How the Welsh flag has been hijacked by the far-right in Brittany
When the current affairs magazine, Le Peuple Breton, published its 60th anniversary edition recently, the front cover, designed to be a cause for celebration, ended up at the centre of a national scandal.
“Un peuple vivant” (a living nation) read the headline alongside a photo of a young boy holding a Breton flag.
When it was posted on Twitter, it was met with a barrage of abuse of such ferocity that it is now being investigated by the police, and subsequently led to a huge outpouring of support for the magazine.
The racist reactions to the fact the boy on the cover was black emanated not only from the growing number of supporters of Marine Le Pen, but also a far-right fringe of Breton nationalists.
The latter group are easily identifiable – because they almost all have the Welsh flag emoji in their username.
Nous fêtons ce mois-ci nos 60 bougies ! Toute l’année 2024 (que nous vous souhaitons excellente !) reviendra sur l’histoire du Peuple breton. Bloavezh mat d’an holl hag un ti dilogod.
Commander le numéro : https://t.co/5aRmRI3zkK
— Le Peuple breton Magazine (@Peuplebreton) January 2, 2024
Y Ddraig Goch has become a local version of the green frog used by the alt-right movement online, according to a Breton anti-fascist and independence activist who asked not to be named.
“It’s easily recognisable and has a Celtic link which appeals to their identitarian side” they explained.
Racist conspiracy theories
Messages including hardline anti-immigrant sentiment, white supremacism and racist conspiracy theories now appear regularly next to the Welsh flag on the French-language Twittersphere.
But despite adopting our flag as its online symbol, it’s a movement with contempt for Welsh politics.
“Welsh nationalists are generally naïve supporters of the woke left…susceptible to the worst LGBT and Black Lives Matter nonsense,” began a recent article by its mouthpiece, Breizh Info.
Calling itself “alternative media”, the website was found to be among the top 10 sources for Covid disinformation in France and has been accused of whipping anti-refugee protests similar to those which took place in Llanelli.
These increasingly toxic online tendencies are also manifesting themselves in the streets.
One user with a Welsh flag in their handle recently posted a photo of an anti-racist banner turned upside down, apparently taken from a demonstration in Rennes against the French government’s controversial new immigration law.
It echoed other recent attacks. In March last year, a group of trade unionists were sprayed with tear gas before being punched and kicked in a brutal attack in the town of Lorient.
It was committed by a far-right gang who had waited for a demonstration against the French government’s pension reforms to break-up before striking.
It is part of a “rising tide” of far-right activity on the Atlantic coast over which the Liberation newspaper raised the alarm with a typically striking front page last week.
Extrême droite en Bretagne, la marée monte
C’est la une de @Libe ce mardi
— Libération (@libe) January 22, 2024
Other incidents have ranged from the distribution of neo-Nazi leaflets to an attempted arson of a mosque and another violent and carefully-planned attack on a left-wing music festival in which far-right thugs used metal knuckle dusters, police-style batons and tear gas.
“These violent acts and attempts at intimidation are frequent enough to consider that Brittany is a symbolic territory of the growth of the extreme far-right groups,” warned the newspaper’s editorial.
“Symbolic because the four Breton departments, of course with local nuances and particularities, have long been considered as resistant to the ideas of the far-right.”
At the French parliamentary elections in 2022, Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National didn’t make it to the second round in a single Breton constituency despite doubling their number of candidates in run-offs across France.
“The strong Breton identity weakens certain arguments from the Rassemblement National about supposed threats to French identity,” Professor Arnauld Leclerc of Nantes University told Nation.Cymru.
Historian Christian Bougeard also said the legacy of collaboration during the second world war should not be underestimated.
While they were “very few in number and immediately rejected by the population”, the memory “has acted as a sort of break on the influence of the far-right,” he told Libération.
Despite that, the Breton National Party, which owes its name to a collaborationist organisation, are among far-right groups to have emerged in Brittany in recent years.
On Twitter, almost all of the accounts highlighted as ‘similar to the Parti National Breton’ have a Welsh flag in their username.
Other groups include An Tour-Tan (the Lighthouse), a youth group based in Vannes, and L’Oriflamme in Rennes, the Breton chapter of a French neo-nazi split from the royalist far-right l’Action Française (AF).
“They try to integrate themselves locally by putting a light Breton varnish on things but it is still usually AF behind everything,” added the Breton anti-fascist activist who spoke to Nation.Cymru.
“There’s barely anyone in all of these little groups. The most visible are those who benefit from the French far-right.”
While some of the groups limit themselves to putting up posters under the cover of darkness, the increasingly extreme actions of others are motivated by desperation, some believe.
Nil Caouissin, a member of the Breton regional assembly for the Union démocratique bretonne, said: “It’s always too much but if the far-right is particularly violent in Brittany at the moment, it’s not because they are strong here. It’s because they are relatively weak.”
The Libération newspaper preferred to see “further proof of the dangers of reactionary offensive underway at national level.”
An offensive being carried out in Brittany, online at least, by keyboard warriors wrapped in a Welsh flag.
Avis aux racistes : Notre drapeau n’a absolument rien à voir avec votre idéologie haineuse.
Si vous compreniez la moindre chose sur notre pays, vous sauriez que la solidarité est au cœur de notre identité.
Y compris avec les vrais Bretons qui vous ciblez
Warning to racists: Our flag has absolutely nothing to do with your hateful ideology.
If you knew the first thing about our country, you would know that solidarity is at the heart of our identity.
That includes with the real Bretons who you attack.
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