Note—Like most of Europe many of the restrictions and shutdowns during
the Coronavirus pandemic have been cautiously eased since the emergency is
mostly under control unlike the raging disaster in the
U.S. Parisians will be able to observe their great national
patriotic holiday in relative safety. And that is reason to
celebrate. Thus a return of a perennial blog
It’s Bastille Day, of course, commemorating the
day in 232 years ago in 1789 when the Paris Mob set off
the French Revolution by storming the Bastille, a fortress prison traditionally
used by the monarchy to detain its political enemies without
benefit of civil appeal. The French make a big deal of it.
the United States it is marked by an exceptionally busy
evening in French restaurants. In recent years the
long-time loathing of all things French by
the right wing stretching back to the panic of Federalists over
the Revolution has been revived and we are told that patriotic Americans must
despise the Frogs and their damned holiday.
was a brief thaw after the Charlie Hebdo massacre if
only because it gave American xenophobes an opportunity to
paint Muslims as a universal threat to Western
Civilization. Then Donald Trump went to Paris. French President
Emmanuel Macron publicly made nice with the Cheeto
in Charge and gave him the full glitz and pomp of
a state visit. They also watched the annual
military parade which so deeply impressed Donnie Boy that
he had to have one of his very own back home which finally came to
a feeble fruition with his Fourth of July debacle
with tanks on the National Mall in 2019.
But the flirtation
with France was short-lived after Macron chimed in with other European and allied
leaders, pointing out what a bonehead, bully, and bullshit
artist Trump was. Pretty soon Fox News talking
heads, Congressional chest beaters, and Alt-Right hate
peddlers were back on the familiar ground of dissing the
their part, the in the wake of the two World Wars the French
always gratefully welcomed American visitors to share their
celebration but not this year. Last year France and the other
members of the European Union have had to ban travel
from the U.S. to the Continent because Donny Denier let
the Coronavirus run unchecked with the highest infection and mortality rates in the world that summer. Tourism has not yet recovered and the
French will have their celebration to themselves and their European Union
the holiday is known as La Fête Nationale—the
National Celebration and it does not officially commemorate the revolutionary
event at all, but rather the 1790 Fête de la Fédération,
held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille
and supposedly symbolizing the unity of the nation under
the constitutional monarchy that preceded the First
Republic. The national holiday was established
in 1880 after observances had been popularly revived in
1878 and ’79.
Celebration of the storming of the Bastille
had been neglected during the turbulent and bloody
periods of the Revolution and suppressed during
the Napoleonic Empire, the later Bourbon Restoration, and
the Second Empire under Louis Napoleon.
After the Paris
Commune was crushed by the National Guard in
1871 in the aftermath of France’s humiliating defeat in
the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of Louis
Napoleon which resulted in more than 30,000 Parisians
being executed, celebrations of revolutionary action by the Paris
mob were naturally discouraged.
But by the end of the decade the conservative Second
Republic was searching for ways to restore national unity and
reassert national pride. On June 30, 1878 the City of
Paris declared a feast in honor of the Republic which
became a gay affair with boulevards lined
with the Tri-color flag. The following year the feast
was moved to June 14 and a reception was held
at the Chamber of Deputies, a military parade was put on, and
celebrations spread to other cities giving the day semi-official
recognition as a national event.
But debate over
the next year about establishing Bastille Day as a national
holiday in the Chamber was often bitter and divisive.
Monarchists, some of the senior military who had been
involved in crushing the Commune, and other conservatives were bitterly
opposed. Instead they proposed August 4, the anniversary
of the end of serfdom under the constitutional monarchy in
1789. But the people’s enthusiasm for Bastille Day could
not be denied.
In the end a compromise was
reached to commemorate not the revolutionary action, but the Fête de la
Fédération. Authorities also made sure that the central event
of the new national celebration when it was held for the first time in 1880
would be a grand military parade. The holiday was intended to
be less a celebration of the still dangerous ideas of Liberté,
égalité, fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) than one
of martial nationalism.
To this day the grand military parade, the oldest
such tradition in the world, presided over by the President
of the Republic and spectacular fireworks in
the evening are the center pieces of the
But stop a Parisian on the street and ask what he
or she is celebrating and there is no talk of the Fête de la Fédération.
Paris celebrates Bastille Day.