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Bastille Day
July 13, 2014, 1:51 pm

Bastille Day is like Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” speech, except for replacing the word ‘government’ with ‘revolution’.

Though, Bastille Day is not often remembered as one of the top happenings in World History, it should be. Especially given the fact that the French Revolution of 1789 gave the world the concept of ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’; three words that have profoundly changed the social, economic and political life in countries around the world since then.

Bastille Day, now called the French National Day, is celebrated each year on 14 July and commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July, 1789. It also marks ‘Fête de la Fédération’, held a year later, to celebrate the commemoration of the first anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille and the unity of the French Nation during the French Revolution. Today, celebrations are held all over France and in countries with strong French communities, to mark this momentous occasion in world history.

History of Bastille Day: King Louis XIV had used the Bastille as a prison for the upper-class members of French society who opposed or angered him. By 1789, the number of prisoners imprisoned was over 5,279, many of them jailed on the basis of arbitrary royal indictments that could not be appealed.  

On 19 May 1789, Louis XVI convened a meeting of ‘estates of the realm’ to find solutions to the government’s financial problems. However, the clergy, the nobility and the common people who formed the ‘three estates of the realm’ decided to boycott the proceedings and eventually formed the first National Constituent Assembly on 9 July. The assembly began to function as a legislature and to draft a constitution.

But two days later, when the king ordered the dismissal of Jacques Necker, a prominent member of the Assembly, the people of Paris, fearful that they and their representatives would be attacked by the royal military, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris.

Besides holding a large cache of ammunition and gunpowder, the Bastille had been known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government, and was thus a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy. As it happened, at the time of the siege in July 1789 there were only seven inmates, none of great political significance.

When the crowd proved a fair match for the fort's defenders, the commander of the Bastille, capitulated and opened the gates to avoid a mutual massacre. However, possibly because of a misunderstanding, fighting resumed. Ninety-eight attackers and just one defender died in the actual fighting, but in the aftermath, the governor and seven other defenders were killed.

Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on 4 August, feudalism was abolished and on 26 August, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed.

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité: French for "Freedom, equality, brotherhood", the national motto of France, and which helped fuel freedom movements around the world, finds its origins in the French Revolution.

The French ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ of 1789 defined Liberty as consisting of being able to do anything that does not harm others: thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man or woman has no bounds other than those that guarantee other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights.

Equality, on the other hand, was defined in terms of judicial equality and merit-based entry to government. [The law] "must be the same for all, whether it protects or punishes. All citizens, being equal in its eyes, shall be equally eligible to all high offices, public positions and employments, according to their ability, and without other distinction than that of their virtues and talents." The Fraternity part of the motto which finds little resonance in the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ was later added on.

By weaving and embellishing the slogan into every bit of the physical and cultural societal elements of France, the French see, hear, and experience Liberty, equality, fraternity in every moment of their lives. Each building in Paris not only has engraved the phrase on its front door, but those buildings contain tales of the revolution to be told by its inhabitants as reminders of the importance of democracies, liberalism and secularism.

Bastille Day celebrations are held in France and among French communities around the world. In France, it is a fun, festive holiday. It is about young people and a way to teach them about Bastille Day, what happened and the history. Many people attend large-scale public celebrations. These often include: Military and civilian parades, Musical performances, Communal meals, Dances, Balls and Spectacular fireworks displays.

The Bastille Day Military Parade is the French military parade that has been held on the morning of 14 July each year in Paris since 1880. The parade passes down the Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, where the President of the French Republic, his government and foreign ambassadors to France stand. The parade features thousands of soldiers from the French Army, Navy, Air force, Fire Brigade and many more.  This is a popular event in France, broadcast on French TV, and is the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe.

The accordion is a very typical French way to start Bastille Day. The firehouses open in the evening and francophones and francophiles go out and have fun in the streets and stop in the firehouses to dance and drink. In the evening, many Parisians make their way for the Bastille Day fireworks.

On the occasion of French National Day, on July 14, the French Ambassador to Kuwait, M. Christian Nakhle, is inviting the French community here to attend a reception at his residence. Although French population in Kuwait is relatively small, celebrating a French holiday here may have nothing to do with the French presence in the country. Instead, it may have more to do with our infatuation with their delectable cuisine. French food is reason enough to celebrate anytime and National Day is as good a time to check out around a dozen of the French restaurants in the city.

An assortment of clafoutis, macarons, croissants, onion soup and bouillabaisse sings to our senses any other day of the year, but since La Fete Nationale is celebrated on July 14 — a date that this year falls in the middle of Ramadan and associated Iftar celebrations, there is an even greater reason to visit the local French patisserie.

But, keeping in mind the summer heat, perhaps something a little more refreshing like Vichyssoise might be more welcome; Vichyssoise is a French-inspired soup made with potatoes and leeks. It is served cold, and it may be garnished with snipped chives or parsley.  But don't try asking for a Vichyssoise in France, you'll get puzzled looks as it is considered an American soup.

As impressive as it is to discuss how the French were able to frame rotten food as luxury delicacies (cheese and wine), what is more impressive is how they have embraced the slogan of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité into their everyday lives.


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