'Europe of the 100 flags' revisited

16th January 2012

Civil Liberty correspondent

Yann Fouere - late founder of 100 flag vision of Europe
Yann Fouere - late founder of 100 flag vision of Europe
The slogan 'Europe of the 100 flags' was first expressed in the 1968 book of the same name (but in French 'L'Europe aux Cent Drapeaux') written by the legendary Breton nationalist, Yann Fouere, who died last year at the venerable age of 101 after a lifetime of activism and endeavour on behalf of the nationalist cause in Brittany.

In his book, Yann Fouere called for the establishment of small free nation states with equal rights across Europe but united through a formal federal link at a supra-national level. Fouere believed that no continental superstate should replace the existing nation states, as envisaged by the misguided founders of the European Union (EU), since that would be prone to domination by political and economic elites and could lead to an abuse of power by those predominant powers. Instead, he believed that states should be split into smaller nation states representing the existing ethnic groups in Europe, notably, the Bretons in France and the Flemish in Northern Europe; the Scots, Welsh, Irish, Cornish and English in the British Isles, and the Basques and Catalans in Spain, etc. The situation in Eastern Europe also favoured this approach and Fouere maintained close links with the Slovenian national movement, among others. Slovenian patriots would struggle against the dead hand of Yugoslav communism over the decades after the Second World War before finally attaining nationhood in 1991 as Yugoslavia eventually broke up and historic nation states were reformed, albeit after a period of war, from the ashes of a post-Tito Yugoslavia.

Fouere's idea of small free national societies square nicely with the economic and political ideas of E.F Schumacher and Leopold Kohr. Schumacher would advance his ideas in his seminal book 'Small is Beautiful', first published in 1973, which advocated an economic system based on smaller working units, communal ownership and regional workplaces using local labour and resources. Kohr's main book, first published in 1957, 'The Breakdown of Nations', attempts to show that throughout history people who have lived in small states are happier, more peaceful, more creative and, as a result, more prosperous. Kohr argued that virtually all our political and social problems would be greatly diminished if the world's major countries were to dissolve back into the small nations from which they came. He further argued that rather than making ever larger political unions, in the mistaken belief that this will bring everlasting peace and prosperity, we should strive to reduce the power of political and economic elites by returning to a patchwork of smaller nation states, where leaders are more accessible and more responsive to the native people.

Leopold Kohr was later an adviser for Plaid Cymru, an organisation that was also close to Fouere's heart as well. It was Plaid that would offer him sanctuary in Wales after the war and Fouere would meet many of the early leaders of the party during his exile, including the party's first leader Saunders Lewis, influential figures such as DJ Davies and DJ Williams, and the leader of Plaid when it started to make its first electoral breakthroughs in the sixties, Gwynfor Evans. Unfortunately, Plaid is now a leftist party, but its roots are most definitely ethno-nationalist and inspired by the culture of the native Welsh people.

With the imminent collapse of the EU on the cards, after the demise of the Euro single currency, Fouere's ideas seem more pertinent than ever as an alternative to the chaos such a collapse will bring to Europe and its many diverse peoples. Although Fouere maintained close links with the proponents of the EU, visiting the European Parliament many times over the years to argue his case, a forum already exists that could provide salvation and bring to fruition Fouere's prophetic views on the future of European politics.

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and currently has 49 member states (already halfway to Fouere's grand vision!) and is an entirely separate body form the ailing EU, which only has 27 members states. Unlike the EU, the Council of Europe cannot make binding laws and offers the best focus for Fouere's 'Europe of the 100 flags' than the corrupt institutions of the EU and its ongoing self-inflicted economic crisis which could lead to the ignominious collapse and dissolution of the whole sordid project. Ironically, the Council of Europe originally created the blue European flag with the twelve golden stars in the fifties. The EU only adopted the flag in the 1980s as its ambitions to become a superstate began to burgeon urged on by most of Europe's political and economic elite.

Fouere's 1968 book would later be translated into English twelve years later bearing the misleading title (at least in contemporary British political terminology) 'Towards a Federal Europe: Nations or States?'

Nevertheless, Fouere's ideas of a new Europe centred on ethnic identity, free nation states based on that outlook and mutual cooperation on that basis offers modern nationalists hope in a time of darkness and crisis.

A Yann Fouere Foundation has been set up to advance his ideas. A little gem of a website already exists offering further avenues of study and reflection of Fouere's inspirational ideas.

The website includes a biography, photographs, reproductions of Fouere's early work, including the 1946 booklet 'Breton Nationalism, published by Plaid Cymru during his exile in Wales after World War Two, and an English language translation of both parts of his autobiography.

The first part, 'The Forbidden Homeland', deals with his early life in Brittany, his first involvement in the Breton nationalist cause and his efforts during World War Two to advance that cause after the German invasion of France and the establishment of the Vichy government under Marshall Petain who, thanks to the efforts of Fouere and other patriots, allowed rights for Bretons, including the teaching of their language and history. The second part of his autobiography, 'La Maison in Connemara', describes his life in exile after World War Two, first in Wales, then Ireland, where he escaped to avoid political persecution in France. In 1955, Fouere returned to France and was acquitted of all charges of collaboration. On his return, he established various nationalist groups and cultural organisations, including the Celtic League in 1961, and was later thrown into jail again in 1975 when he was falsely accused of militant opposition to the French state as a member of the Breton Liberation Front. After President Mitterand declared a general amnesty for all Breton's political prisoners, Fouere established the Party for the Organisation of Free Brittany which later grew into Adsav, the campaigning name of the Breton People's Party, which means 'revival' in the Breton language, and still exists today.

Read more about the Yann Fouere Foundation


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