Callac, the little market town closest to where my wife and I live in deepest Brittany, was in the news again last weekend when it was the scene of demonstrations for and against a scheme aimed at attracting immigrants to an area with both high unemployment and a falling population. 

Those, mostly local, who opposed the scheme gathered in front of the mairie. They waved French and Breton flags and listened to speeches from various regional worthies, one of them an avatar for the leader of the extreme right-wing party, La Réconquete, Éric Zemmour

Five hundred metres away, beneath the arches of a multi-million-euro open-air sporting pavilion that since it was opened three years ago has yet to find a role, the Left pumped itself up with speeches before staging a march in the direction of the town centre. They, too, waved French and Breton flags.

The speeches to supporters of increased immigration  – nearly all of them white and from towns and cities a long way from Callac – dealt mainly with the evils of fascism and capitalism, but there was also time for beer and sausages and – as in the Place de la Mairie – for expressions of regional patriotism. 

For an hour or so, there was a confrontation of sorts. The pavilion crowd jostled with the 200 or so gendarmes who had turned up to preserve the peace. Blows were struck, flares were lit, objects thrown. But as a manif, it was half-hearted at best, possibly because, in Paris, the eye of Sauron had moved on. Other than RTL, there were no national television crews. Le Figaro, which in October devoted a full-page to the Callac Question, didn’t bother to send a reporter.  

The project, however, which has the full support of Callac’s mayor and council, lives on. Those who are against the idea of an immigrant centre that would provide accommodation and vocational training for twenty or so families at any one time insist that they are not against incomers as such and are in no way racist (perish the thought). Their only concern, they say, is to preserve the character of the town as it has always been, which doesn’t really take into account the fact that it has been in decline for the last 50 years. They wish to ensure that those whose stake in Brittany, including its language and culture, can be traced to a time when it was not even a part of France, remain the authorities’ sole priority in the years to come.

Good luck with that.

On the other side of the argument, radical supporters of the Horizon Project (funded by a family of Parisian billionaires previously best known as makers of haute couture for children) don’t see why immigration should be an exclusively urban phenomenon. Mostly white and university-educated, with at least one trans among their number, they have grown up in cities that during their lifetimes have become increasingly diverse. They look at the distant countryside – which likes to think of itself as La France Profonde – and ask themselves why it should be proof against a demographic development that from an early age has hugely shaped their own lives and careers. 

Wokisme is as much a factor in modern French life as it is in America and the UK. But, by and large, outside of Nantes, Rennes and Brest, it has yet to make an impact in rural Brittany. Natives of Callac point to the tolerance they have shown towards an influx of anglais this century that in many cases has transformed parts of their homeland into foreign enclaves. They don’t say so, but part of their open mindedness in this instance is to do with the fact that the incomers (not all of them, in fact, Brits) are not only white but for the most part well off, injecting as much money into the economy as any number of official government programmes while largely keeping themselves to themselves. 

What the locals have a problem with (apart from the fact that Horizon cash is going to others, not them) is the thought that there might in future be a growing percentage of Callacois who are black, brown and muslim, with no roots in the culture but who, as immigrants, will either end up as riff-raff or else work hard and study hard so that they end up as a new boss class, employing them, not the other way round. 

In reality, over time, many of the newcomers will surely end up little different from the existing population. Some will achieve success, some will move away. Most will simply meld into the greater body of the community, marked out only by their skin colour. 

One of the fallacies of immigration studies is the assumption that those who arrive in the West from developing countries are, because they are self-selecting and unwilling to take no for an answer, are bound by their DNA to end up as leaders of business and society. Another – which contradicts the first – is that immigrants are beneficial precisely because they will take the jobs that locals won’t do – as if, down the generations, there might be an inbred caste of street-sweepers, fruit pickers and hospital porters. 

The truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. I can easily foresee a future in which the mayor of Callac and its largest employer will both be both of immigrant stock. Other Horizon pioneers, or their children, will be teachers and shopkeepers, perhaps even farmers. But I can equally imagine black Bretons, dressed in dungarees, who like nothing more than a couple or three beers before lunch and depend for their living on handouts from the government. 

In short, we are all human beings. 

It is too early to say whether or not the Horizon Project will be a success, resulting in an extended programme across rural France. All that can be said for now is that a new element of division has opened up in Callac that, like Brexit in the UK, could linger for a generation or more, looking for resolution. If it is any indication of how likely the future will unfold, the pro-immigrant protesters ended their day with an impromptu fest-noz – a celebration of Breton music and dance. No one could possibly object to that.