Paris has launched two months of events commemorating a radical experiment in people power, which continues to divide and inspire in equal measures 150 years later.
The 1871 Paris Commune, an uprising against a conservative government by working-class Parisians that was brutally crushed after 72 days, is one of the lesser-known chapters in French history.
But its memory still looms large in left-wing rebellions worldwide and in Paris with the towering Sacre-Coeur basilica in Montmartre, built by the victors on the ruins of the crushed Commune.
The revolt erupted after the Franco-Prussian war and ended in a bloodbath, with government troops massacring between 6,000 to 20,000 people during la semaine sanglante (bloody week) that ended the Parisians’ brief flirtation with self-rule.
Last week, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo inaugurated a programme of 50 events commemorating the Commune, including exhibitions, plays, conferences and debates.
75 years ago, the capital was finally free from the German yoke. This historic day will remain, in the eyes of the whole world, the symbol of the renewal of France and democracy.
“There are minutes there, we all feel it, which exceed each of our poor lives.” This August 25, 1944, late afternoon, the atmosphere is solemn at the City Hall of Paris. General de Gaulle, who has just arrived suddenly in this high place of republican declarations, is received by the communist Georges Marrane, on behalf of the Paris committee of the Liberation, and by the Catholic Georges Bidault, president of the National Council of the Resistance (CNR), the successor of Jean Moulin. Paris has just been released in the middle of the afternoon from the Nazi yoke. Everything was done in haste. [ . . . ]
Two hours north east of Paris is a famous battlefield. The defeated French leader was called Napoleon, but the battle was not Waterloo. It was Sedan, and lining up against the French, the Prussians. The defeated French leader was Napoleon’s nephew, le petit Napoleon, otherwise known as the emperor Napoleon III. This battle, in 1870, set up the dynamic that led to two world wars. | Audio
In the final Invention of France, Misha Glenny explores a crucial year for all western Europe. France was invaded, Paris bombarded, and Alsace occupied. January 18th 1871, a humiliating event – the proclamation of a new German empire, announced not in Germany but in the Palace of Versailles. Europe would never be the same.
With contributions from Thomas Kielinger, Jonathan Fenby, ambassador Sylvie Bermann, Andrew Hussey, Jeremy Black and Agnew Poirier. Plus contrubutions from Emile Zola’s novel, Le Debacle.
Learn why you’ve probably never learned about the Belleville Commune in French history class.
Belleville, which encompasses most of the 20th arrondissement of Paris, is a neighborhood that feels a bit like its own country. And that’s not just because the “Beautiful City” is currently Paris’s Chinatown, or, more accurately, its Little Saigon.
This sprawling quartier built on a hill was actually once a suburb of Paris, which was accumulated by the French capital in the early 1800s. But in 1871, the citizens of Belleville worked together with members of the Parisian working class to overthrow the French government in the quartier and form the Commune of Belleville, which lasted for 72 days and resulted in one of the biggest massacres in French history. In one week, known as “the Bloody Week,” more than 15,000 people were killed in Belleville’s fight for working class independence. This event even went on to inspire political leaders like Karl Marx when he wrote his infamous Communist Manifesto.
If you’ve enjoyed this little history lesson, don’t miss more videos from anti-tourist Messy Nessy Chic, including this adventure into the Paris catacombs to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show.