Bastille Day is back…sort of.
France celebrated Wednesday its national holiday with thousands of troops marching through Paris in a parade. Warplanes were roaring overhead, and traditional parties took place around the country. The events were canceled last year due to virus fears.
Two horses fell while parading along the Champs Elysees. They were tossing their uniformed rider, but the main event went according the plan and looked very much like Bastille Days. One soldier used this occasion to propose to his girlfriend, kneeling down and kissing her on the cobblestoned avenue.
However, the virus was not far away. A small group protestors furious at new vaccine rules fought with police in Paris amid a torrent of tear gas. Some towns also decided to stop annual fireworks displays due to concerns about recurrence of infections.
The number of people who were there to witness the Paris parade was very limited. Every person who attended the Paris parade had to present a special pass that proved they were fully vaccinated and had just recovered from the virus. For those who were watching the elaborate fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower, Wednesday evening, similar restrictions were in effect.
Paris was a gathering place for spectators from all over France. They were happy to see the parade live, despite the long lines and restrictions.
Gaelle Henry, Normandy, said that she came to Normandy specifically for her son who was marching today. It’s great to be able get out and get some fresh air, and to think that everyone is here, and that things are returning to normal.
The spectators were familiar with masks and the dignitaries who watched the parade from a red-white, blue awning imitating the French flag used them as well.
As President Emmanuel Macron was being escorted by uniformed horseback guards, the clatter of hundreds upon hundreds of horseshoes accompanied military songs. As Macron rode past luxury boutiques, restaurants and movie theatres that had been closed for the majority of the past year and half, there were cheers from civilians.
Not everyone is happy with his handling of the pandemic. Some parents, cafe owners, and hospital workers are protesting his decision to require all French healthcare workers to be vaccinated and to issue a COVID pass to anyone over 12 who visits a restaurant.
Many scientists and doctors are calling for tougher measures to stop the spread of the virus.
A few hundred people chanted “Liberty!” On Wednesday, Liberty!” protestors marched through Paris’ eastern suburbs. They were confronted by riot police who used tear gas to disperse their advancing crowd. Protesters and police fired tear gas canisters at one another, while cyclists sped through the crowd.
The organizers of this year’s parade called it an “optimistic Bastille Day”, aiming at “winning and celebrating the future” and “celebrating France standing together behind the tricolor flag to emerge from the pandemic.” However, the clouds have returned to national moods as the delta variant fuels new infected.
The parade was led by members of an European force fighting extremists within Mali and the Sahel region. Macron last week announced that France would pull at least 2,000 troops out of the regionin response to evolving threats. He will instead focus more on the multi-national Takuba force.
Military medics were also honored at the parade. They have helped to fight the pandemic, provided vaccines to France’s overseas territories and treated patients with virus.
Mirage and Rafale fighter planes thundered by in formation. Two horses fell and threw their Republican Guard riders onto pavement in the last moments of the parade. They were quickly taken under control by the guards and led away. It was not clear what caused the horses to fall.
Maximilien, a soldier, proposed to his girlfriend just before the ceremony. This was done in front of the Arc de Triomphe and received a round of applause.
After the ceremony, Macron and Brigitte spoke long after with the families of soldiers who were killed or injured in the line of duty. Macron, his wife Brigitte, reiterated their desire for more defense cooperation between European countries and greater global defense against Islamic extremists on the eve.
Macron stated that “this moment of conviviality, reunion…is first and foremost for our brothers in arms, their families and to give them a message expressing gratitude.”
The parade was cancelled last year and was replaced with a static ceremony to honor health care workers who lost their fight against COVID-19. France has lost over 111,000 people to the pandemic.
Bastille Day commemorates the storming at the Bastille prison, eastern Paris, on July 14, 1789. This is also known as the birth of France’s Revolution.