French celebrate 14 July - Bastille Day

This year Manmohan Singh, recently re-elected Prime Minister of India, was the guest of honour at the national 14 July celebrations in Paris. He had been invited by President Sarkozy when the French Head of State attended the Indian Republic Day Military Parade in New Delhi in January 2008 during his State visit to India.

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14 July is always hugely popular in France. In Paris, the traditional military parade on the Champs-Elysées is meticulously prepared, and all over France there is dancing and firework displays.

The storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 has been commemorated in France for more than a century.

Storming of the Bastille

During the early months of the French Revolution, feelings ran high on the streets of Paris. In spring 1789, the Estates General (consultative assembly of the three estates: clergy, nobility and commoners) refused to dissolve, transforming itself instead into a constituent National Assembly. In July, King Louis XVI sent more troops to Paris and dismissed his popular minister, Necker. On the morning of 14 July, the people of Paris seized weapons from the armoury at Les Invalides and marched on the ancient royal fortress of the Bastille. After a bloody gun battle, they seized the fortress and released the handful of prisoners held there.

The storming of the Bastille was the first victory of the people of Paris against a symbol of the Ancien Régime (old regime). The Bastille itself was destroyed in the ensuing months.

The "Fête de la Fédération" (Feast of the Federation) on 14 July 1790, celebrated with great pomp the first anniversary of the insurrection. In Paris, Talleyrand said Mass at the "autel de la patrie" (altar of the motherland), on the Champ de Mars.

National Holiday

For some years after the first anniversary, the commemoration of 14 July was abandoned until the Third Republic’s leaders, especially Gambetta, sought ways to mark the founding of France as a Republic. Proposed by Benjamin Raspail, a Deputy for the Department of the Seine, an Act of Parliament was passed on 6 July 1880 making 14 July the Republic’s Fête Nationale.

From the outset, the emphasis was on the patriotic and military character of the event in order to highlight France’s recovery from the defeat of 1870. Each year every commune in France held its own celebration, beginning with a torchlight parade on the evening of 13 July, with, the next day, church bells or gun salutes announcing the military parades. The day ended with dancing and spectacular firework displays.

After the austerity of the 1914-1918 war, 14 July 1919 was a great victory celebration. Similarly, 14 July 1945 was preceded by three days of civic festivities.

Successive Presidents of the Fifth Republic have made slight changes to the day’s events. In order to reconnect with Paris’s revolutionary tradition, President Giscard d’Estaing re-routed the military parade, starting it at the Place de la Bastille and ending it at the Place de la République.

14 July 1989 was a high point in the celebration of the bicentenary of the French Revolution. In particular, many foreign heads of state attended La Marseillaise, a special parade organised by Jean-Paul Goude.

In 1994, the Champs-Elysées parade in Paris included German soldiers serving in the Eurocorps, symbolising the reconciliation between Germany and France.

And to mark the centenary of the Entente Cordiale in 2004 British armed forces took part in
the parade.

Last year, the parade has a special international flavour since France was holding the six-month EU Presidency and had, the previous day, hosted the first-ever meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean. EU and Mediterranean country Heads of State and Government were invited to watch the parade with President Sarkozy

Published on 08/11/2011

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