People in Nantes are used to seeing cryptic signs all over the city, such as “BZH = 44” or Gwenn ha Du. “BZH” is the abbreviation of “Breizh”, “Brittany” in Breton, and “44” is the department number of Loire-Atlantique, where Nantes is the prefecture. The Gwenn ha Du is the flag of Brittany—its name means “black and white” in Breton and it features eleven ermine spots (their number may vary) and nine stripes.
Nantes has a Celtic past but administratively-speaking, the city is not currently part of Brittany, it belongs to the administrative région of Pays de la Loire. This offends many residents but the fight is pointless.
The French government considers Brittany part of France but Breton nationalism is still strong and some folks regularly wish for independence. Nationalist agenda include those seeking autonomy and less active participants who simply want to keep the culture alive.
We were walking past the new courthouse when we spotted a small gathering of people waving the Gwenn ha Du and playing traditional music. The police didn’t let them step inside the courthouse. I guess one of the nationalists was on trial for something and that the gathering showed up for support.
A passerby stopped and asked one of the Bretons: “What do you want?”
“Independence!” he replied. “Brittany shouldn’t be part of France,” he added.
“Do you really think it could ever happen?”
“No,” he shrugged. “But we are trying.”
The exchange made me smile. Fighting for a lost cause—and admitting it is a lost cause!—is so French!
You can see the complete set of pictures taken in France on Flickr.