President Ford and Queen Elizabeth II dance at the American Bicentennial celebrations in 1976
Alexander Cockburn writes about the bicentenary of the French Revolution:
“‘The prospectus: ‘From 1st April to 15th November in the Tuileries there will be masques, games, spectacles designed to evoke what happened during the revolution, putting the accent on institutional reform, which marked the progress of parliamentary democracy.’ This would have made Saint-Just smile, given his pithy view that ‘long laws are public calamities.’
“The French government seems to have decided to remember a revolution occurring between 1789 and 1792: Mirabeau, Danton and the Girondins, who with a little touch-up here and there, can be made to look like decent moderate social democrats of the late 20th century. Robespierre, Saint-Just and the great Committee of Public Safety, who presided over the Terror and saved the Revolution, have not been invited. Lizzy Lennard has tracked down busts of Robespierre and Saint-Just. She talked to the keeper of monuments. It turned out to be as difficult as finding a statue of Trotsky in the Soviet Union.”
Patrick Marnham reports from Paris on the bicentenary celebrations in Crime and the Academie Francaise:
“This year France has invited the whole world to celebrate its history. More than 600 functions have been arranged in eighty countries. The French government has organised a succession of major international conferences in Paris this year. On 14th July the Group of Seven will be meeting here and in the autumn there will be the European summit during which France will assume the presidency of the European Community. The French are rightly confident that the world is intrigued by the bicentenary. But what do they themselves make of the Revolution, 200 years on?
“If the French have the Revolution in their bones, they do not necessarily have it in their heads. A third of those questioned among 16,000 in a recent opinion poll were unable to mention a single important Revolutionary event. Of the rest, 37 per cent recalled the Fall of the Bastille, 16 per cent the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and 16 per cent the execution of Louis XVI. Only four per cent mentioned the Guillotine or the Terror. Again, 33 per cent were unable to recall a single important social change introduced by the Revolution. The only notable Revolutionaries cited by…