by Louisa Klein

And I’m back with you, still recovering from Brexit! 🙁 But today I’m happy, because today is Bastille Day in France! So, French people all over the world celebrate The Storming of the Bastille (in French la Prise de la Bastille [pʁiz də la bastij]) which occurred in Paris, France, on the afternoon of 14 July 1789 .The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris. The prison contained just seven inmates at the time of its storming but was a symbol of the abuse of the monarchy: its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution. I know this is a French festivity, but I strongly believe everyone should celebrate

Liberté, egalité, fraternité (freedom, equality, brotherhood) was the motto of the Revolution. No more aristocratic privileges, no more double standards, everyone should be only a citizen, with equal rights and duties.

I have a very French, very secular and pro-revolution mother, so we celebrate this day hugely in my household, eating French food and doing Rousseau talks. Rousseau was a French philosopher who was one of the founders of the Enlightenment in France and across Europe and who influenced many aspects of the French Revolution and the overall development of modern thought.

Now, in case you don’t have a French mum like me and need a little bit of historical background, here it is:

At the time, France was going through a very difficult period of social and finance difficulties, mostly because of the cost of intervening in the rightful American Revolution, and exacerbated by a regressive system of taxation. On 5 May 1789, the Estates-General of 1789 gathered to deal with this issue, but were held back by archaic protocols and the conservatism of the Second Estate which consisted of the nobility and amounted to only 2% of France’s population at the time. On 17 June 1789, the Third Estate whose representatives drawn from the commoners, reconstituted themselves as the National Assembly, a body whose purpose was the creation of a French constitution. The king initially opposed this development, but was forced to acknowledge the authority of the assembly, which subsequently renamed itself the National Constituent Assembly on 9 July. Things kept getting messier and messier until they got out of hand and commoners got tired of their requests being ignored … the situation got more and more tensed culminating with the partisans of the Third Estate storming the Bastille, on the morning of 14 July 1789. That triggered the French Revolution which brought new blood into the French public scene and brand new ideas. It also brought death and destruction and people unjustly executed, but remember the country was at war, a civil war, but still a war, and a war always has its causalities.

Unfortunately, once the members of the royal family had been either killed or exiled and the gun powder had finally settled, it seemed things quite hadn’t gone according to plan, the Revolution being closely followed by the so-called Reign Terror, led by Robespierre, a citizen turned fanatic dictator. Then Napoleon raised to power, soon becoming an Emperor, but an Emperor from the middle class, not the aristocracy which was a huge change (improvement?) itself.

Then, once Napoleon was dethroned, in 1815 the Congress of Vienna was held, where, in the name of peace keeping, European political conservative leaders decided to act as if the French Revolution had never happen.  Here’s a famous  painting of the Congress,  chaired by Austrian statesman Klemens Wenzel von Metternich:


 The goal was to restore old boundaries and, at the same time, to resize the main powers so they could balance each other off and remain at peace. The leaders were conservatives who sworn against republicanism or revolution, both of which threatened to upset the status quo in Europe. For a while, everything seemed back to “normal”. I say “seemed” because you can put a lid on a boiling stove only for so long and those new, scary ideas of democracy and equality kept burning inside one generation after the other, after they finally  erupted back onto the surface of history  in the second half of the 19th century, leading to the abolishment of slavery all over the world, to the right of education for everyone, to vote from women and many other wonders, including a black US president!, which were unthinkable only a hundred years before; before the fire of a new, modern era started to burn in France.

That’s why I strongly believe EVERYONE, no matter his or her nationality, should celebrate the 14th of July. Because it’s by having unique, challenging ideas that people can improve the world, or maybe just their world, for the better.

So, whether you’re French or not, never stop being revolutionary.

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