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The Maginot Line in the Borderland

Dates:
  • Tue 29 Jan 2019 15.00 - 17.00
  Add to Calendar 2019-01-29 15:00 2019-01-29 17:00 Europe/Paris The Maginot Line in the Borderland

In the framework of the seminar on "Gender, Social Action and Politics in European Borderlands, 1880s to the present".

The 1930s, new laws concerning conscription, the organisation of the nation in war, espionage and crimes against the so-called foundations of society and against the integrity of the territory, coupled with the increasing recourse to decree powers amounted to an unprecedented militarisation of French society in peacetime – in theory. Nowhere was the potential force of these developments greater than on the Franco-German and Franco-Italian frontiers, which the fortifications of the Maginot Line were meant to seal, so the Germans would be forced to attack through Belgium or Switzerland, where French armies would advance to meet them.
I shall explore the efforts of the authorities to enforce security in Alsace, Moselle and the Alpes-Maritimes and the responses of the local population to the construction of fortifications. Both borders were extremely porous, and the population had multiple cross-border ties. Alsace and Moselle had just been returned to France after decades of German rule; at least 30% of the population of Alpes-Maritimes was foreign, especially Italian, or belonged to the supposedly suspect category of ‘recently naturalised’. To the army, these populations appeared unreliable. In the Alpes-Maritimes, fascism and anti-fascism divided the population, while in Alsace and Moselle, most conscripts spoke only German dialects and many supported autonomism and/or communism. How was it possible to seal the frontier, given that the authorities required immigrant workers to build the fortifications, fond it hard to avoid recourse to Italian and German contractors, and needed German speakers with autonomist sympathies, a Franco-Italian population and colonial troops to man it? The army exaggerated the disloyalty of the frontier population, for there was much support for fortification, and autonomism did not exclude preference for France over Germany. Notwithstanding, there were many cases of espionage.
In my view, this story had three wider implications. First, it confirms that the historiography of France has taken too little account of the role of linguistic and ethnic minorities, for the repressive apparatus of the interwar years was as much directed against autonomism as against communism. Secondly, it reveals the complexities of supposed continuities between the authoritarian turn of the late Third Republic and Vichy. Thirdly, it calls into question (once again) the idea that a defensive, passive ‘Maginot mentality’ explains the defeat of 1940.

Sala del Torrino , Villa Salviati DD/MM/YYYY
  Sala del Torrino , Villa Salviati

In the framework of the seminar on "Gender, Social Action and Politics in European Borderlands, 1880s to the present".

The 1930s, new laws concerning conscription, the organisation of the nation in war, espionage and crimes against the so-called foundations of society and against the integrity of the territory, coupled with the increasing recourse to decree powers amounted to an unprecedented militarisation of French society in peacetime – in theory. Nowhere was the potential force of these developments greater than on the Franco-German and Franco-Italian frontiers, which the fortifications of the Maginot Line were meant to seal, so the Germans would be forced to attack through Belgium or Switzerland, where French armies would advance to meet them.
I shall explore the efforts of the authorities to enforce security in Alsace, Moselle and the Alpes-Maritimes and the responses of the local population to the construction of fortifications. Both borders were extremely porous, and the population had multiple cross-border ties. Alsace and Moselle had just been returned to France after decades of German rule; at least 30% of the population of Alpes-Maritimes was foreign, especially Italian, or belonged to the supposedly suspect category of ‘recently naturalised’. To the army, these populations appeared unreliable. In the Alpes-Maritimes, fascism and anti-fascism divided the population, while in Alsace and Moselle, most conscripts spoke only German dialects and many supported autonomism and/or communism. How was it possible to seal the frontier, given that the authorities required immigrant workers to build the fortifications, fond it hard to avoid recourse to Italian and German contractors, and needed German speakers with autonomist sympathies, a Franco-Italian population and colonial troops to man it? The army exaggerated the disloyalty of the frontier population, for there was much support for fortification, and autonomism did not exclude preference for France over Germany. Notwithstanding, there were many cases of espionage.
In my view, this story had three wider implications. First, it confirms that the historiography of France has taken too little account of the role of linguistic and ethnic minorities, for the repressive apparatus of the interwar years was as much directed against autonomism as against communism. Secondly, it reveals the complexities of supposed continuities between the authoritarian turn of the late Third Republic and Vichy. Thirdly, it calls into question (once again) the idea that a defensive, passive ‘Maginot mentality’ explains the defeat of 1940.


Location:
Sala del Torrino , Villa Salviati

Affiliation:
Department of History and Civilization

Type:
Lecture

Organiser:
Laura Downs (EUI)
Dominika Gruziel (EUI - Marie Curie Fellow)

Speaker:
Prof Kevin Passmore (Cardiff University)

Contact:
Francesca Parenti - Send a mail
 
 

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