In the UK, as we begin 2015, if anything, our nation looks to be heading down the road of greater devolution. With Venice and Catalonia holding non-binding independence votes last year, you could be forgiven for thinking that mainland Europe was heading the same way.
Not so in France. At the end of December, the French National Assembly approved boundary changes which, as well as refusing to re-integrate Brittany with its historic territory of Loire-Atlantique, completely wipes the historic region of Alsace off the map of France, as the nation ‘downsizes’ from 22 regions to just 13.
The decision has been met by a large rally of Breton and Alsace groups in front of the assembly, but with the decision taken by a wide cross section of the French political scene, from Conservative to Communist, it has little hope of winning any form of reprieve.
Alsace, with its major city of Strasbourg, has played a major part in the history of both France and Germany, and contains its own Alsatian language. This language has enjoyed support for its renaissance from a range of local, national and European authorities due to the region’s unique identity – yet this has not been enough to prevent it losing its status as a recognised region of France. With the present moves towards greater regional autonomy or devolution across Europe, this decision seems to be completely incomprehensible.
Brittany is also angered by the National Assembly’s refusal to re-integrate Loire-Atlantique into its territory. The historic Breton capital of Nantes was removed from Brittany’s regional borders in 1941 and, despite long term battles, it remains outside of its present land. Hopes were high that this may have been rectified this time round, but it was not to be.
Why you may ask are these events being covered on a Cultural Geography blog about Cornwall? Regardless of the fact that there are strong cultural ties between Cornwall and Brittany, there is a wider issue at stake here. Regions with historic and cultural identities need cultivating, celebrating and, above all preserving. Wiping them off the map is simply unacceptable in 2015 – regional humanist geographers and those who value minority European cultural identity need to join together to add their voices to the protests in Alsace and Brittany.