The Spirit of Gauls is a Phoenix

By: Žikica Milošević

They say that there is a clear distinction between three great European nations – the French, the Germans and the English. All three, of course, had tried to create empires, and their bitter conflicts resulted in bloody wars. The French love upheavals and revolutions. The Germans not so much, but are more inclined towards revolutionaries that promise order and unity. The English are the least fans of revolutions. In their country, parliamentary elections are considered revolution. And out of all the upheavals and revolutions, the French have always managed to rise up as the Phoenix.


Phoenix, as we all know, is that nice little bird which arises from the ashes the moment you think it has died. Everybody who wanted to portray themselves as indestructible, always used the Phoenix as their symbol, including the eponymous town in Arizona. However, the real phoenixes here are definitely the Gaul spirit and the French. If the English are a good example of how to fuse many nations (Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Danes, Normans, Celts) into one without too much bloodshed, than the French are the typical example of a nation that resurrects itself every single time you think that they went bust. The Gauls, and their leader Vercingetorix, lost in Alesia. Forget Asterix! Celts accepted Latin and started speaking the late version of it which, in time, turned into old French. But did all of them do that? What about Bretagne? Didn’t Celts live there? OK. Forget Bretagne too! They came from Britain, as you can tell from their name. All of them! Then the Franks came to conquer the already ‘chipped’ spirit of the Gauls, who had no language of their own and practiced fragmented religion. France was named after the Franks, while, in German (and other Germanic languages) it is still called Frankreich (The Franks’ country). Back to the Gauls! Of course, they could not force the Franks to speak their language because it had died out, or force them to practice their religion because they were already Christian, but they did impose Christianity and Latin on them, which, was now called old French. The only thing that they left the Franks with was the name of the country and the name Francois. Even today, if a word has its roots in the French language, it is called Gallicism.


Defining the French spirit is no easy feat. When I did my regular army service in Podgorica in 1998, I was a member of Centre Culturel Francais and spend my off days there when I was bored. I loved reading travel books and the books about different parts of the country. It was then that I got a shock. If, for instance you take the book called “Bretagne”, its photographs (which speak 1,000 words, obviously) remind you very much of Wales or Ireland. If you take the book “Normandie”, it will remind you of another Norman country just across the channel – England. If you flip through the book “Provence”, you might think that you are in Italy. The photographs in the book “Occitanie” are incredibly like Northern Spain. Alsace and Lorraine will undoubtedly remind you of Germany. Some naysayers will try to convince you that Burgundy or Central France (Angouleme) is actually the real France. But they are missing the point! This is not how you create the national spirit. This is not how you create a nation even. If you have a look at the DNA of the Turkish people and their features, you will find out at least 5 different genotypes and physiognomies that make a single nation. One genotype is Central Asian, another Mediterranean, another Middle Eastern, the fourth one is Persian, the fifth European and so on. The same is with France – physiognomy-wise everybody can be French. I was often approached abroad by people who started speaking French with me, maybe because my features are northern, and southern, and eastern, and western. This is what makes the French ‘the new Phoenixes’; what makes them strong. Everybody can look French which means that everybody can feel nice in France.


You cannot kill France because you cannot kill its spirit. Many conquerors had tried to do that, elated by the idea of their own ‘racial purity’. Many thought that their moral Puritanism would break the French in wars, just like the British did in the 18th and 19th century, only to realize that that was impossible and that their disapproval of the French spontaneity, dance, signing and flirtation, which they collectively called “debauchery”, always backfired. In the end, the entire world fell in love with the French culture, and in the late 19th and early 20th century, everybody rushed to experience the new –isms, and be inspired by the Parisian joie de vivre. When the British and German culture surpassed the French at certain point in time, the French stood up gain. In the 1950s and 1960s, we all fell in love with Brigitte Bardot, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, and the French film, writers and existentialists. In the 1980s, the French new wave was very significant, and, in the 1990s, they brought us many novelties. In the 21st century, the French have been slacking off a little bit while resting on their laurels and being torn by the issues of integration. Regardless, no-one should doubt that the French would rise again.


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