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  • Writer's picturePauline Zaragoza

Behind the Scene of the 14 Juliet

The organization of local balls, a garden party at the Presidential Elysée Palace, a military parade, and fireworks…. The 14th of July, internationally known as “the Bastille Day”, is regarded as an emblematical day dedicated to the celebration of the French Nation-State.

As mentioned, this event is celebrated in many different ways. Nonetheless, as a central event of this special day, the military parade, which aims to exhibit the French national forces and military arsenal, holds most of the attention. In a few figures, the 2022’s show represents 1600 soldiers, 113 land vehicles and aircraft, 25 helicopters, and 200 horses (Ministère des Armées, 2022; Paris Info, 2022).

Symbolically, in regards to the Ukrainian war context, this year will be marked by the presence of the Eastern European Foreign troops filing with the flags of the ninth invited countries for this ceremony (Ministère des Armées, 2022). Indeed, this edition’s theme will be “Sharing the flame” as a call for unity and cohesion in those difficult times for Europe (Ibid). Moreover, this year, the final of the show will be a wink to the coming 2024’s Paris Olympics.

But what actually happened on this day?...

On the 14th of July 1789, Louis XVI was wakened in the night by the Duke of Liancourt, who had gone from Paris to the Versailles palace to tell him the news. "But it's a revolt!" the king is reported to have said. "No, sire, a revolution," the duke replied.” (Medium, 2019).

This day, which constitutes a watershed moment of the French Revolution, was marked by a violent revolt in the Parisian streets. However, beyond its flourished myth, this supposed historical day was not signing the advent of an equal and free French Republic as shown by the years of Terror which followed and the rise of a privileged bourgeoisie (Jaurès, 1924). It was also only the revolution of a few as women and enslaved people remained excluded from the gain of rights and liberties ( Vovelle, 2007).

So how was the Bastille invasion?

Surprisingly, the invasion of the Bastille by the Parisian to get weapons cannot be qualified as difficult: at this time this royal prison was only counting 7 prisoners (e.g. 4 forgers and 3 mad people) and was under weak protection (INA, 2013). Its invasion was more symbolic than a strategic success of the revolution.

It has to be noted also that in reality, the celebration of the 14th of July only dates back to 1880 with the vote of the “Raspail Law”. The latter was at first referring to the 14th of July 1790 (e.g. The festival of Federation) as an outcome of a political compromise between the National Assembly different parties (Gouvernement Français, 2022b; Gouvernement Français, 2022a). Still nowadays, the question of which 14th of July (1789 or 1790) is celebrated is blurry as well as a subject of debate.

From revolution to communication: what means the 14th of July nowadays in France?

Over time, alongside its celebration of the French Republicanism, this day also became an undeniable exercise of political communication. This shift started under President Valerie Giscard D’Estaing in 1978 who introduced the now-traditional garden party at the Elysée Palace (e.g. the French Presidential residence) and a presidential speech after the military parade to address the ongoing national issues (RTL, 2020). The latter which constitute a major broadcast exercise led to the occurrence of landmark moments in French politics. Everyone remembers how in 2004 Jacques Chirac saw in it an occasion to pull back into line with Nicolas Sarkozy, his minister of Economy at this time, with the famous sentence “I decide, he executes” (Ibid). As well in 2016, Francois Hollande reproduced the same call to order towards his minister of Economy Emmanuel Macron during his 14th of July speech (Ibid).

Celebrated in different ways or not, myth or reality, this day remains a timeless celebration of the French people’s revolt for their liberty against oppression. Undeniably, the 14th of July marked French history not only in 1789. It also marked the French people by giving them this well-known culture to revolt, demonstrate, and freely express and criticized opinions. Perhaps, it is this nature, that characterized French people, that is remembered and celebrated every 14th of July.


INA (2013), La Prise de La Bastille,
Jaurès, J. (1924). Histoire socialiste de la Révolution française (Vol. 7). Éditions de la Librairie de l'humanité.

Paris Info (2022), Défilé militaire sur les Champs-Élysées,

RTL (2020), Fête nationale : Chirac, Giscard, Hollande... Ces "14-Juillet" qui ont marqué l'Histoire,

Vovelle, M. (2007). 1789: l'héritage et la mémoire. Privat.
Medium (2019), A revolution, not a revolt,

Gouvernement Français (2022a), LE 14 JUILLET, HISTOIRE D'UNE FÊTE NATIONALE,

Gouvernement Français (2022b), Les 14 juillet emblématiques ,

Ministère des Armées (2022), Défilé du 14 juillet 2022 : partager la flamme,

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