Breton nationalism

Breton nationalism

Breton nationalism is the nationalism of the traditional province of Brittany in France. Brittany is considered to be one of the six Celtic nations (along with Cornwall, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man and Scotland). Like the nationalism of many neighbouring regions, Breton nationalism combines political as well as cultural aspects.

The political aspirations of Breton nationalists include the desire to obtain the right to self-rule, whether within France or independently of it, and to acquire more power in the European Union, United Nations and other international bodies.

Breton cultural nationalism includes an important linguistic component, with Breton and Gallo speakers seeking equality with French language in the region. Cultural nationalists also seek a reinvigoration of Breton music, traditions and symbols, and the forging of strong links with other Celtic nations. It should be noted that many Bretons who identify with cultural nationalism and Breton identity do not share the political aspirations of Breton political nationalism.

The French government's official position is to consider Brittany as a part of France, a position claimed to date from the time when the March of Neustria was controlled by Roland, but dating officially from the dynastic marriage in 1491 of Anne, Duchess of Brittany with the king of France. This could include a range of views, from allowing Brittany a devolved government to curbing wishes for independence through to the extremes of banning Breton nationalist parties entirely and the Breton and Gallo languages.


Breton nationalist politics offers some contrasts with other forms of nationalism, such as those of Wales or the Basque Country. The principal Breton party, the Union démocratique bretonne (UDB) is classed as "regionalist" rather than "separatist" (or nationalist strictly speaking) by Parisian electoral analysts, as the UDB seeks devolution rather than full independence.

Brittany has not been granted devolved powers as seen with the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Executive in the United Kingdom, or with self-rule within the larger state, as in the Basque Country in Spain. This means that nationalist politics occurs only at the local and national levels, although the Breton nationalists are currently unrepresented in the national government in Paris. There is, however, a regional assembly with very limited powers. Regional politics, however, remains a particularly vexed issue for Breton nationalists, as historic Brittany is divided between two French regions: Région Bretagne and the Pays-de-la-Loire. The reunification of Brittany into a single administrative region has become a major political demand of Breton nationalists – one shared by a broad swath of the Breton political spectrum.

Parties with a Breton nationalist agenda include those seeking autonomy, such as the UDB or the Parti Breton, several federalist groups, anarchists such as Treger Disuj, traditionalists (linked to French royalism and legitimism), independentists, and others.

Culture and language

Breton cultural movements are diverse and include many more active participants than the political parties with a Breton agenda. Since the late nineties, Breton culture has witnessed a large increased in popularity, not only within Brittany but throughout France.

The Breton language is a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and even more so to Cornish. It is traditionally only spoken in the western part of the region however, as French has been predominant in the South-east and Gallo in the North-east. While at the beginning of the 20th century, only a minority of these western Bretons were even able to understand French, the Breton language has been progressively uprooted, partly due to a deliberate effort from the French authorities to eliminate it. Currently, only a minority of Bretons are able to understand the language and this number is steadily decreasing. In order to invert this trend, an organization named Diwan was created in 1977. The goal of this association is to propose schooling in Breton through a system of total immersion. Unlike other schools in France, including private schools, the institutions belonging to Diwan operate almost totally without any support from the French government, a recent decision by the French constitutional council (2001) declaring teaching exclusively in Breton unconstitutional, French being the official language of the Republic. Since the 1970s however, an increasing number of schools have adopted a system of bilingualism.


The name "Breton movement", or "Emsav" in Breton (IPA| [ẽmzao] , meaning uplifting, renovation), is used to group the major Breton political and cultural movements. Some feel the term (or the movements themselves) does not adequately reflect the diversity, internal divisions and conflicts within Brittany.

Traditionally, the history of the Breton movement is split into three periods, the First Emsav being the birth of the Breton movement in the nineteenth century and before 1914, the Second Emsav covering the period 1914-1945 and the Third Emsav for the post-war movements. The historic memory of the Second Emsav has been tarnished in the memory of many by the collaboration of some leading Breton nationalists during the Nazi occupation of France. After the war, the movement was widely discredited politically and several of these members arrested as collaborators. The second Emsav essentially disappeared. After the Second Emsav went into limbo, Breton nationalism remained practically silent for two decades.

The Third Emsav was closely associated with the upsurge of social contestation during the 1960s. This last movement was grown on its own without links with the previous nationalist movements and, in sharp contrast with the earlier ideology, occupied the left side of the political spectrum with affinity ranging from social-democrat liberalism to revolutionary Marxism. This can help to explain the reluctance that some members of the movement feel toward the term 'nationalism' which, in France, carries right-wing connotations. The movement has experienced continued momentum through the growth of regional identities across Europe in the 1980s and to the present.

Recently, a new branch of the movement, ADSAV (IPA| [adzao] ), a far right wing organization, has appeared. This movement however, is still very minor and has no connection with the organization from the third Emsav.

Economic nationalism

Small-business owners have formed groups to defend the interests of small and medium sized businesses in Brittany. The label "Produits en Bretagne" is now used by them in order to create and advance the image of Brittany in other countries.

Efforts have also been made to promote the Breton language. In 2001, TV Breizh was created. However, little of its content is in Breton. The Breton language is also spoken for a few hours on the public television station France 3 "region Ouest". This degree of linguistic support was unthinkable in France a generation ago.

In 2004, a regional mobile telecommunications operator was set up with the name Breizh Mobile to serve the area.

ee also

*Bleimor (Scouting)
*Cornish self-government movement

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