…on 14 juillet
One of my most cherished memories is of going to Paris on 14 juillet 1989 to attend the bi-centennial celebration of the storming of the Bastille.
I was still young enough to naively believe that the Revolution, despite its horrors, had ushered in a new era of liberty, equality and fraternity not just for France, but to stand as a beacon to the world. The Enlightenment, it appeared, had won. My three decades of life had seen huge advances across western Europe in not only the physical standard of living of ‘ordinary people’ (the late 20th century euphemism for the poor) but in the liberalisation of society and the extension of rights – in justice, in the workplace, and in social equality. The USSR was tottering, the end of apartheid was in sight, and it seemed democracy was set to spread throughout the world, ushering in an unprecedented period of peace. Life, it seemed, was good, and likely to get progressively better.
The day itself was wonderful. Over a million people lined the Champs Elysees to watch the parade, mainly French, but with a huge number of people of all nationalities standing with them to celebrate this seminal moment in history. The babel of languages was no bar to communication, because everyone was sharing the same thoughts and feelings. There was no fear in the crowd, because who would spoil such a glorious, happy day?
Thirty years later, my heart is almost broken for the people of France. Almost, but not quite. Because in a strange twist of the human spirit, this kind of atrocity only serves to make us stronger, to bring us together, to bolster our determination that one day freedom will win and the world will be the place we envision when we are young and naive.
I find to my surprise today that I am still young and naive enough to believe that France stands as that brilliant and inspiring beacon to the world, and we stand with her. You will not destroy our memories. You will not shatter our hope. And one day, people of goodwill will prevail.
Vive la France! Vive la liberté!