Xeni D. Baloti
– “No! Prior to the French Revolution was the English Revolution in 1688”, Prime Minister M.Thatcher complained when she was informed that the President of France wanted to connect the G7 Summit, 1989, with the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution!
– “It is astounding that some wish to be the first ones to be imputed the practice of decapitation” Fr.Mitterrand shrewdly responded to her smiling, albeit without obviously naming her, fairly enjoying the success of the internationalization of the festivities.
In 1989 43 million visitors arrived in France solely to attend the 200th anniversary celebrations while more than 300 events were held in 115 countries to honour 1789.
The endeavour of the internalization of the “200th anniversary” was not an easy one, yet it was not the most difficult as many aspects of the French Revolution arise heated debate even today. Hence, in 1986 when the arranging of the celebrations was launched it was decided, in order for the French people not tο be divided amongst the glorious and dark pages of its Revolution, to focus on the Storming of the Bastille and the adoption of “The Declaration of Man and of the Citizen” converting at the same time the events to tribute paid to the triptych “Freedom-Equality-Fraternity” so that it can continue to be a reference for the people who envisage a better future.
Via this right balance every French citizen felt that the “200th anniversary” is a matter of their concern, thus the most consented in principle!»
To maintain this agreement the “Committee for the 200th celebrations of the French Revolution and the Declaration of Man and of the Citizen” was appointed by the Prime Minister of France (hereafter referred to as “1789 Committee”) within which a second committee was operating, the Interministerial.
In this problematic prima facie composition of the “1789 Committee” is actually hidden the success of the celebrations.
The historian and politician Jean-Noël Jeanneney was designated Head of the “1789 Committee” though all members of the Interministerial committee came under the responsibility of the Minister of Culture, the renowned Jacques Lang. It goes without saying that no one liked this informal diarchy. However, the interest of France prevailed and as later J-N Jeanneney said “J.Lang attached his personal and political importance to the success of the Committee and our plans proceeded apace at government level. The Committee did not operate in a Cartesian manner but ultimately has not gone so badly”.
The next big challenge was the content of the celebrations. Would France navel-gaze between “ifs” and “buts” of the Revolution or allow the people of 1989 to celebrate the “mother of the revolution” and consider the consequences? At that point, the officialdom rather than taking a position chose to appoint members of the “1789 Committee” 46 eminent scientists, historians and rectors, who established that: the commemorations aimed at reminding young people the history of France during the Revolution, the basic principles featuring this historical period and correlate the 1789 legacy with the high stakes in their contemporary times.
The “1789 Committee “ also decided that: a) no official ceremonial was to be established, b) projects and suggestions were to approve to be filed by bodies and individuals for which so long as they were deemed robust for implementation, would be entitled to have the “1789 Committee” Symbol, i.e. 3 flying birds in the colour of the French flag, c) it would decentralise the ceremonies, allowing to each region of France celebrate 1789 relating to its local historical experiences, d) would stipulate a correspondents’ network in order to make an organizational contribution and e) with the edition of a “ Guide for the Revolution” would assist regional Self-Government to boost the public active involvement and volunteerism.
The “1789 Committee”, in view of the outcome, has proven to be a fully functional machine. There was neither a Ministry Department that has been activated and bequeathed a deliverable work nor an Administrative District lagging in participation. At regional level 7500 ceremonies were carried out and 2500 cultural associations participated in those!
In particular with regard to the “1789 committee’s “own works, apart from the attendance of the completion of the “Major Projects” namely the Louvre Pyramid, Le Grande Arche de la Defense, the Opera Bastille etc. was responsible for the 14th July military parade organisation with the leading theme “the Army of the Nation”, the night artistic parade, devised by Jean-Paule Goude and the musical performance in Place de la Concorde with Jessye Norman. The night of 14th July 1989, 7500 people from all over the world had gathered along Champs Elysées while in the meantime all television networks broadcasted the celebrations to 112 countries.
Almost a year later, the “1789 Committee” completed its assignment submitting to the President of the Republic of France its financial and administrative statement and to the General State Archives all the archival material concerning its operation which is now available to every researcher.
The reader, who has reached that point so far, reasonably wonders whether there was also a research and historical work which has been carried out at the time. Certainly! In fact it has been so productive that 31 years later remains inexhaustible. Nonetheless, this aspect of celebrations belonged to another Committee chaired by M.Vovelle, comprised exclusively of historians, research and academic institutions ,whose overall contribution to the renewal of the historiography of the French Revolution, is worth mentioning in another article along with the “weapons” in its arsenal once the analysis of the particular aspects of 1789-1799 decade started!
If, at their starting point, we wish to compare the French “1789 Committee” to the “2021 Greek” one, we will find out many elements in common. Whether the “2021 Committee” sets a milestone for every commemorative celebration, as it happens with “1789 Committee” for France, is an issue at stake conditional on the goals we have set , the one given: to work solely for the Greek history.