Alsace-Moselle, from rivalry to symbol of openness

Today, there is no doubt that Alsace-Moselle, despite a shared history between France and Germany, is fully integrated into the French State, which does not prevent the three departments of Moselle, Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin from distinguishing themselves by regional specificities recalling this shared past.

Their reintegration on the French side since 1918 is in line with the integration of the codes of the Republic but in accordance with the achievements of the German period. However, the Germanic footprint opens up prospects for cooperation in this time of European construction: it transforms a French periphery into a new nerve centre. 

When the region joined France again after almost half a century in the Second German Reich, the desire to mark the territories’ belonging to the French nation was strong. Indeed, the 1914-1918 war was partly motivated by the desire to « recover » these territories lost during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. However, several particularities show to what extent the German period had a lasting impact on these territories. Pre-existing linguistic specificities (many of the local dialects originate from German), the political heritage, much more decentralized in the German Empire than in France, or the religious culture not marked by the French law of separation of Church and State of 1905 are factors of differentiation of Alsace-Moselle from the rest of the French territory. The autonomist movements of the 1920s confirmed that the frenchness of the region region remained questionable, even if enthusiasm was high at the time of reintegration. The immediate transition from German to French teaching is one of the markers of the return of the French rule, which has been experienced violently by the populations. On the other hand, a local law regime specific to the region and unique in France implicitly recognizes the unique character of Alsatian and Moselle history. With the Second World War and two new annexations, to Nazi Germany in 1940 and then again to France in 1944, the question of the nature of territories continuously marked by rivalries between major powers arose again. 

The attachment of indigenous populations to France faces a resolutely Germanic linguistic marker. There is surely the curse of local populations in relation to « France de l’intérieur »: a double belonging, which at times detaches Alsace and Moselle from the history of the rest of the country, as its specific legal regime still testifies today. This may also be the solution. With the construction of Europe, a disputed border region became a field of cooperation, symbolised by the establishment of the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1979. With the free movement and prospects opened up by cross-border trade between France and Germany, the rapprochement is well and truly underway. Border cities such as Strasbourg or Saarbrücken are now important areas of economic and cultural exchange. For departments belonging to a unitary state such as France, it is interesting that the opening up to foreign countries is favoured by its Germanic affiliation. Many workers, particularly in Alsace, can work across the Rhine thanks to their knowledge of the German language transmitted via Alsatian, a dialect derived from German and above all transmitted through family channels. But if in 2001, 61% of the Alsatian population declared that they were fluent in the Alsatian language, they were only 42% in 2012. The decline in the number of speakers poses problems not only for the preservation of regional culture, but also in terms of employment, since with the decline in the number of dialectophones comes a decline in the number of German speakers able to work on the other side of the border. The survival of the particularity of the Alsatian region remains very noticeable, as evidenced by the resistance to the territorial reform law that administratively eliminated the region in 2015 within the « Grand Est ». 

While, like many other regions, regional cultural practices are tending to disappear, this movement has a particular dimension in Alsace and Moselle. This heritage embodies the tumultuous past of the territories but also very important future prospects for Europe. The question remains the place to be given to this heritage in the history of Alsace- Moselle. Can the French republican and unitary discourse accommodate German influences on some of its regions in order to deepen the dialogue between the two shores of the Rhine? 

Louis Brendel pour La Regionisto

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