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Saint-Nazaire (Municipality, Loire-Atlantique, France)

Sant-Nazer

Last modified: 2005-03-05 by
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[Flag of St. Nazaire]by Arnaud Leroy


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Presentation of Saint-Nazaire

Saint-Nazaire (65,000 inhabitants) is a sous-préfecture of the departement of Loire-Atlantique, located on the mouth of the river Loire (northern bank). It is named after St. Nazaire of Milan, martyrized under Emperor Nero.

In 1850, Saint-Nazaire was a small fishing port of only 800 inhabitants.The outer port of Nantes was established in Saint-Nazaire in 1856, when a 10.5 ha basin was built. This new port was established to recieve ships of large tonnage, which could not sail on the river Loire up to Nantes. The PenhoÎt basin (22 ha), one of the largest in Europe, was built in 1881. The dock-lock (forme-écluse) Louis-Joubert (320 m x 50 m , depth 15 m) was built between 1929 and 1932.

During the First World War, Saint-Nazaire was one of the main ports used by the Allied forces.

During the Second World War, the Germans established in Saint-Nazaire a submarine base of 300 x 125 m. The basis included 14 cells, and could receive 20 submarines. It could not be destroyed by bombings. The city of Saint-Nazaire, as well as the surrounding pocket of resistance, was nearly totally destroyed during the Second World War, and was later rebuilt with right-angle streets. On 27 March 1942, an Anglo-Canadian commando neutralized the German soldiers while the destroyer Campbeltown blew up the lock Louis-Joubert.

Saint-Nazaire is famous for its shipyard (chantiers navals). In 1956, the Chantiers de la Loire and the Chantiers de Penhoêt merged to form the Chantiers de l'Atlantique. They were incorporated in 1976 in the company Alsthom, which is now an outfit of the group GEC Alsthom. The last ships built in Saint-Nazaire include the Sovereign of Seas (1987, 2,600 passengers), the Monarch of the Seas (1991), and the Majesty of the Seas (1992, 2,770 passengers, then the largest liner in the world). In the past, the shipyard built the legendary Normandie and France.

Source: Guide Vert Michelin Bretagne.

A few kilometers west of Saint-Nazaire is located the sand beach of Saint-Marc. Its most famous visitor was Mr. Hulot, and it is still possible to hire the room under the roof where he spent his vacation. However, you have to book the room years in advance and expect a very strong English and Dutch competition. Mr. Hulot is the main, recurrent character of the wonderful movies directed by Jacques Tati (1907-1982) Les vacances de Mr Hulot, Mon oncle, Playtime, and Trafic. Mr. Hulot was played by Tati himself, who also played postman François in his Jour de fête. Mr. Hulot is a tall, slim and stiff guy, perpetually absent-minded and therefore inadvertently causing a lot of troublewherever he goes.

Ivan Sache, 16 April 2002


Municipal flag in Saint-Nazaire

The flag of Saint-Nazaire is a banner of the municipal arms. The two keys on the flag refer to the nickname of the city la clé de la Loire. A correct English translation is 'the gateway of the Loire', but clé means 'key'. The nickname refers to the geographical location of the city. The ermine spots highlight the historical Breton character of the city.

Source: P. Rault. Les drapeaux bretons de 1188 à nos jours [rau98]

Ivan Sache, 16 April 2002


The dispute over the Breton flag in Saint-Nazaire

The flag dispute in Saint-Nazaire is linked to the debate over the administrative status of the department of Loire-Atlantique.
When the Vichy government decided to divide the French territory into regions, the department of Loire-Atlantique was placed into the region Pays de la Loire. However, Nantes was the historical capital city of the Duchy of Brittany, which explains the local claim of incorporation of Loire-Atlantique into the region Bretagne.

There is today a fairly strong movement for that incorporation, led by the Comité pour l'Union Administrative de la Bretagne (CUAB). In 2001, the General Council of Loire-Atlantique asked for the incorporation of the department into the region Bretagne. Recently, the Regional Council of Brittany approved this claim. There are often street demonstrations in Nantes, asking for the "reunification" of Brittany.

In Saint-Nazaire, the Breton flag was traditionally hoisted over the city hall during the mandate of Mayor Etienne Caux (1977-1983). In June 1999, the Municipal Council of Saint-Nazaire voted the hoisting of the Breton flag over the city hall, but the flag has not been hoisted there yet.
The main opponent to the Breton flag is Mayor Joël Batteux, who belongs to the Mouvement des Citoyens (MDC). The MDC was founded by Jean-Pierre Chevènement and other members of the left wing of the Socialist Party. The MDC is known for its souverainiste program, that is promotes national sovereignty as opposed to the European Union. The party is often considered as Jacobinist, centralist and ultra-Republican, which is an acceptable oversimplification, at least as far as the national symbols are concerned. When he was Minister of National Education, Chevenement insisted on the respect and teaching of national symbols.
The MDC disappeared from the National Assembly after the last general election and I don't know if the party still exists. However, Mayor Batteux leads in Saint-Nazaire a coalition labelled as gauche plurielle. Knowing the local and national context, it is not surprising at all to see a Mayor from MDC refusing to hoist a local flag.

The main defenders of the Breton flag are the Union pour la Démocratie Bretonne (UDB), some members of the municipal majority and some members of the municipal opposition. The CUAB has already organized several demonstrations involving the provisory hoisting of a Breton flag over the city hall. The flag was of course immediatly removed by the municipal services.

On Sunday 17 October 2004, the foot race Les Foulées de Saint-Nazaire took place in Saint-Nazaire. Such races are extremely popular in Brittany. Mayor Batteux noticed that the Breton flag was shown in the display of flags on the arrival of the race and asked "to add the flag of the region Pays de la Loire". Since such a flag was not available, the mayor ordered the Breton flag to be removed.

According to UDB, the Breton flag hunt might be related to a recent speech by Jacques Auxiette, President of the region Pays de la Loire, who compared the Breton claims to an attempt of "annexation". Since then, the Breton flag displayed near the railway station of Saint-Nazaire was removed, because of bad weather according to the municipality.

Ivan Sache, 24 October 2004

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