader of the Breton cause, having at your disposal so many possibilities in our country for hiding something, should you have wished to do so, having already paid harshly for your ideals, to be caught in this way? Nobody believed it possible. I would like you to explain this to us”.
Of course, friend Poilvet, I understand your surprise and indignation: I admit that I have sinned! I know I could have hidden anything I wanted in Brittany, anywhere and with anybody, and no one would have refused me. But my big and only excuse is that I did not know I was the general in charge, nor even that I had any rank in the army, you see. It is such a secret that I was not even advised. Obviously, had I known, there would not have been a trace of a detonator, or suspicious organisation chart, or correspondence with some Breton activist: I would even have hidden the tax inspector’s yellow pages. I would have built an inaccessible bunker, underground, near Roc-Trédudon, riddled with all the latest listening and detection gadgets. I am not like the French statesmen, and am willingly auto-critical.
It is unforgivable for a general in charge to have acted so thoughtlessly! I therefore fully understand why I have since been sacked from my post: Le Monde has announced that the general staff of the A.R.B. have issued a press release claiming that in the wake of the wave of arrests its numbers were intact, and that the French police and army were as usual one war behind the times (not very kind).
It seems that these servicemen took advantage of my absence to depose me! Since Portugal is in fashion, they must have made ‘un pronunciamento’, and created a popular and democratic armed forces movement. It sounds good, M.F.A.R.B.(Mouvement des Forces Armées, Populaire et Démocratique). If I was in charge of the Council of Ministers I would dissolve it immediately; it could even be doing me a favour: that way, should there be a kickback, I could always have them appear before the Council of War, these disrespectful young servicemen!
Also, joking apart, Poilvet my friend, I had forgotten, you see, that my name is Yann Fouéré. For these Lord-bureaucrats who maintain the disparate components of the French State in place, Yann Fouéré is not a citizen like any other; he is an enemy of the State; he says it, writes it and proclaims it. Consequently, even in his own country, and on the soil of his ancestors, he no longer has the same rights as others; he has even less, although the others do not have many. He is refused a passport, forbidden to hold public meetings, and made to understand their preference to see him elsewhere. Detonators, safety fuses and more can be found on most of our farms. Have not farmers a need for them in order to blow up the outcrops of tree stumps or rocks in their fields? Who would dream of being surprised that they possessed them? The possession, even illegal, of three detonators is not worth a ten franc fine for a Frenchman; it is not worth half a day in prison for a Breton, therefore, in principle, there is no reason for the French State to be suspicious. A few days ago, the Minister of the Interior brought up before the Senate the subject of transport and possession of arms and explosives, and indicated that an illegal transporter with one hundred and fifty butts and submachine guns in his car (yes, you have read correctly one hundred and fifty), was given eight days suspended prison sentence.
Just imagine how many months of imprisonment that the Prosecutor for the State Security Court would have ordered for the same offence if the transporter’s name was Fouéré, Gourvés, Kerhousse, Puillandre or Le Breton! To the French State it is not the same where Breton activists are concerned, as they are not normal average citizens: in principle, the State is wary of them, and they are always considered guilty. Should they be in possession of any of these things or be transporting them, it is in principle because they are planning something suspicious and not an ordinary use of them. What is valid for some is not valid for others and even less so for them. When I said that in the State all citizens do not have the same rights, in my own country I have even less rights than other Bretons, and they have less rights than French citizens, who do not also have as many as they think.
What are we left with, therefore? The right to be crushed, to make ourselves very small, to be yes-men and women, bootlickers, obedient to the Lord-bureaucrats, kneeling before the State, not making any problems for it, giving it all it asks for, accepting all it says, all it does, all it thinks, never questioning it or its power, its taxmen, its police and its laws! And we are expected to accept this? No thank you! What would be the point of living if, to please the new god it aspires to be, it meant living like a cow in a stable, a sheep in the fields, a pig in a pigsty, no thank you! No thank you! No thank you!
Like the philosopher who said, I prefer to be an unhappy Socrates, than a satiated pig, even if I have to go to prison to remain free? What do you think my friend, and those of you reading this?
The writing of this chronicle keeps me both busy and entertained. It greatly helps pass some of the twenty two hours a day that we are locked up in our quarters – the years are short but the hours long. It is especially noticeable here. If the door is closed it means that I am no longer free, according to the first guard I had in Rennes, nearly three weeks ago already. In Rennes the door was open, here it is closed. It is however not that simple.
What difference is there between the prisoner enclosed in his cell and the citizen free to walk the boulevards outside? Here, I live in a world where everything is forbidden except what is permitted. Outside he lives in a world where everything is permitted except what is forbidden. Looked at in that light, the difference is much more apparent than real – a good meditation subject for the philosopher.
You who are going about outside, you are free to go for a drink at the corner café, and I cannot: you can go home this evening, take your car out on Sundays to try and breathe some fresh air. But how many restrictions do you have to endure to have all that? You are doomed to live in a concrete universe, to endure the overcrowded transport systems, never ending queues, work with no joy, and often with no reward, in a dark office or a noisy workshop, a slave to machines. Where has the joy in ones work gone – the work of our village artisans, of the men in the fields? You cannot even walk or lie down on the lawns of Parc Montsouris or of the Luxembourg if you felt like it, or pick a flower, or breathe in solitude, or hear the silence. Fresh air, the sea and the fields are nearly as inaccessible to you as they are to me. In the evening, glued to the T.V. bringing you your quota of manufactured images made to measure, which will unwittingly convey to you what you must think, in order to have the privilege of thinking the same as everyone else. Whether you like it or not, you are doomed to follow, to imitate, to accept, to conform and to make yourself small in order to escape notice, and not to stand out from the herd.
Your life is in the grip of a collection of physical and moral constraints from which you cannot escape if you do not want to be at odds with the police, the taxman, the foreman or the boss, this boss that you have never seen, as distant and unknown as the Lord-bureaucrat, anonymous and faceless, ruling the smallest details of your life from his command post – your birth, your illnesses, your children, your work, your leisure and even your death.
If you want to escape from that world, from the numerous constraints, from the masses, declare your disgust, awaken your neighbours, your work mates and your people, you will be punished by the law, by regulations and by decrees so numerous that nobody knows them anymore. Inevitably, inexorably, should you refuse to accept or submit, you will have no other option but imprisonment like myself. Remember: you are only allowed to that which is not forbidden, whether it be by written laws or by invisible constraints. The list of that which is forbidden grows longer each day and the constraints are greater. Is there truly much difference between you and me?
I cannot escape to the peaceful countryside, to the blazing foliage of the forest, to the wind from the sea, to the house and to those I love, but I carry them within me as I have known them. I am deprived of my family, but they are all in my arms as I when I left them: I know they are looking out for me on the outside. They are possibly even closer to me than they have ever been. I am only in prison because I am free, because I refuse to accept, to compromise, to submit to constraints and to laws that I do not accept either for myself or for the people I belong to. My spirit cannot be locked up as my body has been. I am only in prison because I still believe in freedom, because I live for that, because I am fighting against those who have taken it away from us and who restrict it a little more every day, for you as well as for me, for your people as well for mine.
Though in this prison everything is forbidden except that which is permitted, my struggle spreads to the frontiers of man; my prison and that of my friends is none other than a step further towards the freedom of my family, of my country and of my people, towards that which will deliver them from unjust laws and systems that grip them a little more each day. If we are not careful and constantly vigilant, the prison and concentration-like universe will completely close in on them, as it has done on me. They must escape from it. Our prisons today are the path to achieving this. It is the only one left open to us. It is only left open to the best of us. Even though the door is constantly closed, how can one be freer than I am? “When I am in a weak state, that is when I am strong” – The person who preceded me in my monk’s cell wrote on the wall this reference to the passage from the first chapter to the Corinthians. I found it in this sacred book that Francois Dausset had sent to me, this ancient book which contains part of the wisdom of the world.
Jean Louis Bertrand has advised me that I am to appear before the judge on the 20th November, one month after the date of my arrest, but in fact the thirty third day of my detention. How can the French penal system remand anyone in custody for such a long period? It is unacceptable. Public opinion and the press complain that of the twenty eight thousand detainees in French prisons, fourteen thousand of them are remanded in custody, which consequently have not been tried or sentenced, and are therefore innocent according to the law. Legal experts, politicians and magistrates are wondering how to reduce these very large numbers, this proportion that has not been surpassed by any other prison system in the world, apart from some popular democracies of Eastern Europe and totalitarian dictatorships of the West.
Not for an instant did any one of them consider that the only way of reducing to the maximum the detentions on remand and therefore reducing their number, is quite simply to do away with the procedures of the examining magistrate. The existence of a magistrate, whose only role is in fact to double up on the police services, to completely re-do, to delve further into what they have already done, is none other than the survival in the French penitentiary system of the high-handed procedures from the Middle Ages. It is absolutely unknown in free countries that are not democratic in words only as France is.
This system is completely foreign to the laws and rules of prison law that exist in Northern European countries or of Anglo-Saxon tradition. The only role of a magistrate is to judge in all conscience and fairness. The procedure of the examining magistrate would appear to all, should it be introduced there, as an intolerable and unacceptable pressure exerted on magistrates, members of the court in charge of judging the defendants, whose only object is to influence them against these. In these countries those who are arrested appear directly before the court, or the police services can obtain either an extension of the detention based on valid and sound motives, or their immediate sentencing or acquittal, also possibly release on probation or on bail. In this manner there are no cases that can drag on indefinitely. Also in these democratic countries, where freedom of the individual is far more protected than in France, it is considered preferable to release ten guilty rather than to unjustly imprison one single innocent. Special Courts do not exist there. Imprisonment and detention for political reasons can therefore never take place except in cases of severe crisis, such as civil or foreign wars, and only on condition that a special law has first been voted by Parliament: but this law never has more than a strictly limited application in time, and will never enlarge in perpetuity the arsenal of repressive laws at the disposal of the State, in the manner in which it is practiced in France.
This constant enlargement of the repressive judicial system is one of the greatest dangers threatening the most elementary public and individual freedom. All the structures and laws of a totalitarian state are already in place and in force. The dictatorship of a so-called popular democracy or of a, right or left wing, fascist regime would not have to change anything: it would simply apply even more scrupulously the arsenal of repression passed on by our bourgeois republics and accumulated since the Revolution and the Empire.
The detention on remand that we, my comrades and I, have to endure would be impossible in any truly democratic country. Our masters know that no normal court would dare condemn us on charges that are effectively non existent or very weak, there only to serve as incidentals or apparent excuses for a detention simply because of one’s beliefs. Today in France we have reached what can be termed the ‘Indian’ phase of repression towards our autonomist and nationalist movements, Bretons, Corsican or others. For a certain number of years before the national movement in India had succeeded in gaining first their autonomy and then their independence, the English had got into the habit, when one or more of the nationalist leaders became too active, of imprisoning them for a few weeks or a few months, not with any intention of sentencing them, or judging them, but simply to remove them from public life for a while. During that time, after their liberation, the colonial power would discuss with them or with the movement they represented, trying by every means possible to check or reduce the unrest and introduce reforms destined to appease it, at least temporarily. The method is the same and the colonial power everywhere has the same appearance. There are no direct discussions with us as yet, but with the personalities who are thought to represent the Breton population, and to a certain extent be capable, in a more moderate manner, to convey the claims we stand for.
It will undoubtedly come about. The increase and frequency of the ‘garde à vue’, the internments and excessive arrests is a sure sign. We are in prison because we have to be there. A national freedom movement can only mature and be consolidated in and by repression. Whether we regret it or not, it is to the F.L.B., be it myth or reality, that we owe this progress on the path to national and social emancipation of the Breton people.
This abnormal extending of a remand in custody has other consequences on the physical, intellectual and morale of the prison inmates. The remand in custody before sentencing is far more difficult to bear than a remand in custody after sentencing. The reason being that in the first case, the prisoner is uncertain of the fate that awaits him. It is impossible for him to predict. There is no set penalty for the decisions the courts can make, even more so in the case of the Special courts such as ‘La Cour de Sûreté de l’Etat’. The waiting period is therefore much longer and much harder on the nerves and morale than it is for one that has been sentenced and knows in advance the approximate date of release. A recent thesis by Francois Martzloff entitled ‘Psychological and psychiatric treatment of those remanded in custody’ draws attention to the abuse of tranquilisers and hypnotic medication on those remanded in custody. These medicines that are requested by the prisoners to calm their anxiety and help them sleep more than they should, are distributed freely by the prison administration, who look on them as an easy way of maintaining order and discipline amongst this category of prisoner having more reasons than any of the others to rebel. The latter therefore become used to taking drugs regularly. Obviously, of the 14000 detainees on remand, the large majority are likely to be given minimal sentences by the courts, and the greater proportion of these will probably be freed immediately or a short time after the sentencing, the duration of the detention on remand being contingent on the sentence. Consequently, they emerge from detention with even more social difficulties than before. Through the abuse of tranquilisers and drugs, the prison will have made a ‘social misfit’. Public opinion rightly rebels against the psychiatric prisons of Soviet Russia and the ‘incarceration’ of its political ‘opponents’ that are submitted to special treatments affecting their reflexes, intelligence and personalities! Here in France, there is a danger of sliding down this same slippery slope within the prison system if the practices denounced by Doctor Martzlof are widely applied and extended. In order to remedy this, the roots and not the fruits of the problem must be addressed. Detention on remand must gradually disappear from European penal law and France must fall into line with its more liberal associates of the EU. There seems to me to be no other solution than the elimination of the high-handed procedure for preliminary investigations, and the establishing of a judicial system similar to that of Anglo-Saxon countries. Until a reform of this kind comes about, unlikely in the near future considering the repressive nature of the police and French law, it is important that political detainees of our liberation movements refuse to be dragged into this ’chemical straightjacket’ that can become a lead weight. Their primary duty is to maintain clear thinking and retain their aggressiveness for future struggles that will inevitably still be there when they come out of prison. They must retain their full faculties and reflexes in order to be able to reintegrate into the daily life of their people without difficulty. Thankfully, none of us feel the need for these dangerous chemicals that the French police state may be holding in reserve for us. Who knows to what lengths totalitarianism in power with its laws will go to, to weaken its rebels and disarm its opposition!
I have finally obtained permission to sign cheques, and consequently have been able to deal with the more urgent matters, but I will have to make a written request every time! In spite of all the occupations planned and the time table drawn up, time can still hang heavily on ones hands within the confines of the four walls of a prison cell. It is not possible to be always writing, praying, dreaming or philosophising… It is therefore important to obtain a stock of books and novels that by their nature can lift your humour, or entirely occupy your mind. The Irish humour and imaginative plots of books by Michel Déon and the chronicles of J.B. Keane, an author I did not know until Erwan brought me a few of them, helped to while away the time. They were a pleasant change from the reading of the classical thrillers that could easily be obtained, but were varied in quality and by their repetitiveness finally become tiresome.
How can one not help laughing at this Irish priest in rural Ireland called Dynamite by his parishioners, not because he was from the I.R.A. (with such a nickname he would have definitely been arrested every time in Brittany!) but because of his inordinate love of the ‘hard stuff’, whisky or brandy? One day Dynamite came across his sacristan carefully examining a pile of empty bottles in the cellar to check if there were not a few drops of the ‘hard stuff’ in them.
– “Can you not see, you fool, that they are all dead!”
– “At least they did not die without a priest’s assistance!” the other replied, scratching his head…
And the other story about the parish priest known for his stinginess, who on receiving a visit from his bishop had prepared a tea, consisting of slices of bread and butter with a piece of cold roast beef. The bishop, having taken a slice of bread and butter on his plate examined it for a few seconds and exclaimed with admiration, “The person who has buttered this bread would be able to butter the road all the way from here to Dublin with only a pound of butter!” and the curate who endured the shortcoming of his “boss” chipped in with “What do you think of the roast beef, My Lord, can you see through your slice, the way I can see through mine?” “Yes, yes I can, quite extraordinary! With slices of beef sliced so thinly I could paper all the walls of the bishop’s house with only one roast beef.”
I will have to pass on these stories to Father Le Breton. I never seem to see him however, as they have placed him in another section in order to isolate us from each other even more!
In the press there is news that the Spanish government, having handed the Basques’ back the control of their own taxes that they had previously possessed from time immemorial, has just recognised the Basque, Catalan and Galician languages as national state languages with the same rights as Spanish. They can now be heard daily broadcasting from Madrid itself. Who would have thought that the French would end up being less liberal and more centralising than Franco’s Spain? It is now by far bringing up the rear of European countries in recognising the rights of a people and national minorities.
Will it take as much violence, as much destruction, as many deaths as there were on Spanish soil since the beginning of Franco’s dictatorship, for the French to finally follow the same path?
I am very much afraid it will. A lesson from the Corsican affair has not even been learnt: if it has, it has not been remembered. The French State is entrenched in its indifference and lack of understanding. It lives in the abstraction of a secular dream. It harps on words that have no longer meaning, terms that have been flogged to death. Where is its unity? Where is its indivisibility? Empty hollow words, deadly abstractions that a few sycophants cling to desperately, as also several thousand from the old boy network of ENA relentlessly defending their domination and the continuity of the centralised State, making it their private property off limits, their garden of intellectual delights and the strongbox for their privileges. And you Robert Lafont, Occitan socialist, our brother in a similar struggle, you who made this appeal I frequently recall: “Have you understood at last, all of you who for the past twenty years in Asia and Africa, have ceded independence in preference to granting autonomies?” Do you think they will understand? At least before it is too late? I no longer believe they will.
Thursday 20th November: The first appearance before the examining magistrate of the State Security Court is to take place as planned. Yann Puillandre, Lalluyaux and I are taken from our respective cells around 13.30, followed by a brief search and same procedure as when we arrived, handcuffs, Black Maria, two guards each, escorted by motorbike outriders, rodeo through Paris: spectacular! We burn all the red lights and only avoid crashing by a hair’s breadth at every street corner. It took us less than half an hour to get from La Santé to Fort de l’Est!
Our guards take us in to the same waiting room as the one we had been brought to on the day of our arrival. Opposite me there is another detainee who was already there on our arrival, handcuffed like us, talking to his lawyer. It is Edmond Simeoni, leader of the A.R.C. (Corsican republican army), with his brother Max. We recognise each other and nod in mutual recognition, exchanging a few words later when he leaves. He is now, after over three months in detention, one of the last three Corsican political detainees still detained in Paris. The other have been released one at a time to avoid causing a stir: a classical method that will probably also be applied to us. Happy Corsicans to live on an island: they will obtain the autonomy they claim, like ourselves, before us. If Fromveur had been situated between Granville and l’île d’Yeu, Brittany would have long since gained its freedom!
Assisted by Jean Louis Bertrand, it is my turn to appear before M.Gallut, a dark haired man of few words, courteous but cold. I start off by making the following statement “Above everything, I want to protest against the holding in custody or ‘garde à vue’ of numerous Breton activists in the course of the recent police operations against the whole Breton national movement, which led to my own indictment. I consider it to be a purely political operation. Personally, I categorically condemn, as I have always done, all violations against people. I therefore find it strange and abnormal to be involved in a procedure whose initial object was to seek out those responsible for attacks against parliamentarians. I was the first to disapprove of these. I consider them criminals if it comes to light that the perpetrators’ objectives were not only against properties but also against people. I recall Talleyrand’s words on this subject: “it is more than a crime, it is wrong”.
My feelings on this point are well known, and nobody in Brittany will believe for one second that I could be in any way involved in such attacks and threats. The situation is therefore clear: I believe that it is another government manoeuvre attempting under pure pretext to strike a blow against me, the unchanging and age old figure of Breton nationalism, one of its most well known representatives and activists, and the one most listened to in Brittany, France and Europe. I have never hidden my unshakable connection with those who have struggled in various ways, since Brittany was annexed by France, for the liberation and the rights of their country, which the French State persists in refusing to acknowledge, and tramples on. My position is clear, and is made clear in my numerous articles and books. It is unquestionably the effect that my ideas and my political position have had in Brittany, in Europe, and in all the oppressed nations, which have motivated all the various petty annoyances and the underhand warfare waged against me by the French State since my return to Brittany in 1955: the banning of some of my meetings, refusal of passport, police surveillance, attempts against my reputation, the most recent to date being this police operation of which I am a victim.
If the French State wishes today to bring a charge against me because of my beliefs, let it do so openly and through hypocritical, underhand and round about methods. Let it at least have the honesty to not sign the European Convention for the Rights of Man if it has no intention of respecting it.”
“You are not accused of having perpetrated any attacks, “replied M.Gallut,” or of having taken part in any. You are charged with possession of explosives and of reconstituting a dissolved league.”
We therefore proceed to the business of the three pyrotechnic detonators:
“Those three little things!” exclaims J.L.Bertrand who had never seen any before.
It is true that fifteen of them could easily fit into the palm of woman’s hand; it is in fact simply a primer. I again explain that I had acquired them legally, and had only brought over those few, and had only planned to use them if necessary for perfectly legal and legitimate purposes, and that in addition they had been where they were found since 1972. Even in Brittany, they could be acquired simply by applying to the Town hall.
As for the F.L.B. documents that were confiscated by Le Scoul and his colleagues, I am easily able to demonstrate that No.1 is the first F.L.B. manifesto of December 1968 that I had published in its entirety in the January 1969 issue of ‘l’Avenir de la Bretagne’ , and which has since been reproduced in anthologies and historical works; No.2 is an organisation chart and document sent by Yann Goulet, which according to its text could be dated around early 1970; No.3 is a press communiqué of the F.L.B. sent from Ireland, dated 22nd January 1974.
All these documents therefore precede the dissolution of the three F.L.B.s by the Council of Ministers on 30th January 1974.
This all took up about two hours, as everything had to be transcribed.
“We have gone through the most important points” said M.Gallut, “We can come back on all the rest later.”
J.L. Bertrand then brought up about a possible release on bail, and discussed conditions for probation should it be deemed necessary. For me, release on bail with probation is only of marginal interest if I am unable to travel freely between Ireland and Brittany. I have no problem in committing to responding to any summons, or of communicating my various plans for travel, which have never been any secret, to the State Security Court.
Once again, our return is another rodeo through Paris. We are back in La Santé around 19.00. It will be four weeks exactly tomorrow since we first entered there.