It was also in Compiègne that I was able to serve the apprenticeship of life as a Breton militant. The public library in town had a copy of ‘L’Histoire de Bretagne’ by Pitre-Chevalier, and I consulted the one by de la Borderie at the Sainte-Genevieve library, near the Law Faculty. I took numerous notes, and started drafting an essay on Breton resistance to centralised power since the reunion with France, with the vague idea of making a doctoral thesis of it later on.
Shortly after our arrival, the municipality of Compiègne began organising sumptuous festivals for the five hundredth anniversary of the combat during which Jeanne d’Arc was taken prisoner at the city walls. I wrote a few articles for the local weekly, requesting that the Connetable de Richmont be officially represented alongside Jeanne in the historical procession, and medieval tournament that was to be re-enacted. He was her companion who, after her, continued to carry out what she had not been able to complete. First a faithful ally to the King of France, Arthur de Richemont nonetheless refused to part with even the smallest particle of the sovereignty of his country, when he became ‘Duc de Bretagne’. Several inhabitants of Breton origin in Compiegne supported my request, and the municipality, directed at the time by Fournier Sarloveze, agreed to it. He was a tall elegant bourgeois with a shock of white hair, a drooping moustache and a lordly manner; he always sported a fresh flower in his buttonhole.
On the strength of this, my father and I took the initiative of calling for the foundation of a Compiègne Breton’s Association. It was quickly established, and at nineteen I became its first secretary. We therefore proceeded to organise a certain number of demonstrations and Breton performances in Compiègne. We generally called on the ‘Korollerien breiz-Izel’ group of dancers and singers, who had just been launched in Paris by A.Sanseau, supported by the K.A.V. bagpipes; a confraternity of bagpipe players also recently founded. When later on I settled in Paris, after 1932, I became a member of the Korollerien, and went along with them on a number of trips.
The Compiègne Breton’s Association had become affiliated to the Federation of Breton’s Associations in the Paris region, and as I was frequently in Paris, I represented them at the Federation meetings that were chaired, at the time, by the Breton architect, Victor Le Sage. Thus, little by little, I became acquainted with the leading organisers of Breton life in the Paris region, and became increasingly involved in its activities over the following years.
Lord Ashbourne, past president of the Gaelic league, was a regular at our Annual General Meetings. He had retired to Compiègne shortly after the civil war following the Irish Declaration of Independence, which had not been complete enough in his eyes. He had followed the example of Terence Mac Sweeney’s wife, who had also gone into exile in France. Her husband, the Lord Mayor of Cork, died as a result of a long hunger-strike in English prisons, and she felt the reality was not consistent with the republican ideal for which he had died – The Celts are often set on absoluteness. Lord Ashbourne was a celebrated figure in Compiègne. He was always dressed in a heavy brownish-orange woollen kilt, a wide open tweed jacket, a tartan rug that was rolled up in summer but unfurled in winter, thrown over his shoulders and held together with an enormous Tara brooch. Only the Claymore, and the Dirk that is inserted in the top of the stocking, were missing. He wore his long flowing white hair tied back, and down to his shoulders like the ancient bards. His fine aristocratic countenance, with light blue eyes, shone with an extraordinary majesty. He seems to have come straight from the poems of Ossín, or the misty glens of Ireland, and by some form of Celtic magic, to have strayed into the streets of this French town. The assembly rose spontaneously whenever he came into the room where we had gathered, and we seated him at the desk, in homage as much to him personally as to his heroic nation, first of the Celtic nations to have acquired its political freedom.
Strangely enough, Lord Ashbourne, or Mac Giolla Bride as he told me his name was, had devoted a book to l’Abbe Grégoire, a raving Jacobite, who under the French Revolution, together with Barrère, was one of the first to persecute the Breton Language and other ‘barbaric dialects’! They maintained these could spread ‘falsehood, obscurantism, federalism and superstition’, as opposed to French, the language of progress, liberty and enlightenment. Lord Ashbourne hardly spoke of this book, although he dedicated a copy to me. He preferred to recall the first Inter Celtic Congresses at the beginning of the century, which he had regularly attended. There he met Francois Vallée, Taldir Jaffrenou, Erwan Berthou, Léon Le Berre, Charles Le Goffic, Anatole Le Braz and other Bretons whose names have not all been retained by history. Lord Ashbourne’s conversations with these Bretons were always in French, as he was unwilling to speak English, which for him was the language of the oppressor. Francois Vallée, however, refused to reply in French, which for him was the language of the oppressor of his people. There being no common inter Celtic language, he only spoke to him in English! This in no way prevented them from understanding each other very well and with mutual esteem.
It was around about the same time that I first made the acquaintance of Camille Le Mercier d’Erm in Dinard. Subsequent to the death of grand-mère d’Evran, my father had rented a little house in the village of Saint- Enogat. He had furnished it with the furniture he had inherited from his mother. From then on, we spent part of our holidays there, as my Uncle Henri Liégard had also bought a house nearby in Dinard.
Camille Le Mercier d’Erm
Camille Le Mercier d’Erm was thus the first Breton personality of some importance, whose acquaintance I made. He directed the paper ‘Dinard-Cote d’Emeraude’, and had used one of my articles; which is how I came to visit him. He was having a hard time making a living then, as his paper mainly sold during the tourist season. It was only some years later that he succeeded in improving his position by some successful property speculations; also by setting up his own shop, selling Breton goods and furniture acquired by his wife, who scoured the surrounding country sides looking for bargains. At the time when I first met him, apart from his paper, he devoted his time mainly to historical and literary work. His monumental ‘Histoire de l’armée de Bretagne’ was published shortly after. He lent me a copy of his ‘Bardes et poètes nationaux de la Bretagne Armoricaine’, modelled on the ‘Barzaz Brei’, through which I learnt the names and works of Breton militants and patriots – some of whom I was associated with later on. He also gave me full access to the columns of his paper. He was then in the prime of life and, together with his natural distinction, carried himself well. Only his difficulty with elocution and the muted sound of his voice bothered him.
-“Had I been able to, I would like to have become a Breton equivalent of O’Connell or Parnell”, he confided to me one day.
He was satisfied, however, with being a poet, journalist and historian. Although he had a very high opinion of himself, he had the art of not making it felt too much; helped along by his natural simplicity and easy manner.
In 1911, Le Mercier d’Erm had been the first to cross the Rubicon of regionalism, and at the age of twenty had the merit of founding the first Breton separatist ‘party’. Moreover, he was encouraged by a certain number of big names in regionalism, who for reasons of political opportunisms still refused to call a spade a spade. Breiz Atao, created in 1919, effectively picked up the terms and claims found in ‘Breiz-Dishual’, the paper he had launched in 1911. It was not necessary, therefore, for him to repeat the experience, or the responsibilities, once the war was over. We often spoke of his initiative at the time and of the Breton movement in general, placing it in context with events following on the publication of Chateaulin’s autonomist declaration – actions undertaken against the Alsatian autonomists and the police harassment, which Breton autonomists were beginning to experience already. More than anyone else, he was aware that one had to take each stage sparingly. It was also necessary for some to fearlessly blaze the trail for the sake of opening up new pathways, although the greater number might not follow. He had done this in 1911, and henceforth Breiz Atao would do it. After all, the sword and the goad are but blunt instruments without their spike!
It was alongside Le Mercier d’Erm, his wife and his daughter Annik that I participated in a number of demonstrations in Dinard, which he organised. The ‘Pardon de La Mer’ for example, a tradition that did not survive him unfortunately; also a small Inter Celtic congress where I gave a talk, which he later published under the title ’Les saints Bretons et leur oeuvre nationale’. Above all, there was L’An Alac’h Tramor, extolled by Barzaz-Breiz, which commemorated Duc Jean VI’s triumphal landing in Dinard; one of the most significant events in our national history. He continued to encourage and support my Breton action later on, and was already well over eighty when I last saw him a number of years ago. He could only move about with great difficulty, but the fire of his spirit still burned within him, together with the ardour of his convictions, and the steadfast rock of his Breton faith. He had long since prepared himself for death; the ‘menhir’ erected over his grave, and its bas-relief, was in place in Dinard cemetery many years before he was finally laid to rest there. Alas, in my distant exile, I heard about it too late to be able to escort him along his last journey.
Throughout this period, my journalistic career was also taking shape. I collaborated fairly regularly with ‘La Bretagne a Paris’, which was directed at the time by Louis Beaufrère, whose pointed beard and Quimper waistcoat with yellow embroidery, together with the large hat and buckle, were famous at all Breton demonstrations. We had entertained him at home when he came to cover the festival of Compiègne. My mother, who was thrifty, always remembered the thick layer of butter he spread on his bread, as thick as the slice of bread itself; like the true Breton that he was! I served as his correspondent and special envoy for Breton congresses and ‘pardons’ in the summer, whenever I could attend them. In the end, however, I had little spare time. My classes and exams, comings and goings, and already a multitude of activities, together with my life as a young man, left me with no leisure time, apart from the University holidays.
In June 1930, I was one of the first fifteen in the finals of the School of Political Science diploma. I had devoted more time to it than to my Law Faculty exams, and therefore that June, I failed the oral of my third year degree. I spent practically the whole of that summer with my grandmother in Callac, locking myself in to carry out my revision. This allowed me to pass my Law degree at the November session, and then to register for the doctorate courses, whilst preparing at the same time for a Liberal Arts degree. The following June, I passed Sociology and Economic geography, as well as my first higher level diploma in Public and Constitutional Law. At the November session when I passed the second one, I was already in uniform – as it was also in Compiègne, at Royallieu barracks, that I carried out my military service.
Assisted by my father’s contacts, I was very fortunately enlisted in the infantry in Compiègne, where I resided. I was of course obliged to sleep at the barracks, but after five in the evening, on condition that I was back before the nightly roll-call, as also on Sundays, I could return home, change my clothes and enjoy my room, my books and studies, my friends and love-life. Indeed I can not say that I was a model soldier; several times I found I was at loggerheads with the authorities of the regiment, especially its colonel, who lived in Soissons. I suffered and was irritated by the pettiness and stupidities, restraints and needlessly crude jokes of military life. I spent several nights in the detention centre; these were my first prisons! But even deprived of leave, I managed to get out. Had quickly learned that if you wanted to be left alone in the regiment, you should never answer with NO, but should just go ahead and please yourself, which is what the Irish did for generations, with regard to the English.
There was one question, amongst those on the enlistment form: “Have you passed your primary certificate?” to which I replied NO, which was the truth. I was thus made to sit the exam for illiterates: dictation, addition, multiplication etc… In just a few lines you had to reply to the question, “Why are you a soldier?” I began to write, “It is difficult to reply”, and then stopped with my pen in mid-air. The Company Sergeant-Major who was supervising the tests, on seeing my hesitation, approached me and whispered in my ear: -Huh! What use is a Law degree when one can still be stuck for words!” I continued writing –“One could say that I am soldier in order to serve my country. But I have every intention, even without being one, of serving it everywhere. In which case, I must conclude that I am a soldier because I am obliged to be one, by law”. This was also strictly the truth. My father had a good laugh when I reported these incidents to him, as he knew what to expect from administrations in general. They contributed, however, in giving me a reputation for being headstrong.
Most of my conscript friends were from the Paris region: on Saturdays, the leave permits were deliberately distributed a half hour late, in order to prevent them from catching the first afternoon train to paris. This meant they had to wait for the evening train, as they had to walk to the station which was far. I then decided to mobilize my father’s car, which I had parked behind the barracks, so that I could drive some of my friends to the station in time for the afternoon train. The sergeant on duty at the station could do nothing about it: but he did punish me one day for being caught in uniform wearing “leather gloves like a non-commissioned officer”!
Likewise, one of the elegant lieutenants of our company had warned me that if he met me again coming out of Mass on Sunday in civilian clothes, he would punish me. I wondered what had upset him: was I surrounded by too many young girls, with whom he would have liked to have spoken? I had the cavalry regiment officers’ tailor make me a blue uniform of finely textured cloth, well cut, and designed in the latest fashion, just as elegant as his, although minus the stripes. It was much admired by all my friends. I wore it every Sunday, and it gave me great pleasure thus to salute my lieutenant, in accordance with regulations, at the Church door, and whenever I met him in town. Much later, the tunic, which had become far too small for me, was worn from time to time by one of my daughters attracted to hippy fashions.
But though I was repelled by life in the barracks, I do have pleasant memories of our walks, drills and target practice sessions, set in the forest with its foliage and range of colours changing according to the months and seasons. There is nothing more beautiful than the autumn in Compiègne: the beauty of the spectacle it offers to the wonder-struck eyes of the passerby, is only surpassed by that of the Canadian forest. The undergrowth remains mysterious, at times illuminated by rays of light from high up in the paths and clearings. I usually brought along my manuals in my haversack, and was able to continue studying them at leisure during the breaks and also on guard duty, sitting on tree trunks or moss, or half stretched out on a carpet of dead leaves. Beyond stupid restraints, life in the military did have its funnier moments at times. Once, I was awakened in the middle of the night by a panic stricken chief-sergeant, whose wife was in labour: he had been told that I was doing doctorate studies, and the midwife had not arrived yet! Displeased that my sleep had been interrupted, I did not offer my services but earnestly pointed out to him that the studies I had done so far, had only given me a very limited knowledge of practical medicine!
Except for my thesis, which I only submitted in 1939, I had practically completed my Law, Arts and Political Science studies. Now, having finished with military service, I found I was again at a crossroad. I had to think in terms of a move forward into working life to secure personal independence. But, I still hesitated. Politics and journalism were tempting, but I saw them as part of the struggle, and geographically situated in Brittany, which was not where I lived at that time. My studies in Public Law, Administration and Finances, by nature, called for an administrative career. My father pressed me in that direction: a father always seeks to ensure the material security of his children.
I was only tempted by Administration for the sake of the basic material security it offered. This combined with ample leisure or plenty of free time to devote to my studies and personal activities, which were the only things that really interested me. They were, however, hardly profitable on a short term basis! Were they even both compatible? I sometimes dreamt of Alphonse Daudet’s story to the Sub-Prefect, of still houses at the bottom of large gardens, of a quiet life and secret loves, lonely country sides, open books alongside a ream of blank paper on my table, and a window opening on peaceful fields: but the fighting demon was already stirring in me. Because of the suffering resulting from the intimate ordeal I had been through, I felt that life could only be complete if one knew how to fight to overtake it, to fully confront the challenge and risks it always presents to the better, even to create this and conquer what is better or best: internal contradictions and contradictory desires, a dilemma from which I have never quite been able to get away.
I finally decided to take the Inspectorate of Finances preparatory course at the Political Science College. At the same time, I prepared for the entrance exams to practically all the various ministerial departments. Thus, in November 1932, I had to arrange for a place to live in Paris. I managed to obtain a room at the Cité Universitaire, in the pavilion established by the United States. There, I met up again with a number of Breton and other students, who were taking the same courses as I was. For the first time, I settled into my own personal life, away from my family, in a totally new environment.
The courses I was taking required a considerable amount of work, and certainly more constant application than I had been accustomed to devote. We were divided into study groups of ten to fifteen, called the stables. We were the foals. References to the horse, that pre-eminently noble animal, abounded. One also referred to the gallop tests for the test papers: were we not preparing for positions considered noble by definition, being as they were part of the great establishment, and in fact of its leadership: a French monarchic tradition that outlasted itself in the ante-rooms of the Republic. On the whole, I found the courses, lectures and discussion groups interesting: it was mainly a case of deepening and developing ones knowledge, of placing it in context, as the context was of great importance.
At one of our first lectures, Wilfrid Baumgartner declared –“In order to succeed in the Inspectorate of Finances, it’s quite simple – you must remember that it is essential to be clear, important to be intelligent and useful to have some knowledge”. Wilfred Baumgartner directed the course, assisted by Couve de Murville – both later became part of the Government.
He had thus briefly summarised the training we were to have. His statement only appeared to be paradoxical. It was necessary to form brilliant minds, gifted with a talent for synthesis, capable of extracting the essential elements of a problem and stating it clearly. It was not advisable to be too profound, nor to question one’s self too much. The How mattered much more than the Why. The State, as it was and as it still is, was absolutely imperative. It had to be served, perpetuated, invested in and embodied. Along the way, one should acquire the material advantages, the power and social esteem that its leadership might bring to those who served it in this manner – not exempting personal advantages. Every one of us knew that the Inspectorate was but a narrow doorway, jealously guarded. Those elected, who reached it, would see as they crossed its threshold, the multiple avenues to brilliant careers opening up before them. Not alone could these lead them to the highest offices in the State, but also to those of big business, banking and nationalised companies. The form of the State, its political orientation and changing governments mattered little. The main thing was to perpetuate its structures and administration; it’s all powerfulness and imperial traditions. Our teachers, or rather our guides and a number of my fellow students did not question this at all. Strong in their certainty, proud of their diplomas and garnished with their imperativeness, they were convinced that the system they were about to be integrated into was of a dazzling superiority. It could not be compared with any other. Only those reforms that consisted in perfecting it were considered. The praising of other systems, other ways of administering and governing only met with polite consideration, but left them with their deep convictions, their dogmas and revealed truths unshaken.
In any case, their conceptions and that of their tutors in thought were the best and comparable to no other, also the only one that could open up the careers they coveted. As accomplices in the cynicism with respect to intelligence, the ‘know how’ appeared to be more important than knowledge alone. In their will to succeed, each seemed to feel he was personally an heir to the ministers of the forty kings, the generations of legist and Intendants, important office holders, analysts and philosophers. They have made France, its administration, attitude of mind and institutional structures, into the political administrative and cultural entity that it has become.
I had not yet fully perceived that by dint of wanting to embrace, direct and regulate everything, this structure so reassuring to the mind, this conception and faith had grown monstrous. In all of this, probably unconsciously, there was a certain cruelty, all born of a hunger from power, an indifference to reality and a barely concealed contempt of man and the common citizen. Thus, I did not always feel at ease! I did not feel my mind could conform. The Why always appeared to me more important than the How, the foundation more than the form, the object more than the means and the administered more than the administration. It was difficult to cast myself into that mould and to integrate into that current of thought. Though it had indeed a broad outlook and was even universal in its ambitions, its original conception was deeply confining and restricting in its application and ends.
A few years ago I read with interest a little book by J.Mandarin, the pseudonym of one of our socialist ministers. It was devoted to ‘l’Énarchie’, the National Administration Training College. It was a relevant analysis of the spirit, methods, ambitions and preoccupations of our modern senior French Civil Servants. I learnt that nothing had changed, and he clearly showed that the E.N.A, the National Administration Training College, evolved directly from the ‘stables’ of the Political Science College. Conceived by that fanatical Jacobin Michel Debré, heir of Barrère, de Seyes, l’Abbe Grégoire and Bonaparte, it perfected, unified, standardised and automated the formation of the technocracy that continues to serve and control France, not forgetting to help itself in the process. All this explains why any change of regime or modification in the French State’s political orientation will be powerless to fundamentally change it. The techno-bureaucracy will just as easily espouse the dictums of so-called socialist control as that of capitalist control. And as to the fate of the ordinary citizen, nothing will change. He will always remain simply a subject, and forever a minor of the State. So it will remain, until one succeeds in shattering and destroying this monolithic State’s fundamental structures, and restoring its components to a more humane dimension.
Let it not be thought, however, that I regret the time spent in this fortress for churning out the great servants of this State, which for me soon became the enemy. There I learnt to express myself in a disciplined manner, to arrange my ideas and arguments, to compose a well-balanced expose, lecture, article and report, to separate the essential from the extrinsic and the important from the secondary. Baumgartner was right in saying one should keep things as clear and simple as possible, and to use words that most people can understand. There is nothing that puts me off and annoys me more than the assembling of unorthodox words, full of neologisms, ponderous, pedantic and obscure, incomprehensible to common mortals. All of which, our philosophers, University professors, political theoreticians and modern thinkers of today enjoy collecting, but in fact only use them as a smoke screen to hide the emptiness, and even the absence, of their thoughts, and their total submission to pre-established dogmas. Have simpletons and idiots not always admired what they do not understand? All these people basically despise those they are addressing.
In the two years I spent there, the instructions meted out in the stables of the Inspectorate certainly helped me get through the papers of the written tests for the Ministries of Finance and of the Interior, the French administration ministry, which I sat for during the first half of 1934. I failed the oral for the Finance Ministry. As always, the mathematics: I had neglected them it’s true, but I was increasingly convinced that the philosopher Bertrand Russell was correct when, speaking of them, he said they were –“a subject on which we never know what we are talking about, nor even if what we say is true”. I passed the oral and written for the Ministry of the Interior, however, where mathematics did not feature!! At least I was from having to make a choice between the two ministries. I took up my duties at the Ministry of the Interior in the beginning of July 1934. I finally abandoned the idea of taking the test for the Inspectorate of Finance, as my failure of the oral bode no good for my eventual success. Above all, my spirit refused to allow itself be trapped in that mould. The greater part of my time was soon taken up with my Breton and European militant’s life. More and more, I was becoming a heretic of the State.
On the night of the 7th August 1932, I happened to be on the train going from Paris to Dinard, making the most of the last of my military leave. That same night, the secret association Gwen-ha-du, ancestor of the F.L.B., blew up the monument symbolising the union of Brittany to France, just as the Prime Minister, Edouard Herriot, was preparing to celebrate the 4th centenary of that union in Vannes. Day of celebration or of mourning? Fortunately, in the eyes of the State, I was not yet the suspect Breton I have since become. The event had an extraordinary repercussion: world press special envoys descended on Brittany. This trial-run, which was also a masterstroke, had done more to put the Breton issue in the forefront of the news than ten years of peaceful action. The newspaper ‘Breiz Atao’ that had practically disappeared over the previous few years reappeared.
When I settled into the Cité Universitaire in Paris, in November 1932, the event was still a hot topic. It was frequently the subject of discussion among the Breton students there. Little by little I made their acquaintance, also through the Korollerien, whose meetings I now attended fairly regularly. I registered for the Breton course with Robert Audic, held once a week on the first floor of a cafe, place Saint Suplice. From time to time, I also attended meetings organised by the Paris branch of ‘Breiz Atao’, at the Bel Air cafe behind Montparnasse. All these associations and private initiatives were too poor to allow for the luxury of their own premises: thus they were reduced to getting together in cafes, reserving a small room for them in the evenings, and making their profits on the sale of drinks to the participants.
At that time and until the War, the Paris branch of ‘Beiz Atao’ was motivated by a son of the ex Deputy for morbihan, Marcel Guiyesse. He had been a sub-prefect in his youth, but his character and independent spirit had very quickly obliged him to leave the Administration. He very neatly fought a duel with a Deputy who became a Minister! He was practically blind when I met him, and his failing eyesight had obliged him to take early retirement. He barely managed to live off his pension, supplemented by the hard-earned salary of his daughter Denise, who seconded him very efficiently in his Breton militant activities. Denise was a true soldier. She had the rather thick-set carriage of one, and looked like she wore some sort of armour. Her Breton ardour was only equalled by her discretion. She spoke little and her face gave away nothing. At a time of increasingly heavy persecution of militant autonomists, her ability to keep a secret, together with her devotion to duty, had made her the most trusted person in Paris by the leaders of ‘Breiz Atao’. In other ways, she was also a great help to Celestin Lainé, one of the motivators of Gwen-ha-Du at the time, and to Francois Debauvais, who with Mordrel was at the spearhead of Breton Nationalism. So it was, at the café de Bel Air, that I became personally acquainted with the first militant ‘autonomist’ I would ever know. Hervé Le Menn, an obstinate and courageous militant, was frequently there. He was a bus driver in private life and a Breton speaker from birth, who never quite felt at home with the French language. He had just founded K.A.V., the first association of bagpipes, and was soon joined by Marcel Audic, Dorig Le Voyer and others. White bearded Eugène Régnier, who had just founded the first Celtic circle in Paris, was also sometimes there.
It was from Hervé Le Menn that I heard the first statements characteristic of Breton nationalism and patriotism. I had asked him along to speak to two or three of my friends – one of them, George Palthey, was later accepted into the Finance Ministry. Since he was a worker and of the proletariat, I wanted to show my friends that the Breton’s claims were not just the fantasies of intellectuals, which they maintained they were. Hervé Le Menn could not be bothered with nuances: what he wanted was freedom for his country. In reply to the classical arguments put forward by my friends, and still frequently heard today: –“But Brittany could not survive alone…it would be destitution”, he simply replied,
–“I would prefer to see my country starving but free, than see it rich and a slave to a foreign power”.
This in fact was Irish patriotism’s answer to the wealth and majesty of the British Empire, of a dominated people to the privileges of a people dominating. Some years later, one of the leaders of the Algerian rebellion was to echo his reply,
-“We have not taken up arms for the sake of greater wealth and less poverty, but to have a homeland. It can not be placed on the same level”.
But these were the pioneers, in every sense of the word and in every way, at least those amongst them who did not confuse actions with words. Pioneers within a people are indispensable: they open up new roads, being from the breed of those who create and dare. They clearly standout from the masses and do not seek to mingle with them, nor shelter amongst them as men do: those whose character or lack of courage does not prompt them to assume the risk inherent in any new venture or undertaking, nor to stray from the beaten pathways and well defined roads. Even then, the masses must follow close behind: without their implied acceptance and co-operation, and its unit of strength in reserve, the pioneers would risk being left defending the front lines with back-up to rescue them when the enemy attacks.
‘Breiz Atao’ at the time, seemed to me to be in that situation, on the eve of those few dangerous years from which would emerge the Second World War. The Breton’s had been converted into perfect French patriots by State education, the barracks and the First World War. Does one not form a particular attachment to the reason why one is asked to lay down one’s life? At a time when women still had no vote, French political life was still largely dominated by the generation of fire, those men who had taken part in the ‘14-‘18 War. Brittany was no exception. It had suffered twice as many deaths as the others. It was therefore French twice over, argued the French super-patriots, and everyone was prepared to believe this sophism. What could be done to make them get over this aberration? What can be done to bridge the gap between the masses and the pioneers, and to ensure the combat of the latter does not remain a solitary one? Heroism is irreplaceable as it is not given to many: but heroism itself can be in vain if it does not awaken an echo and induce admiration and pride, even though it may remain misunderstood.
I frequently discussed these problems with some of the militants, and with Breton students of the United States foundation with whom I had become acquainted. We decided to found a circle of Breton Students, based at the Cité Universitaire, which would also be open to Welsh and Irish students. Early 1934, the circle was already on irs feet, thanks to the launching we organised with a session of Breton dances and songs, which attracted a large crowd of American and of foreign students. My friends from Korollerien and K.A.V., together with the singers Milbeo and Suscinio on one of their first public appearances, all took part. The objective we pursued was twofold: on the one hand to make students aware of Breton problems through conferences, lectures and discussions: a certain number, at least, of these students were later destined to take-up their activity in Brittany – and on the other hand, to recruit a small militant team capable of running the association, Ar Brezhoneg er Skol, union for the teaching of Breton, which we had also decided to found.
I felt that both these initiatives were a contribution towards, what seemed to me, the obvious need to establish the Breton regionalist and autonomist movement in general on a broader base, and to organise closer participation of the population. First, an effort had to be made to reduce the gap that existed between the pioneers, the elite and those locally elected, these being capable of influencing the uninformed population, conditioned by State education, the administration and their local representatives. The protection of the Breton language and the claim for its teaching in school seemed to me the kind of thing to awaken the sleepy, paralysed Breton conscience of my compatriots. The elementary right of teaching the language in school was already recognised and common practice in many European countries where there were similar problems, whilst in France it wasn’t. The question was that to do so, in firm but restrained terms, without questioning the sovereignty of France and structures of the State. Therefore, without politics, in the proper sense of the word, or leaving one’s self open to reproach for ‘autonomism’, which was always readily thrown at us. This program was simple, irreproachable in its objectives and of unanimous appeal. Politics only came into it later, when the awareness had been accomplished.
Dr. Le Cam, although very ill with tuberculosis that kept him at home in Saint-Servan, had succeeded, thanks to his old friend the bard and popular singer Charles Rolland, in having a motion adopted by the Municipal Council of Guerlesquin in favour of the teaching of Breton. It was the first of its kind, and the press had given it fairly extensive publicity. I had written to Dr. Le Cam to congratulate him and to point out that, it seemed to me, this initiative should be generalised and we would offer to help him. In spite of his illness, he came to see me in Paris, and later I returned the visit in Saint-Servan. A remarkable fire burned within him, but his exhausted body could not keep up. Although he never complained and always refused to admit it, he lived in very difficult circumstances, confined to bed or a chaise-longue and with few resources, at a time when Social Security was still rudimentary. He was only able to encourage and support me, which he did regularly over the next few years, with numerous moving and enthusiastic letters. He scrutinised the press for reports of the Municipal Council meetings. Our campaign and its success gave him a new lease of life, until it was naturally interrupted by the War which put an end to his hopes. Exhausted from so much physical and mental misery, and probably also having used up his means, he finished by gathering together his remaining strength to stretch out one night on the railway tracks before the passing of the train, thus pre-empting a death that he felt was too long in coming. I only found out much later the true reason for his silence.
From the beginning, I had thought of our Breton teacher, Robert Audic, to take on the secretariat of Ar Brezhoneg er Skol. He was ten years older than I, and of delicate health. He had a small position with an insurance company near ‘gare Saint-Lazare’, and had little means. In addition, his Breton classes left him little spare time. Nonetheless, he agreed to help us start up the functions I had asked him to take on. His advice was very valuable to us in this initial stage, and the registered office of the new association was thus set up at his place. Later on towards the end of 1935, when I left the Cité Universitaire, it was possible to establish at at my place, rue des Artistes. By then, Robert Audic had returned to Brittany. The new association was in operation before the summer of 1934, shortly after the founding of the Breton students’ circle. I had barely started at the Ministry of the Interior and taken over my first office, when I drew up the motion in favour of the teaching of Breton, which we then planned to submit to all the Municipal Councils in Brittany.
First of all, a vote in favour had to be obtained from a certain number of them, to encourage others by their example, creating a snowball effect. With the summer holidays about to begin, the students would be returning to Brittany. Marius Le Toiser, whose father was Mayor of Perros-Guirec, undertook to tackle the few mayors of Tregor, and Jacques Marzin, native of Morlaix, those of Leon. Their various contacts were put to good use in obtaining the first motion, thus permitting us to launch a general campaign for the Municipal Councils’ first meeting of 1935. We sent them each a circular letter with a copy of the motion adopted, and on the back a list of the Municipal Councils that had passed it already. Thus began a campaign that was to go from strength to strength over the following years. It was renewed twice a year before the municipal meetings, and by the time the War started it had ended up gathering together the approval of the three General Councils and the majority of the Municipal Councils of Basse-Bretagne, as well as that of the education commission of the Chamber of Deputies.
These results were not acquired without trouble and hard work – they could never have been attained without the perseverance and dedication of the small faithful team originating from the Breton students’ circle that I had been able to gather around me. It was not only a case of addressing 1500 to 2000 circulars twice a year, as there was also the secretariat, the various approaches to be made to the mayors, the parliamentarians and authorities, subscriptions and funds to be sought and collected, annual general meetings to be organised and attendance at Breton Congresses, as well as articles to be written: all done on a voluntary basis. In order to get some funds together, Xavier de Langlais designed post cards, which we had printed and put up for sale. Korentin Le Pape devised the making of balloons with the Ar Brezhoneg er Skol emblem on them, which we could inflate at the Breton festivals with the help of bottles of compressed air: the children fought over them.
The summer holidays were certainly put to maximum use. None of us owned a car, so trains and buses were the only means we had of getting around. We had meagre personal means, but luckily I had managed to obtain special travel permits at reduced prices from the S.N.C.F. for our trips from Paris to Brittany, which greatly spared our respective finances. In spite of studies, various pursuits and the distance that separated us from Brittany for most of the year, our small team spared no effort, fatigue or dedication.
Even after all these years, I can not evoke their memory without being moved – Jacques Marzin from Morlaix, our general secretary, hostile to publicity, and a ladies’ man, retired early on from Breton activities to lead a quiet and comfortable life in the safety of a large Insurance company – Michel Mafart from Saint Brieuc did the same, but in the safety of the Finance Courts – Marius Le Toizer , who was always Mariek to me, sometimes more lavish with words than action, but with a heart of gold and always willing to help. He had the courage to take up his duties as a barrister again, after the exile he had been forced into during the occupation, owing to his participation in the Breton National Party – Paul Sylvestre from Nantes, one of the prettiest faces at La Cité, who was our first treasurer – Maryvonne Le Ferrer who succeeded her. She had a fiery temperament under a calm appearance. From her Spanish birth, she had inherited the nonchalance and the dark eyes and skin – Yves Briand, our librarian who had succeeded Louis Rousseau. When very young, he contracted poliomyelitis that left him with a partial ataxia, which in no way impeded the intelligence and erudition he proved to have – Corentin Le Pape from ‘Bigouden’ country, one of the most active, thickset with eyes the colour of Delft china, who later completed his career as a colonel in the Air Force – Yves Hamon, who succeeded me in the presidency of the Breton students’ circle, and completed his career in the Ministry of Agriculture, whilst Yves Le Gac completed his in the Ministry of the Navy – Jean-Louis Bertrand, future president of the bar in Rennes, mor attracted to theatre and poetry than to action. He became and remained my faithful defender throughout the prosecutions, which many times led me to suffer imprisonment, and to face the political jurisdiction of the State – Pierre Baudet-Germain, whom I met again later at the Rennes prefecture.
1936: The leaders of the Breton student’s circle in Paris. In front from left to right , Jean Jardin, Pierre Baudet Germain, Yann Fouéré, Marius Le Toiser, and at the back, Jean Louis Bertrand, Jacques Marzin, A.Denis.
Gabriel Jaffré sometimes came to our meetings. He was one of those Bretons who were members of the communist party. A minor civil servant with the Ministry of Health until, after the Liberation, de Gaulle installed a communist there and insured his rapid promotion; his future wife, Suzanne Dassibat, was an ardent militant of Breiz-Atao at the time. There was also Hervé Le Menn and his wife Vivianne Masson – Le Hir from Landerneau, where he found his Breton vocation, and became familiar with French prisons after the Liberation. It was then also that young Guy Vissault de Coetlogon was executed by a firing squad in Paris, after a trial where he proved himself worthy of his name and its heroic traditions – Thomas de Baldraite, an Irish student who became professor of Irish at Dublin University – Eugène Goyenetche, the Basque who also became acquainted with French prisons – G.B. Caird, the Scottish nationalist – Henri Polles who had just published ‘Sophie de Treguier’. He also lived at the Cité Universitaire,in the Indochinese pavilion, which was then a virulent center of Vietnamese nationalist students. He presented us with his book, and later supplied me numerous articles, much appreciated, for my daily newspaper, La Bretagne.
During the following years, one after the other, we were all dispersed by the careers we were to adopt, and the War which put an end to the circle: so much has happened since then and so many disappeared, with conflicting and sometimes tragic destinies! In life, there will always be the audacious and prudent, the insane and the wise, the poets and those down to earth. Life is often only worthwhile through the audacious, the insane and the poets. How would it be if we all merely listened to reason? How grey the horizons and heart-breaking the drought that would be held in store for us, if they were not there to remind us that the world ‘is only worthwhile through its extremes, even though, ‘it is truly through its moderates that it endures’.
As for me, aside from the general leadership, I handled the articles for newspapers, preparation and participation of our Annual General Meetings and important Breton congresses, as well as taking the necessary steps with parliamentarians and , later on, with the Ministry of National Education. We had decided to plan our Annual General Meetings to coincide with those of the ‘Gorsedd’, and to organise a public gathering each time. It seemed to us that the latter was the more politically neutral of the three regularly held summer congresses, the Union Regionaliste Bretonne, the Bleun Brug and the Gorsedd. The regionalism of the U.R.B., directed by Régis de L’Estourbeillon, former M.P. for Morbihan, drew mainly from the ranks of moderates and conservatives. The Bleun-Brug was an openly Catholic organisation. Whilst, on the one hand, we intended placing Ar Brezoneg er Skol above all party politics, on the other, it seemed necessary to us to have our efforts brought to bear on the medium of public education. At that time, it was particularly hostile to all things Breton, in spite of the efforts of Yann Sohier, teacher and member of Breiz-Atao, who had just founded Ar Falz. In the first place, our claim was to have the public primary lay schools, and the secondary State teaching establishments, begin a limited but rational and effective teaching of Breton. We were certain that the Catholic schools and colleges would automatically follow if we succeeded. So it was that we held the four Annual General Meetings, preceding the War, with Gorsedd: at Guémené-sur-Scorff in 1936, Perros Guirec in 1937, Chateaulin in 1938 and Vannes in 1939.
1936 in Saint Brieuc:-A group of Breton children in costume presenting the ‘Ar Brezoneg er Skol’ petition for the teaching of Breton to the President of the Republic, Albert Lebrun and his Minister of Education, Jean Zay. In the centre an anxious Prefet!
Aside from those Annual General Meetings, we were also able to conduct our propaganda through our representation and participation in other Breton congresses, Bleun-Brug and the U.R.B.in particular. The only gatherings we avoided were those of the P.N.B., to avoid being labelled as autonomists, which naturally was all too easily thrown at us, in spite of the precautions we took with our vocabulary and propaganda. This, in fact, was generally the attitude against all Breton militants, no matter how inoffensive, even when only defending the most peaceful regionalists. At least on that score we were able to defend ourselves – which, however, did not prevent some of us from having good personal relationships with ‘autonomists’. Their supporters were amongst the best of our local militants. Also, the ‘autonomists’ generally frequented the various Breton congresses where we were bound to meet them.
In that respect, there had always been a sort of osmosis amongst Breton patriots of all persuasions, whose differences of opinion in no way prevented them from meeting and respecting each other. It was a source of wealth and diversity, as much as reciprocal tolerance. It seems that on that score we have since progressed in reverse. Sectarianism, narrow-mindedness, and in short the lack of openness which underlines French political life at present, has rubbed off on the Breton political movement today. When will we cease allowing ourselves to be influenced by the methods and misjudgements of our neighbours, once and for all?
Whenever I could, alone or accompanied by one or other of our team, I insured that the Ar Brezoneg er Skol and the Breton students were represented at the various Breton demonstrations. At times it was quite a problem, as it was not always possible for these to coincide with the short holidays my profession allowed. During those few years, I frequently had to ‘skip’ the Ministry on Saturday mornings, catching the night train at Montparnasse on Friday, to arrive in Brittany at first light the next day, and then catching another night train Sunday, in order to be back in my office on Monday morning. True, the work there was undemanding. I had plenty of time to carry out most of my work as militant, writing articles and attending to my correspondence. I thanked my lucky stars for the good fortune I enjoyed, with my own office, away from the chattering of my colleagues and contact with the public.
It was during these visits to Brittany, short though they were at times, that little by little I discovered the various faces of Brittany. Until then, I really only knew the countryside of Callac, Dinard, Evran and Perros-Guirec. From the windows of a train or bus, alighting and taking my first steps along the streets of a town still sleeping, in the fresh morning air with the mist over its river. I discovered news horizons of cultural wealth and new secret ways. I floated along on the breeze from the sea or wind from the moors, merging with the landscape and absorbed in contemplation of it. I discovered dark Léon, bristling with church steeples and swept by wind from the sea; fertile ‘Cornouaille’ sloping down from the hills; the dark ridges of Arrée; the luminous ‘Vannetais’ with its golden islands floating on the calm waters of the gulf; the light and elevated Trégor; the high country from Fougères to Clisson, which more than any other holds the memories of our glorious past.
Little by little, I also discovered the men caught up in this Breton conflict that I had just joined. They varied in stature, intelligence and capacity, but they had all had the flame of the believer burning in their eyes. This was true, even of those who were but characters incapable of finding any other means of standing out from the herd of their contemporaries. There were a few, there will always be some.
The first ones I visited were those who, for me, were of the older generation, the regionalists and bards. We needed their help for the Ar Brezoneg er Skol campaign. There was no question of haggling with me for their cooperation! But I sometimes had the impression that they looked at me with as much surprise as regard. A young person who believed and was not one of those impudent and imprudent young people of Breiz-Atao – surely a rare species! They were certainly all well regarded, but there ‘Bretonism’ was frequently considered by the populations around them, to be innocent mania: one did not believe in what they believed. Too often it appeared simply as a reminiscence of a past that had to be preserved by the fact of wearing a Breton ‘costume’ at the summer congresses, and even sometimes the ‘bragou braz’, like the bard Efflam Koet Skaw and Bouché, the old notary from Rostrenen, and even the fact of getting together to speak Breton. Many really thought themselves to be like Souvestre or Anatole Le Braz, the last of the Bretons, united by their common cult to a cherished homeland, which little by little was inexorably fading into the mist.
The teaching of Breton? It is indeed necessary. Motions by the Municipal Councils? What an excellent initiative. The idea had already been launched in the trenches of Verdun by the poet Jean-Pierre Calloc’h before laying down his life for France.
-“If you manage to obtain the approval of twenty or thirty Municipal Councils, it will be wonderful. We very much doubt you will get that far, but we will do all we can to support you.”
I had made the acquaintance of some of the pioneers in Paris. Here, it was the world of the flag bearers and upholders. Their breed is indeed necessary and just as essential as the former. They are the rocks that refuse to be carried away by counter-currents, but alas, not to go forward is to be left behind, and not to attack is not to conquer!
Régis de L’Estourbeillon was undeniably the soundest, most steadfast and relentless of these. He always wore the Breton costume of the upper Vanetais. He had even worn it in the French Assembly’s Chamber of Deputies, which he was part of for nearly two decades. He could draw tears from your eyes when he spoke of Brittany, its history and language. He was unanimously respected and was of the breed that never gives in. Like me, he only had an imperfect knowledge of the Breton language, but had undertaken numerous steps for its teaching, more particularly with the Minister of National Education Léon Bérard, who listened sympathetically, being a member of Felibige, the Occitan literary school.
–“A few weeks later”, he said, referring to his efforts, “I noticed Bérard was making every effort to avoid me. I succeeded in cornering him one day in the Chamber library. Very embarrassed, he disclosed that he had been unable to overcome the hostility, coming from the offices of his Ministry, towards any Breton or for that matter Occitan educational measures. It’s the offices that are in charge”, concluded Lestourbe, as we called him, “which is why we will never achieve anything as long as we have not succeeded, through regionalism, in obtaining reform of the Administration”.
L’Union Regionaliste Bretonne, or U.R.B., was actively seeking this reform. He was their president, and the embodiment of it until his death in 1945. He had a perfectly autocratic manner of directing it, and provided most of its financing. He drew up the annual reports almost single-handed, and seemed to think it normal that the association would disappear when he did. In 1938, at the Redon congress, I had accompanied him to the inauguration, on the walls of the city, of a commemorative plaque, marking the thousandth anniversary of the battle of Ballon, won by Nominoé, first king of Brittany, insuring the independence of Brittany and the foundation of the Breton State, by beating the French emperor Charles le Chauve. He had even succeeded in convincing the Sub-Prefect of the town to take part in the ceremony! A few weeks later, I found I was elected Vice-President of the U.R.B., without ever having attended any Annual General Meeting. As representative of the Breton students, I had already been elected Vice-President of the Federation of Breton Associations in the Paris region: I was beginning to accumulate titles!
The fact that we had organised our Annual General Meetings with the Gorsedd, meant that I became better acquainted with Taldir Jaffrenou, their leader at the time. He was also the Grand Druid of the Gorsedd, which was mainly held together by him and by their publication, directed by him. He was the one who had given Brittany their National Anthem, adapted from the Welsh National Anthem. One of his main collaborators was “Le korn boud” Léon Le Berre, who later published a little book called “La Bretagne d’hier”, in comparison to which “Cheval d’orgueil”, by P.J.Hélias, is of lesser value.
Taldir had no liking for autonomists. He was frequently their favourite target: Gorsedd ceremonies were sometimes the butt of jokes that their press deemed disrespectful. I was, therefore, always welcomed with open arms there, together with our team of young people, since we had no links with Breiz-Atao. Taldir, true to his bardic name, was also an upholder, as were the bards of Gorsedd. At the time, the Gorsedd was always held in the Breton speaking parts of Brittany, and at first only Breton was spoken at their meetings. Taldir Jaffrenou was a wine merchant in Carhaix, and always wore the velvet waistcoat of Upper Cornouaille. He looked so extraordinarily like my father that I was sometimes taken for his son. By the end of his career, he had become acquainted with numerous notable Bretons, and incorporated them in Gorsedd. He had been awarded the “palmes académiques”, and was set on obtaining the “légion d’honneur”. His ex-serviceman’s record entitled him to it in any case, but all the steps taken to obtain it for him met with the inevitable opposition of the Ministry of the Interior: not until many years later did the Finistère parliamentarians finally overcome this resistance.
Albert Le Bail had asked me to try and find out the reason for this opposition to their request. He was Deputy-Mayor of Plozevet, and I had made his acquaintance during the campaign for Breton education. During my short time on the staff of Jean Zay, under secretary to the Minister of the Interior, I found out that it was the National Security Service of the Ministry that were responsible for these successive refusals. In 1910, had Taldir not written in his newspaper, ‘Ar Bopl’
–“Let France be on its guard. The greedy barbarians (the Germans) are at its doors. To the West there are other men in reserve, Breton and Gallo-Bretons. For centuries, our race has revolved around the conquering race – we have been the good servant, loyally serving his master. But today we are legion, constantly increasing, and though maybe unconsciously, steadily preparing to also claim our share of the rich spoils.”And again in one of his poems
-“O Brittany, you are but asleep under the French yoke! Let us wield pikes against the French, the steel blade of our fathers; truly they were sharpened on the skulls of the French.”
Of course, all of this was still in his file: the French Administration never forgets anything: in its eyes, an anarchist at eighteen is still one at eighty. Suspect at twenty, you will remain so for the rest of your life: for National Security have a file on all French citizens who are involved in any kind of activity, even those that are solely professional, perfectly legal and above board. These files are carefully maintained by the Intelligence Service and other police, through the gathering of gossip, organised tailing and compiled reports. One really had to be a clod, dolt, and dullard or feebleminded to not have a file: not to have one is really to be someone unworthy of consideration. All the ministers and men of politics have theirs: none are allowed to see it. Only the Minister of the Interior can have these files conveyed to him. All except his own, this will never be passed on to him. The Administration wants to keep its trump cards and continue controlling the State. To this end, anything goes: what is a Minister but just passing through, in its eyes, since it is the Administration that is insuring continuity? Admirable country of liberty, democracy and right, where a small minority of civil servants are in charge of law making. Naturally, from that period onwards, my own file began to build up. No matter how good my file as a civil servant was, that of the National Security’s began to worsen!
Bleun–Brug was doing more than maintaining the status quo. Yann Vari Perrot with his dynamism, though sometimes slightly muddled activity, constant enthusiasm and unfailing kindness, had been able to gather together teams, not only of priests, but also of young lay people. They helped to organise the Breton theatre performances, the recitation and Breton poetry competitions between the schools, and the annual congress. ‘Breuriez ar Brezoneg er Skol’, the task of teaching Breton in schools, run by Raymond Delaporte at the time, worked closely with Bleun-Brug. The public at these meetings and congresses were much younger; more go ahead and enthusiastic than that of the other Breton organisations. A number of these militants were confirmed autonomists and nationalists: Abbé Perrot frequently came to grips with the Ecclesiatic authorities on this score. To save him from political embarrassment, the Breiz-Atao were therefore careful to remain in the background. It was thanks to Abbé Perrot that I came to know the Caouissin brothers, Herri and Ronan, who were his right-hand men, also Dr.Cornic, followed by Raymond Delaporte. In 1928, Bleun-Brug was rapped over the knuckles by the diocese, who accused them of forsaking their apostolic work for the sake of politics. Abbe Perrot had not wanted to break with his superiors. The thorough work he accomplished seemed of more importance than the taking up of a political stance that might compromise this work. Nonetheless, he had been exiled to Scrignac, in the heart of the red mountain, traditionally communist and anti-clerical. Although he retained a profound bitterness at this semi-disgrace, he was a saintly man and never complained of it.
I thus made a point of visiting him with my wife, in the autumn of 1940, during the few weeks that I discharged my duties as Sub-prefect of Morlaix. Administratively, Scrignac fell under the Morlaix Sub-Prefecture. He had welcomed us with delight, and offered us the friendly bowl of coffee and crepes.
–“Yann”, he said to me, energetically rubbing his hands, a sign from him of intense satisfaction. “I sometimes receive Monsignor of Quimper, but you are the first Sub-Prefect in office ever to have crossed the threshold of the Scrignac presbytery”.
And later, during our snack, he had mischievously said to me
“Look here, Yann, when you are in your Sub-Prefect’s office, does it not give you somewhat the impression of being a thief in the Gendarme’s house?”
We all had a good laugh!
It was inevitable that during these years as a militant, I eventually came to meet the team directing Breiz-Atao: the Breton movement at the time was one big family, where one could hardly have maintained an enemy. Yann Vari Perrot, more than anyone, conceived it as such: his house was always open to all those moved by Breton inspiration. Each one vaguely felt part of a whole, and that each one of their efforts supported the efforts of all the others, like the different parts of an engine each contribute to the efficiency of the whole.
Olier Mordrel was the first one I met. He was living in Quimper at the time, and we met for the first time at the Quimperlé Gorsedd, which I attended with Le Mercier d’Erm. One day, he drove me to my grandmother’s place in Callac: we stopped on the way at Chateuneuf-du-Faou, to meet Raymond Delaporte. Shortly after, I met Debauvais. They all became friends of mine, and will feature frequently in the following pages. Each one of them possessed enough political sense to have regard for, and recognise as indispensable, the apolitical nature of the Ar Brezoneg er Skol campaign that I wanted to preserve. It had the support of Breiz-Atao, as well as all the other Breton publications: but its militants remained in the background. Gwalarn, Ar Falz and Ar Brezoneg er Skol were all organisations for cultural defense and promotion, striving towards a common goal: chains of transmission linked them together, and to the political movement: but they remained carefully separated from it. The awakening of a national political consciousness overrides, of necessity, all ideological divisions and partisan actions. To try and duplicate it from just one of the above could only limit it, and in doing so could compromise and delay it.
During those few years preceding the war, Breton militancy was but one aspect of my activities. Having settled in Paris, I had the opportunity of getting to know Paul Brousmiche better. He was himself a Breton, and a colleague and friend of my father since their school-days at Les Cordeliers in Dinan, and again during the War when they were together in the Army’s Financial Administration. He was now President of the Finistèrien de Paris, and one of the personalities in charge of L’Union Fédérale, the most powerful of the ex-servicemen’s organisations, with several hundred thousand members at the time. Paul Brousmiche was a likeable man that one could take to at once. A rebellious curl of fine white hair constantly crossed his forehead. Smiling eyes lit up his fine open face, whose good humour and gaiety was only lessened by slightly bitter wrinkles at the corner of his mouth.
In principle, the ex-servicemen’s organisations were ‘apolitical’. Everyone knew, however, that l’Union Nationale des Combatants, U.N.C., mainly gathered the more moderate circles together, and the Association Republicaine des Anciens Combatants, A.R.A.C., gathered those who conformed strictly to communism. Generally speaking, l’Union Fédérale was in a left-wing position, whilst the U.N.C. was in a right-wing central one: it included circles mostly connected to radical and socialist parties, and even militants from both. The ex-servicemen did indeed militate for their rights, those of the injured as also for widows and War orphans. But they also militated for peace, an end to wars in Europe and for international reconciliation. They were involved in the major problems of the day, questioning how they could best influence their solution. The situation whereby only right-wing or central governments were in a position to take measures that featured in a left-wing programme, whilst left-wing governments were inevitably obliged to take measures usually associated with right-wing politics, in order to carry on, is a paradox that had already clearly appeared in French political and parliamentary life. Far from having disappeared today, this paradox or fatality of politics still gives French politics that seal of unreality, where concepts of left of left and right continue to be clearly separated, in theory, whilst they cease to be so in practice when it comes to actually governing.
In direct contact with the governing powers, l’U.N.C. and l’U.F. discerned these contradictions. L’A.R.A.C. obviously refused to do so. Both L’U.N.C. and L’U.F. sought to create groups of young people who would extend their action to an international level as well as a French level. For ex-servicemen to battle for peace, after having fought in the War, is of no use if the next generation turns away from the battle for peace: which is unfortunately what happened in Germany with the rise of Nazism. In 1934, Paul Brousmiche had therefore asked me to address a session of l’Union Fédérale’s congress, to be held that year in Vichy, on the problems of young people. It was mostly a question of addressing the manner in which young people, who have no involvement and are strangers to conflict, view and understand the action of ex-servicemen from the 1914-18 War.
I had prepared my address with care and had written the whole thing out, which I am usually not in the habit of doing. It thus features in-extenso in the minutes of the Vichy congress, which have since been published (see under 3.a) on French site). I did not beat about the bush, nor go easy on the actions of our elders. They had powerfully contributed to the winning of the War, but had compromised and made a fiasco of peace: a peace crowned by treaties that had institutionalised geographic monstrosities, such as the Danzig corridor, and had led to the setting up of what can only be termed as a syndicate of conquerors, who continued to impose their imperialism on the conquered.
The address gave rise to various proposals and an ardent discussion with l’U.F.’s most important personalities participating, from Henri Pichot and Rene Cassin to Paul Brousmiche and Jean Mouraille; but it went down very well with the young people. They decided to intensify contacts they had already formed with very diverse groups of young people, both outside of and in France: in any case, was this new generation not the one most interested in maintaining peace?
Very soon, I became involved in their action and was called to sit on their special commission, before becoming one of the U.F.’s National Commissioners for young people, together with Jean Mouraille. Once or twice a week, I went to the offices to dictate the correspondence that these functions entailed. Their headquarters were in a small hotel, near the quai de la Rape, and a number of our meetings were also held there. This also involved me in quite a bit of travelling, both in France to motivate or create departmental branches of young people, and abroad to represent my friends at gatherings of young people. I had not travelled much until then. Aside from Brittany, Picardy and Ile de France, I had only been to the Vosges, Alsace and Flanders, which I visited with my parents when we lived in Compiègne, also the Côtes d’Azur where my Uncle Liégard had taken me during Christmas holidays. It was mainly the journeys abroad that multiplied. They considerably enlarged my horizon, and opened up both new perspectives and new subjects to study.
Jean Mouraille was a very brilliant young man. A war orphan from Provence, words came easily to him. He possessed an extraordinary gift of eloquence, enhanced by the slight accent from his part of the country, which he still had. He was loosely involved with the socialist party, but was mainly interested in the young people of l’U.F.. His great talents as orator and animator had rapidly carried him over from the Fédération du Gard to the central organisation. He was undeniably cut out for politics, and I have no doubt that he would have made a brilliant career of it. But, as it did for many of us, the War and its consequences interrupted, upsetting French political life. It provoked new divisions, transcending the dividing line between the standard parties, and sewing irreconcilable hatreds. In the coming years, he would of course have to overcome a naturally nonchalant manner, only retaining from life its most pleasant aspects. He had already scored countless triumphs with fair sex, being as eloquent in love as he was in politics, and would also have succeeded brilliantly in that. For the Aix-les-Bains congress, we asked Pierre Cot to preside over the U.F. young people’s banquet. Jean Mouraille made a speech there, whose eloquence astounded me and left the Minister’s speech far behind by its depth and form, its words and ideas and its fire.
-“One might wonder which of the two is Secretary of State?” Jean Dupuy had whispered to me. Shortly after the Vichy congress, where I first met him, Jean Mouraille also settled in Paris at the Maisons des Etats-Unis, to continue his collective history studies. We therefore lived practically alongside each other until the War, which greatly facilitated our administrative work for l’U.F.’s young people. This young man from Provence also became a regular at our annual Breton student’s banquet, where his deep voice never failed to intone the Coupo Santo before we sang the Bro Goz.
We had agreed that I would take particular charge of international politics and the contacts with young people’s groups in general, both in France and abroad. There were many efforts for International cooperation. The Society of Nation’s University group played an active role in them, and was involved in the preparations for the first world youth congress, held in Geneva in 1936. The second one was held in New York in 1938. Jean Dupuy in Paris, was their organiser in France.
Jean Dupuy was far from being as eloquent and brilliant as Mouraille: but he was reliable, sound and, at times, a good speaker. Also a pleasant companion to have on the many journeys we made to Geneva together at the week-ends. Annie Riedberger and Francois Dausset, part of the small team who worked with him, became very good friends of mine. Sadly, the former died prematurely, even before the second world congress.
I can never evoke the image of this tall girl, without being moved. Blond, with a Nordic look, she was efficient, enthusiastic and capable. She seemed to have come straight out of Rubens’ painting with her rather ample body, but her artless gaze and open face smiled at life. As for Francois Dausset, he remained fixed in Paris, steadfast in his beliefs and faithful to his Christian upbringing. He was a man of deep faith, disinterested devotion and secret kindnesses, as well as steadfast affections, under a kind exterior and rather delicate appearance. His friendship was unfailing. It survived time and the events that marked both our lived, in spite of the opinion he may have had of some of my personal involvements later.
Together with them and some of my companions from l’Union Fédérale, I took part in numerous international meetings and seminars, which aside from Geneva, New York, London and Brussels, also took me particularly to central Europe, Bucharest, Prague, Budapest, Munich and Danzig. In between the two Wars, Central Europe was the hot spot of Europe. In order to comply with the myth of the Nation-State (one state, one nation), frontiers had been carved on the raw flesh of people, without succeeding in the least to solve the problem of national minorities. Their claims were becoming more acute, in spite efforts of international protection that had not benefitted them. The ‘revisional’ politics of Hitler’s Germany was taking over, sustaining and stirring up these injustices committed by the treaties. The perils endangering the precarious peace of the Versailles and Saint-Germain treaties were already accumulating on the horizon. I began to study the problem more closely, and was able to do so in depth during a seminar in the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia, and a study visit organised by the Hungarian revisional league, who welcomed me for a week in Budapest.
I took an interest in the fate of these people, who had been amalgamated into the Nation-State, trying to integrate and assimilate them, but still looking on them with suspicion – German Sudetans, Slovakians, Hungarians and Chekoslovakia Hungarians of Transylvania., Croatians, Slovenians and Albanians of Yugoslavia. The list is not exhaustive. I still have a considerable amount of literature on them in the political section of my library. I started writing a number of articles on them for the ‘Cahiers de l’Union Fédérale’ and other international publications to which I contributed at times – ‘Minorite’ and ‘Voix des Peuples’ in Geneva, and ‘Nouvelle Revue de Hongrie’ in Budapest.
The analogy with the fate of the Alsaceans, Basques, Corsicans, Bretons and Flemish in France, seemed to me a striking one. Except that we had been forced, for much longer, into a political unity that had no respect for the particular rights of our people. Whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, a social or a political regime, it makes no difference. Similar injustices were being perpetrated throughout Europe, with in all its states, and nothing was being done to resolve peacefully these multiple conflicts in force, and dangers to internal as well as international peace. It is hardly possible, however, to speak of this to statesmen and senior civil-servants, or even to the ordinary young Cheque or Rumanian militant we might meet. They were like their French equals, denying the existence of these problems in order to avoid having to solve them. The methods of political imperialists are similar everywhere, and it is useless being surprised at them. On one occasion, during an international conference, I was even called on by a young Finance Inspector, head of cabinet of a French Minister, who knowing I was Breton, and a French civil-servant into the bargain, wanted my cooperation in confirming to one of the Americans that there was no Breton problem in France, and that the Bretons were French like the others! He was quite serious: he had never thought that ‘brain-washing’ and ideological propaganda was, alas, not just the sad privilege of totalitarian states. Its intensity and continuity remain through time, although its methods may differ.
It was important that all these problems be resolved. This peaceful Europe had to be a world where people could live in liberty, with a respect of the rights, their culture, language, history and religion, that their particular situation demanded, whether or not they acquired the status of a State. It was at this time of my life when, indirectly, through the problems of other cultures, these European visits brought me back to the Breton problem, and the necessity of applying federal policies in administration, politics and law appeared to me increasingly evident. They were the only means of resolving the contradictions that endangered the cause of international peace today, and tomorrow would endanger civic peace in most of our continent’s States.
‘L’Ordre nouveau’ was the name of a publication and small group who followed Proudhon’s school of thought, and whenever I had the opportunity I took part in their meetings. These were the first federalist militants, motivated by Arnaud Dandieu, R.Aron, Alexander Marc and Daniel Rops. From that time, I also developed a deep scepticism in respect to all ‘ideologies’, whether right-wing or left-wing. When they try to manipulate the order of things to fit in with their precepts, their actual application always comes to the same thing for people, with no progress for them, even though they may appear under an appealing guise. Life is what is important, and not theory – happiness, liberty, the rights of nature and the actual necessities of man, of a people and culture, not the compliance to theoretical precepts of societies that will never be perfect except on paper and in the writings of prophets of various shades. I knew instinctively that federalism was less a philosophy than the seeking of practical formulas and guidelines for the organising of reality. I was even more convinced of this from the frequent contacts I had with Switzerland, and the study of its institutions that were respectful of language rights, cultures and societies on a human dimension.
I retain a very clear memory of some of these journeys through Europe. This was at a time when few people could yet claim to know it well. Once past Le Simplon, the bright sparkle of Lake Maggiore under the morning sun, then the open country of northern Italy, with the outline of the Alps just visible on the horizon, a whole new world then opened up to the east of Venice. From there onwards, the stops made by the Orient Express were merely at important villages. At one of them, an Austrian or Hungarian aristocrat alighted. We had noticed his haughty appearance in the Dining car. His servants awaited him on the station platform: without as much as a word or a glance in their direction, he casually dropped his valise at their feet for them to pick it up! Only on the afternoon of the second day, did we skirt the impressive spectacle of the Danubian Iron Gates. It had taken us fifty two hours to get from Paris to Bucharest.
The Rumanian aristocracy, in fact, seemed to be in charge of the ex-servicemen’s organisations in the country. Queen Mary of Rumania officially received us: she knew Brittany well, as she sometimes spent holidays in St.Briac. We attended an orthodox religious service with her, the first I have ever attended: the golden splendour of the Icons, scent of incense, soothing hymns and half-sung chants, and the majestic oriental rites that slowly unfolded its sacred pageant.
In these Eastern countries, the remaining dying embers of feudalism were not difficult to discern. Pricess Cantacuzène possessed vast domains in the Carpathian Mountains, and would go there to hunt bears in summer. She had invited us to visit her castle, even though it was still winter time. The ground was covered with hard slippery snow, and the sharp cold air greeted us as we alighted from the train at the small isolated station. A steward with a fur hat was waiting for us with a sleigh drawn by a horse. He drove us, all huddled under a pile of blankets, to the magnificent residence perched on the foothills of the Carpathians: servants with white gloves awaited us there. They kissed our hands. They had specially lit huge fires, burning trunks of trees, in the fireplaces of the castle’s main rooms!
On these journeys, I also discovered the extraordinarily varied nature of Europe, the richness of its popular traditions, its splendour and diversity. Costumes, Traditions, Music, Dance, Songs and Folklore were a testimony to that. None were museum pieces. Each people had its own: whether Hungarians, Croatians, Slovakians, Slovenians, Serbians or Polish, all had retained them, even much more than in Brittany, where the political and cultural centralisation had already achieved its ravages. Even the long suppressed aspirations to freedom of some of these people of Europe had not succeeded in doing that to the same extent. What deep chasm separates this popular civilisation with its numerous aspects, from the withering uniformity of Europe and the United States’ big cities! The latter have a wealth of material values and accumulated knowledge, but not of living culture and deep roots.
I can still see unfolding before me as I write about them, the pageants of these people of Europe which I discovered little by little. They uncover their treasures and display their wealth, which is not of goods but of the soul, culture and centuries old traditions. The popular festival of Strbske Pleso in Slovakia at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, with its dancers, songs and variegated costumes that we discovered, after a study session we were attending in a vast residence at the foot of the mountain: on the border of the Hungarian Putza, in the large valley of Mezokovesd, intoning in extraordinary harmony the hymn expressing the fervour of their people. They echoed in me the splendour of Sainte-Anne-la-Palud of Troménie, or the pardon of Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours!
Still more vivid images press forward, full of life and colour – the Basque’s Txistularis and Tambourines, echoing the Scot’s Bagpipes, the Catalonian Sardanes to the Irish Ceilis, the Welsh songs to the Alsatian brass instruments, the Tyrolean Yodels to the Breton Ken-an-diskan, and the Hungarian Czardas to the Sicilian Tarentellas. They answer, echo and harmonize with each other, from one end of the continent to the other. How can one comprehend the existence of minds that would have all men alike? How can one find a single man in the hopeless desert of uniformity? Only in diversity is there wealth and humanity. How can one not wish for the upholding and development of this wealth by the defence and fulfilment of these diversities? They must be recognised instead of ignored, protected instead of opposed, developed instead of extinguished, and through them every man must be allowed to realise a different personal destiny. Men can not be treated like heaps of dead leaves, deprived of the branch they came from, and relegated to the backyards of our cement ghettos. I heard all these people live, breath, love and suffer, just as I heard mine, and they all had a place in my heart, my concerns and my thoughts.
I also became aware of the human dramas caused by the sudden breakup of the links woven through time between these people of central Europe, diverse yet inextricably mixed, in the territories they occupied. Links of political and social domination, admittedly, that had to be broken up, on condition that it should be applied to all, and not just to those few lucky enough to find themselves on the right side of the fence when the fighting was over. Efforts should also have been made respecting each ones right to retain and enrich the links of neighbourhood and multiple economic, social and cultural exchanges. States had been created, bristling with borders, proud of their customs posts and their armies: but in doing so, the living flesh of nations had been sliced through. Once again, nations had been sacrificed to States, as had been done in France. Only with difficulty does one become aware of how deep are the wounds of these dramas inflicted on those who live through them and are their innocent victims.
During my first short stay in Budapest, I was struck by the spirit, manner, and appearance of extreme distinction of the guide showing us around the old Buda and the modern Pest – with his white beard, he appeared to be in his sixties. He spoke excellent French, and as it was the end of winter, my two companions and I were the only ones following him. The meal we had in a restaurant on the banks of the Danube was included in the tour. Our guide went to sit at a table apart, where the menu served was not the same as ours. I exchanged looks with my companions, and rose to offer him a place at our table. His face lit up, and he accepted with unconcealed gratitude to being treated as an equal. We were thus able to question him at leisure. He proved to have a profound learning, and we were able to reconstruct the story of his personal destiny. He was the last representative of a great Hungarian landowning family from Transylvania, whose territory had been entirely placed under the jurisdiction of Rumania, in spite of the large Hungarian population living there. His home, his lands and his village, although situated very close to the new border, were henceforth in Rumania. He had only been given a few hours to leave with the people of his village, to make room for the Rumanian ‘colonists’. This forced departure left him with a deep bitterness, yet without any perceivable hatred. He had not been able to salvage any of his possessions. His knowledge of languages, which in his youth he had the good fortune and possibility of learning during his studies, now enabled him to live off the profession he practiced.
A few years before the Second World War, little did we suspect that it would also become scarred by forced evictions and inhuman population exchanges on an even much greater scale. All of that to satisfy the myth of the Nation-State: (one people, one State, one nation in the same way others said one people, one State, one leader). This time it was tens of thousands of men who were uprooted through force of arms, those of the conquered, but even more so those of the conquerors – entire communities were evicted from their homes, stripped of their possessions, and with only a few hours notice, herded together and forced to flee. Germans from Silesia, Prussia and the Baltic States, Poles from the Eastern territories, Rumanians from ‘Bessarabia’, Tartars from the Crimea, and many others suffered this fate: What a price! What suffering and human drama! How many dead and slaughtered!
All this was already in force in the Europe that the 1918 treaties had drawn up. In 1945, they went even further, and made sure no treaties were concluded: no guarantees that another civil war, fuelled by imperialism, would not bathe it in blood again.
The first World Youth Congress in Geneva was an occasion for me to broaden the field of my international relations. The French socialist deputy, Andre Philipp, gave an outstanding and noteworthy speech, on which we congratulated him, as it largely met our concerns at the time. The Spanish republic had just acknowledged the autonomy of Catalonia, which I did not fail to point out. Emil Brunner and Emmanuel Mounier were also amongst the gathering. One of the Congress commissions had, already, discussed the compatibility of Marxism and Christianity. A fruitless pursuit no doubt, as it is still being discussed today, and no one is any closer to the solution!
I stayed on in Geneva a short while. I liked this bright city, illuminated by the nearby snows in all seasons, and poised on the lake from which the Rhine bounded away. The names of its districts – Florissant, Eaux Vives, Malombre, Jargonnan – delighted me. I visited a number of Swiss professors interested in minority problems. Amongst them Aldo Dami, an excellent and remarkable man, energetic but gentle, who was the author of ‘Déstin des minorités’, from which I had drawn much information.
I met a certain number of representatives of minority groups, Hungarian, Croatian and Bulgarian, with whom I maintained contact until they were dispersed and decimated by the War. Naturally I told them all about the Breton struggle I was committed to, emphasising the similarities with the one they were pursuing for their own people. I distributed information and documents, thus broadening the outlook of our respective struggles, and weaving together a network of solidarity and friendship.
There, I met the first Irish people I was to know. One of them, a law student, William Walsh, a tall young man with light blue eyes, a deep sensitivity and a heart of gold, became a great friend. This friendship was extended later to his wife, the Irish writer Mary Lavin, and to his three daughters. Unfortunately, he was prevented from seeing them fully grown up, owing to his premature disappearance in the early 50’s. On the eve of the War, I organised a visit to Brittany for him; Abel Omnes ran a guest house in Plougrescant, (the house is today occupied by Bernard Berest, ex abbé of Boquen), and William’s presence there brought a number of militant Breton nationalists to visit him, all eager to learn more about Ireland and its struggle for liberty.
-“They were nearly surprised,” he told me later, “that I had never used a gun, and that I knew no recipes for making bombs!”
The War separated us, breaking off all communications between us. When in 1948, I was forced into exile in Ireland, I could not find his address amongst the many Irish William Walshes, the heavens ordained things well, as a few days after my arrival; I bumped into him in Grafton Street, one of the main streets of Dublin. On completing his studies, he had become a solicitor and had married.
That first contact with Ireland gave me the opportunity of noticing how the animosity towards England still remained strong, some fifteen years after the guerrilla warfare that had led Ireland to its independence. Although frequently better informed, England had not been able to solve the nationalist problem through the granting of Home Rule that, throughout the nineteenth century, generations of Irish had requested. It has still not been resolved in Northern Ireland, in spite of the good neighbourly, diplomatic relations established since then with the Dublin government. Whatever proposals the English delegates put forward, in the course of sessions of its congress and commissions, were systematically blocked by the Irish! Fortunately things have changed a little since, maybe too much so.
It had, of course, been impossible to obtain the participation of representatives from student’s organisations or youth groups from Soviet Russia, Germany or Italy at the World Congress in Geneva. The totalitarianism of their government and State, did not tolerate these contacts with the youth from other countries, fearing the contamination! For the same reasons, neither did they participate in the Second World Youth Congress, held at Vassar College near New York in 1938, shortly after Anschluss, and on the eve of the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Hitler’s army. Storms accumulating in the skies over Europe, including the Spanish civil war, which was in full swing, were to give this second and last congress a very different atmosphere from the first one. That first congress had been more a European than a world one, which was not the case with the second. For the first time the – Oh! How noisy! – presence of Latin-American delegates, who appeared as anti-American as they were anti-fascist, together with that of a few American delegates, could not fail to impassion the debates and sessions. All were involved in their own countries in the anti-imperialist struggle against the European colonial powers. Control and moderation were difficult to maintain, and as a result the ‘French’ delegation, of which I was the Vice-President, were a bit lost; although being twenty or more delegates, we were relatively numerous.
1938: At the second World Youth Congress (Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York), in the centre, Yann Fouéré President of the International Commission, with some members – on the extreme right the welshman Garner Evans.
We had crossed the Atlantic together on the ‘President Roosevelt’, an American liner we had boarded in Le Havre; we quickly became aware that the delegation had been heavily infiltrated by communists, thanks to a tactic in which they were past masters. After the Popular Front’s election victory in 1936, and the advent of the first socialist government, the political scene in France and government personnel had changed considerably. The communist party, however, who supported the government of Leon Blum, had no part in it. Its tactic was to place its men everywhere, in order to be prepared in the event of upheavals one felt were approaching, and a possible take-over in France. They had an abundance of militants at their disposal for this, which the S.F.I.O. or radical party, lacked. In reality there were no organised groups of socialist youths, apart from a few high-school students and young workers in uniform, who had been christened the Red Falcons; neither were there any young radicals, in spite of the efforts of Gaston Bergery, and very few young popular democrats, in spite of George Bidault’s efforts.
The French section of the World Youth Congress was in fact originally composed of groups with various ideological concerns. These were secondary, however, compared to the defence of international peace, and the study of concrete problems affecting the future of young generations. It seemed to many of us that these should take precedence over ideology, since it encompassed all the various groups and involved us all. The majority of young people were not, and are still not, politically committed. To us, however, there did not seem to be any reason to exclude from our work sessions, these groups of young people, who claimed to belong to a specific political party. In itself, their involvement was proof of their interest and sincerity. The communist youth representatives thus took part in our discussions and gatherings.
Leonce Granjon usually represented the communist youth at these meetings. He was a trade unionist worker, an ardently sincere and unselfish militant. We all held him in high esteem. The Spanish civil war, and the election victory of the Popular Front, introduced a new atmosphere, and brought about profound changes in the balance of power within the French branch of the World Congress. The C.P. set about multiplying groups and associations who were apparently, and in theory, apolitical and neutral, but were all communists in their aspirations, and their leaders little by little all demanded to be represented there. As a result, when we boarded the ship in Le Havre in August 1938, Marc Augier and Lucien Felix represented, at the same time, the Youth Hostel’s lay centre, the pacifist youth and also the socialist youth. Robert Bichet represented the young popular democrats, and Francois Dausset, me and our two comrades, both from the Union Fédérale and the university groups, were the only ones not in any way affiliated to the C.P. The communist youth’s other delegate with Granjon, was Raymond Guyot, a young deputy from Paris, who led the French delegation in singing endless ‘musicals’ on the bridge of the ship. He was a member of the Chamber of Deputies’ education commission, and had voted the proposal in favour of the teaching of Breton. But there was also Hoschiller, a young communist representing the ‘French students’, and the ‘French agricultural youth’ was represented by Leo Figuieres, who after the Liberation was a communist deputy, and finally ‘the union of young ladies from France’ was represented by Daniele Casanova, a dentist by profession, but a proven C.P. militant.
Since the accession of the Popular Front, the C.P. had become as intensely French, patriotic and militaristic as it had previously been anti-militaristic and pacifist! The delegation even had two authentic ‘commissars of police’, originating from Eastern Europe and recently naturalised, whose French was still very poor and whom we had never seen before. Somehow or another they had managed to slip in amongst us, probably to watch that the delegation did not stray too much from the line decided on elsewhere. It has to be said that sending delegates to this World Congress in New York was expensive, and few youth associations had been able to meet this expense. Before our departure, we were received by the head of government, Léon Blum. He seemed to me to be a type of intellectual aesthete, profoundly idealistic and sincere, and very much at ease in the manipulation of ideas, but out of his depth when it came to the day to day practicing of politics and concrete administration, and his government had not allocated us the funds that Jean Dupuy had requested.
The United States was the discovery of a new world for all of us, but even more so for our communist colleagues. European problems, in spite of their acuteness, lost some of their importance when viewed from that side of the ocean. We were a little disoriented by all the various problems of the American continent, so noisily brought to our notice; the racial problems and those caused by accelerated industrial developments, together with the inordinate growth of urban areas. The scale of values was not the same, nor was the life-style, the manner of reasoning and reacting.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president of the United States, opened the congress: bony and rather ugly, and very ‘old-english’, wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat, decorated with a bouquet of multicoloured artificial flowers and fruit. She had given the signal for us all to stand, reciting a prayer for a blessing from heaven on our work. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched with amusement the expression on the faces of Granjon and Guyot that reflected utter amazement. They still had many more surprises in store for them; although there were communists in the United States, none of these were workers or peasants. Most of them were members of liberal professions, professors and even wealthy idlers, for whom communism was much more an intellectual pose, and a collection of avant-garde ideas than a profound belief. In this country of capitalism, all communists were wealthy, and the poor were not communists. Swept along by his new friends, Raymond Guyot hardly moved about in anything other than a plane or Cadillac, whilst we took the metro; he was thus able to visit Chicago, Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes region: our horizons remained limited to New York State, the Hudson river and Long Island.
I was able to arrange my return journey to Europe on board the prestigious liner ‘Normandie’, thanks to my father’s connections with the Captain of the ship, Catain Thoreux, who was his neighbour from Saint-Briac. I was able to arrange for Francois Dausset, Felix and Robert Bichet to also avail of this favour, as their return date coincided with mine.
We were invited on one occasion to the Captain’s table, and thanks to a pass he gave us, we had free run of the ship and made the most of the first class lounges and the cinemas. I wrote a number of letters and my reports in the summer garden of the liner, sheltered from the sea winds, with tropical birds singing in their cages! After the inhumanity of New York, for once I was glad to be back in Paris – a Paris in the immediate pre-war human scale. The invasion of Czechoslovakia and the War soon separated and dispersed the members of the French delegation!
My friend Roger Pormenté, comrade from the Union Fédérale, was killed in battle. He was an idealist with a pure mind and sound judgement, who became a colleague of mine in the Ministry of the Interior. Robert Pichet became an M.P. after the Liberation, and for a few weeks was even a minister in the 4th Republic. As I write, Raymond Guyot is still a parliamentarian for the Seine region, and a Senator, after having been an M.P. The socialist Marc Augier, enlisted in the Waffen S.S., fought on the Russian front, and later on became the writer Saint-Loup. He recently dedicated one of his books to me ‘in memory of the time on the ship from America, when I danced with Daniele Casanova under your disapproving eyes’. She, Daniele Casanova, died at the hands of the Gestapo, a martyr to her political faith and commitment. Rather large bosomed and plump, with jet black hair, dark skin and dark-brown eyes, she burned with an inner fever and energy that her lively expressive face betrayed. I remember her in particular at the last session held by the French branch of the congress, on the eve of the War, and just after we heard the shattering news that the Germano-Russian pact had been concluded. Straightaway, I requested a vote for an emphatic motion condemning this initiative that would lead directly to war, and that this motion should be immediately transmitted to the ambassadors in Paris, of Hitler’s Germany, and Soviet Russia. Most of the assembly supported us, but the communists kept quiet. I looked at Daniele who was frequently the one to lead them; I had never seen her looking so sombre and inscrutable. Party discipline had prevailed, but I have no doubt that the German’s troops entry into Russia, less than two years later, gave her reason to live, fight and die for her ideals. Today, there is a street in her native town, Ajaccio, named after her, and also in numerous other French towns.
Once again, the young generation was sent to war, without any say in the matter really; would it be the last civil-war? Those who fought from 1914 to 1918 had already been told that. Through the Union Fédérale, and many other groups, we had done what we could towards political understanding and reconciliation between the States that had already been involved in armed conflict. The ex-servicemen of the U.F. and U.N.C., had been the first to enter into friendly relations with German ex-servicemen. The Alsatian branch of the U.F. was composed of ex-servicemen who had fought in the German armies; many of them had difficulty expressing themselves in French. They were a natural link between Germany and France, and had taken the initiative in these reconciliations. Were they not the first to have a stake in them, and had they not, absurdly, had to change citizenship three times in less than a century, torn apart between two great States with rivalling imperialisms. The U.F. youth organisations had followed their example, extending these contacts to others that were made with the German youth organisations. Unfortunately, there was only one of these left, whilst several of ours still remained when I first became involved. Nevertheless, we persevered with these contacts until the ‘Anschluss, which marked the complete break-up of our relations.
In ‘La Bretagne ecartelée’, I already wrote of the indiscreet question I put to Otto Abetz on the possibility of supposed relationships between the Breton separatist movement and Germany, at one of the Franco-German youth meetings in the Bavarian Alps;the only important meeting of that kind that I attended. We had a tough time of it in that mountain refuge, in the middle of winter, with badly sealed shelters and in bunk-beds. We only reached it after many long exhausting hours of climbing on foot, after a night spent on a train, whose uncomfortable hard wooden seats I can still recall. There were no cable cars and ski-lifts as yet, which today have considerably reduced the effort in what was not yet called winter sports, but skiing. Abetz had married a French woman, and spoke French perfectly. He had therefore been put in charge of the organisation of these Franco-German meetings, which Hitler’s Germany seemed increasingly keen on having, during those years just before the war.
He told me, –“There can be no contacts between German public services and the Breton autonomist movement. Even though the struggle may be a just one, which I will not allow myself to judge, it would be contrary to our politics of closer Franco-German ties, and the pursuit of such would cast a doubt on our sincerity”.
Abetz himself was certainly sincere, and believed in the politics he conducted, and which at the time inspired German circles in foreign affairs. None more than I was convinced of the injustices committed by the peace treaties, or of the necessity to put an end to their peaceful revision, adjusting the borders, as well as strengthening and broadening the area to which protective measures for the national minorities should be applied. Increasingly, however, it seemed that German imperialism seized on these problems, in order to make use of them for their own ends in the construction of a 3rd Reich. Nevertheless, the politics of closer Franco-German ties was a constant feature of foreign policy in Hitler’s Germany, and I still believe in its sincerity at the time. It was notoriously ‘Francophile’, and later on, its politics of ‘collaboration’ with a defeated France was but a natural, logical and direct continuation on ground that had been long prepared.
At the time, there were no more defenders of Breton separatism to be found in German official circles, than could be found a few years earlier when I spoke of it with Abetz. Since then, history has shown us, and it will do so more and more, as long as ‘official’ historians are unsuccessful in the maintaining of silence on this point. I am convinced that sympathy for Breton independence was only entertained by a few ‘Abwehr’ secret services officers and agents, a few who harboured a nostalgia for Prussian imperialism, some who favoured the carving up of France, and a few idealists devoted to Celtic studies, nearly all were very small minority groups and notoriously anti-nazi, with in fact no influence on the politics of the 3rd Reich.
Right up to the end, Hitler’s Germany tried to ensure neutrality of the western states, seeking above all to maintain a free-hand to the east. The German-Soviet pact was their final gamble, hoping it would make them hesitate in launching the war.
Both my Breton and international activities, together with all the journeys, meetings, articles, reports, lectures and conferences that they entailed, had gradually been taking up more and more of my time, leisure, days, evenings, and frequently my nights. Fortunately, work in the department of the Ministry of the Interior, to which I had been appointed, was relatively light. No doubt I would not have been able to face up to all these activities otherwise.
After a short period, in a short-lived studies department that had been created to provide some basis to the creation of a department, for the sole purpose of providing an executive post for one of Albert Sarrault’s friends, I was then appointed to the departmental and communal directorate, one of the Administration’s oldest departments. It was as dusty as its offices. Its traditions, work methods and executives were as immutable as the State itself, and frequently as solemn as its apparatus. The civil-servants, who worked there, formed a picturesque mixture of competent people, veritable dictionaries of the laws and regulations that restricted the departments and communes, although these were already deprived of all practical power. There were also some amiable rejects that had deprived there by pure chance probably, and had been forgotten there, to the extent that it was months before I even realised they existed. Some of them were truly antiques. They had never progressed beyond the grade of deputy-head clerk, acquired through seniority. One wondered what they did with their time Others were loquacious, and spent the best part of their office hours in conversations with their colleagues over files of no importance, or on points of law as tenuous as the thread of a spider’s web.
Still others had made a den of their office, dirty and smoky, where no one entered. What activity could they have been engaged in, sheltering behind piles of files cluttering their desk, which never seemed to be dealt with? On the other hand, others had pleasantly arranged the room where they worked. Some received female visitors, and offered tea or an aperitif in their office cum fashionable rendezvous. When I started at the Departmental Directorate, Courteline was certainly still alive!
We barely knew or saw each other from one office to another, and one’s circle was limited to those colleagues on the same floor, who were part of the same division. Those with telephones were the exception, but it was a privilege, or annoyance, seldom granted to any civil servant below the grade of assistant head-clerk. Communications from one office to another or even from door to door, was mainly through written memos that frequently took up to twenty four hours to reach you, as they had to be transmitted through the office floor messenger.
Georges Blanchard, my own head-clerk, was a short amiable man with a bright complexion. He was of Breton origin, and my Uncle Liégard had been vaguely acquainted with him in the Latin-quarter. He knew he was at the end of his career, and made the most of his position, according it far more importance than it actually had. The room he worked in was very pleasant, with two sunlit windows opening onto the Ministry’s gardens. A large Empire-style mirror decorated the mantelpiece. Two armchairs and a Voltaire style sofa in green velvet upholstery, together with a carpet, a large desk and a Napoleon 3rd style bookcase completed the furnishings. He dabbled in writing popular songs. Some of them like ‘Fleur Bleu’, immortalised by Charles Trenet, were successful for a time in the cafe music halls. When he was in the throes of an inspiration, we knew by the tone of his voice and his vacant air of concentration that he must not be disturbed, and his door was virtually out of bounds. My office was close to his, with just one window opening onto the same gardens, but with no mirror, carpet, or Voltaire style armchair. Nonetheless, we frequently communicated by memos.
One morning, on my desk, I found a file that I had dealt with two days previously, and had drawn up a suitable reply. The dictation of correspondence was virtually unknown, and reports or letters were drawn up by hand, then submitted to the head-clerk, before finally reaching the typists, and then being sent down three floors for the directorial signature, or sometimes that of the Minister. Pinned on to the file was a memo from Blanchard, asking me to refer to and pass on to him another file, which he felt had a direct bearing on the file he had returned to me. That same day, I wrote a reply on his memo; -“The file you refer to has no bearing whatsoever to this one.” Two days later the file was back on my desk with a new memo; –“I did not ask for your opinion. I asked for the other file.”, and furiously underlines in large letters, “What a waste of time quibbling!”
This demonstrates how no one broke their back working, in the departmental executive: my administrative work only took up two or three hours of my day. Also we had a director who’s administrative, judicial and even any knowledge was very limited. His lack of knowledge was only equalled by his reluctance to personally assume responsibilities of any kind. He was mainly preoccupied in covering himself. Thus, before making a decision, the trick was to ask for the support and advice of other ministries, whenever possible. After that it was simply a case of passing on the following: –“I am faced with a certain problem, (here you filled in…). As it seems to me this is likely to require the advice of your division, or, involves matters that fall within your competence etc…. I would appreciate your comments on the matter etc…”. It was often several months before the file was returned. I had finally prepared two or three standard letters, and the typist would fill in the blanks!
Nonetheless, the concern of this same director not to commit himself, or make decisions, eventually led to a position as head of the Clermont-Ferrand Prefecture under the Vichy government. This did not prevent him, however, from being arrested at the Liberation by some local so-called Resistance fighters, and forced, naked and at gunpoint, to dig his tomb, in public, for several days in the town’s vacant lots; fortunately it did not kill him.
Our floor office manager was an exceptional Jew, as it was unusual to find one of his religion in such a subordinate position. His name was Glass, and knowing I was Breton, the few mayors or municipal councillors from Brittany who strayed our way, were propelled towards my office. That was how I first met Alain de Guébriant, Mayor of Saint-Pol-de-Léon. The junior clerk, who answered to the name of Sabot, was a southerner with verbal diarrhoea, whose main occupation outside of office hours was sleeping around; he went on and on about his sexual achievements and erotic techniques. He was well informed on all the sleeping around that went on at the Ministry, even to the times at which certain typists were engaged in lovemaking, on a chair in front of the window of a neighbouring division – to the delight of colleagues across the way, who gathered around to witness the spectacle.
My share of administrative functions was a varied one, involving the administration of departments and communes, the status of their civil servants etc…I was particularly in charge of changing the names of communes, altering the communal and departmental boundaries, as well as the setting up of, and elimination of communes. All of which only those concerned should have been qualified to deal with, but all had to have the sanction of the all powerful central administration, and even sometimes of a ministerial decree or law. I was also in charge of the control of ‘Les Halles’ and other markets in Paris, in collaboration with relevant branches of the Police Prefecture. Thus for example, I was able to satisfy the town council of a small Breton commune. South of the Loire, who wanted to change its name from Saint-Colombin to Saint-Colomban. They felt the former was unpleasant and frequently the butt of jokes, whilst the latter re-established the spelling of the Irish saint’s name Colomban, Columba or Columcille, under whose patronage they had been placed. Was it not by travelling along the river Loire that the Irish missionary had begun his evangelical journey on the continent? I was also able to support the residents of Saint-Anne-d’Auray, who wanted to have their own commune, and had not yet succeeded in obtaining their ‘communal autonomy’.
On the other hand, when on a request from the prefecture and the county council, I tried to eliminate the smallest commune in Basses-Alpes, I came up against the opposition of a prominent Senator, in spite of the fact that it just numbered four inhabitants, the Mayor, his wife and his two children, whilst the legal minimum elected in the commune was ten town councillors. In addition to his duties as Mayor, he was also postmaster, postman and town clerk! To the Senator, the disappearance of a senatorial elector was an innovation that could alter the departmental representation’s political divisions in parliament. He emphasised that the elimination of the commune would only ensure its depopulation in the short run! Many such priceless incidents enlivened the monotony of my undemanding tasks. Robert de Jouvenel’s assessment of the central administration, with its clumsiness, pointless petty annoyances and meddling, makes complete sense to me, in that –“In France, no one could make decision without referring back to the Minister, but that the Minister then referred the task back to a sixth grade contributor to issue the directive solicited by the Mayor, the Prefect, the Admiral, the General or the Governor”.
In view of the fact that I was able to dispose of my administrative tasks fairly quickly, I also had time to write my Law thesis, which had been dragging on. Purely to make things easier, I abandoned the idea of doing it on Brittany’s resistance to central power, which required much more research and would take up too much time. I decided to postpone this project to a later date, and decided on a subject within my administrative powers – ‘Les Marches d’approvisisnement de la viande a Paris’. For this, I just had to open my files, and complete the study in concrete terms with visits on the spot to abattoirs and the markets of La Villette and Les Halles. These were my first contacts with them, as little did I suspect then that I would be renewing contacts with these markets later on, when I became a lobster merchant on the West coast of Ireland! It is frequently the studies, reading matter and occupations that one thinks will never be of any use in life that subsequently turn out to be the most useful. This is why I feel that the excessive specialisation in studies today, even at the lycee, is not in the best interest of the student. Specialisation, in fact, is contrary to culture. ‘General Knowledge’ is what is most lacking in our contemporaries today.
I said earlier that we saw little of each other from one office or division to the next. But when my friend Roger Pormenté took up his appointment with the ministry, and was appointed to my Department, it came just at the right time to break up the relative isolation I had experienced at first. He was a tall young man with clear blue eyes, and like me a member of the Union Fédérale’s youth group, as also of the Northern Federation that he ran. We took to each other right away. His frankness and loyalty, as well as his kindness, was evident. I was able to help him settle into the Administration. Unfortunately he was taken from us by the War; it is often the best that it strikes. We met practically every day, also with Raymond Deugnier that I first met because of the telephone he had in his office, which I used frequently.
Although Deugnier was not Breton, it was the love of Brittany that brought us together. He came to know and love it during his walking and cycling visits there, even to the extent that he thought of settling there later. He became a member of Ar Brezoneg er Skol, and began to learn Breton. He will feature again in some of these pages, as we never lost sight of each other, until his death recently separated us. He was a calm, sturdy young man, who never allowed himself to become swamped by his duties, always keeping them under control and carrying them out competently. He never became involved in any intrigues, and loathed those who gossiped, and who were simply ‘careerist’, always prepared to be doormats and flatterers in order to further the different stages of their careers, which they probably would not have succeeded in doing as quickly, on their own merits. His friendship and loyalty were unfailing. His brilliant career as a senior civil-servant never stopped him from keeping track of me, helping me, and surrounding me with friendship whenever he could, even when I became a fugitive, an outlaw or a prisoner!
The ‘careerists’ were mostly to be found in the ministerial cabinets, from various administrations, where politics of course played its role, and appointments were not always on the basis of competence. My father had maintained a number of contacts in radical political circles; his friend, André Liautey, who had become the Haute-Saone Deputy, and been appointed Secretary of State for Agriculture, had chosen me for his cabinet, during the few months he occupied that post. Although I kept my post, and even my office, I was seconded from my administration, and Andre Liautey put me in charge of inter ministerial and press relations. At times, I had to quietly restrain the excessive enthusiasm of certain pot-boiler journalists, who expected the Deputy Minister to grant them numerous favours, describing him as the ‘prince charming of French forests’, as he specially dealt with the administration of water and forests!
I quickly realised, in fact, that the parliamentarians holding a minister’s portfolio, or part of one, were very much aware of the precariousness and brevity of this office under the 3rd Republic, and therefore mainly made use of it for election purposes. Thus, through favours and privileges that literally bought the speedy settlement of a case file, or the granting of funds to their constituencies’ most influential voters, mayors, councillors and notables of all kinds. Here again, you had the centralised State’s meddling – the local communities’ lack of actual administrative freedom and financial resources, and their limited level of responsibility, distorted the whole system. These basic communities, thus deprived of any real independence, were restricted to begging for the State’s assistance and subsidies. As can be imagined, ‘electoralism’ and ‘populism’ flourished at all levels, although no one dared utter those ugly words.
I was in charge of speeding up, or helping to push through the various ministries, the files for assistance and subsidies that my patron was interested in, ringing the bell, as it were, of the various ministerial divisions. I thus went to the National Ministry of Education to look into the building of a new school, then to the short-lived State sub-secretarial section in Physical Education, for the building of a sports establishment. I was curious enough to look at the plans – it was in fact the same establishment, sometimes called a school, and other times a physical education centre – the object of the exercise was to collect two subsidies, enabling the commune to have the building costs fully covered by the State.
Examples of these tricks could be found at all levels, in all the ministries, aided and abetted by the overlapping of responsibilities at all levels, and the centralised State’s direct interference in areas where it should not be interfering. The running of administrative and financial centralisation is, in reality, far more costly than that of a mainly decentralised system, where the State would only be involved in what truly concerns it, ‘if each before his own door swept, the village would be clean’!
I also spent an equally short time in the cabinet of Jean Zay, who was appointed Under-Secretary of State for the Interior. He belonged to the radical socialists’ advanced wing, and with the Popular Front in power at the time, the right-wing and centre-right press fired red canon-balls at this red minister, who was Jewish to boot. Before going into Parliament, he had written an anti-militarist poem in his youth, calling the French flag and ‘arse-wiper’! A few days after his arrival place Beauveau, one of Senep’s caricatures appeared in the Figaro, portraying him on the roof of the Ministry, with one of the Cabinet bailiffs, looking at the French flag flying there
-“Don’t worry, Monsieur le Ministre”, said the bailiff, “It’s made of silk paper”.
These cruel satires, without a doubt, bothered him; on the occasion of a planned demonstration of the ‘Popular Front’, I had to seek assurances, from the radical and socialist militants and the secretariat of their party, that the number of red flags would, at most, equal that of the French flags, and should on no account exceed them. In reality, Jean Zay was an idealist. They are also to be found among the Jews, as was demonstrated when the State of Israel was founded. He did not deserve these criticisms, any more than he did his tragic end under the occupation. Neither did Maurice Sarraut, that other high priest of radical-socialism, who suffered the same end.
Maurice Sarrault was not often seen in the anterooms of the Interior Ministry, but his brother, Albert, held that portfolio several times, just before the War. Clemenceau referred to him as; –“Ah yes, that man with such an intelligent brother”. Jean Zay was his Under-Secretary of State or Deputy Minister. The hours of work in the Ministerial Cabinet are long. Seldom does one leave there before nine o’clock at night, and at times a night guard is provided, which a couple of times, afforded me the privilege of sitting at Cambacere’s desk, one of the French Consuls during the Revolution. These excessive hours allowed me to have a more immediate view of the mob gravitating around the ministers; There were journalists and parliamentarians looking for bribes, lobbyists of all kinds, eccentrics and seers bringing every day their advice and suggestions in confidential envelopes, and upper civil-servants seeking promotions, sometimes sending their wives, according to whether or not they thought the minister was susceptible to female charms. It was said that such and such a prefect’s promotion was mainly due to his wife’s thighs! An old colleague of my father’s had found a less basic method. At the beginning of every year, he carefully marked off in his diary, the birthdays of influential ministers and politicians he knew; on the day, he sent them a telegram conveying his congratulations and best wishes. R.Pflimlin, Mayor of Strasbourg, did not invent the idea – wishing to keep the seat of the European Parliament in his town, he sends a card with his good wishes, accompanied by a few bottles of wine from the Rhine region, to the European deputies on their birthdays! For those who want to observe ‘The Human Comedy’, there is nothing more entertaining and informative than watching the immediate entourage of those currently in power.
Unfortunately, this human comedy is not unique to a particular period or regime; it is a permanent spectacle that adapts to the circumstances, the events and the person around which it is played out. The main thing is to have no illusions and not to get caught up in it.
It was common knowledge that Albert Sarraut, in spite of or maybe because of his extreme ugliness, was very interested in sex. Thus, late at night, the anterooms were invaded by groups of attractive young women of little virtue; some were summoned when needed. The ‘Cabinet’ was not always the reflection of the Minister, and ministers were not all alike. The atmosphere changed with Régnier or some other elderly radical replacing Sarraut. The republic of business replaced the frivolous one. Solemn gentlemen, some wearing their various decorations, replaced the young women. The bourgeoisie of high birth, constricted by social prejudices and moral respectability, brought with it the austerity of the business directorship. Régnier, a ‘notable’ from the banks of the river Allier, was an expert in business. So much so that it was said he had purchased agricultural land on the other side of the river, then built canals across the river, so that the springs that were on his land could gush forth on the opposite bank, on land that was in the commune of Vichy, and was therefore entitled to that precious label of quality, before bottling it! I had learnt much from all this, and became sceptical as to the value of a political system that was democratic in appearance only – when you had decisions, no matter how minimal, being made by a few dozen irresponsible senior civil-servants, who were unknown to the public, and being submitted to political and private interference, thus ensuring the continuity of their posts in control of the State, instead of being made by those directly involved. To have, and wilfully tolerate a single centre for decision making in the State, can only lead to the worst abuses, and can deprive the citizen of his rights, without his being aware of it.
I certainly did not have much admiration for the system, and it was also beginning to get back at me. My connections were suspect, and my Breton actions heretical, although it was not spelt out to me, as they were always tactful in the old administrations. I harboured no illusions, however, as the police surveillance reports that sometimes passed through my hands in the course of my duties with the Minister’s Cabinet, inevitably had to apply to me and other Breton militants in general. At the time, these reports mainly concerned Algerian nationalist militants, such as those of the ‘North African Star’, ‘Istiqual’, the ‘Destour’, or the Madagascan nationalism, or also the political refugees of Central Europe, and the Catalans and Basques from the Iberian peninsula. I had by then, already returned to the peace and quiet of the Departmentale, and the spare time I needed for the pursuit of my militant activities, which were far more interesting to me than ministerial intrigues. In doing so, no doubt, I neglected to worry about furthering my career, which was what motivated the majority of my colleagues; once again, I had a choice to make, and I was very much aware of it. I was deluded, however, into thinking I could still postpone or even avoid it.
I continued to keep in touch with the governing circles of the State. Texier, a member of the Conseil d’Etat, and President of the Friends of Aristide Briand Society, had asked Jean Dupuy to take on the post of secretary of the association. He had accepted, on condition that I assist him. I could not refuse, especially in memory of this great apostle of peace, one of the first followers of a concrete federalism in Europe, whose eloquence had so often carried the day in the French parliament, and at the U.N., before the War.
There were the preparations to attend to, for the inauguration of the monument to Aristide Briand, which still adorns the Foreign Ministry’s gate, near the Palais Bourbon, but apart from that, it was mostly a question of supervising arrangements for the monthly banquet held at the Hotel Crillon. The food was excellent, with quality wines and dishes; a boon for my meagre purse, this outstanding free lunch every month! A very diverse group of politicians and senior civil-servants, all friends or former associates of Briand, were to be found there. Briand’s natural son, a civil-servant with the ministry of Agriculture, with a light work load, was the most regularly in attendance. His surname was Olivier, predestined and probably chosen by his father. He bore an amazing resemblance to him, and actively cultivated that resemblance, sporting the same hairstyle and drooping moustache, with the inevitable cigarette hinging from his lips or stained fingers. Landowsky, sculptor of the monument to the apostle of peace, had a flesh and blood original at his disposal!