In the early morning of Monday April 9, the French police began an invasion of the ZAD (Zoned to defendWhere “Area to defend“) in an attempt to evacuate around 300 activists from the site of an abandoned airport project. The eviction attempt by French authorities is not the first in Europe’s largest occupied autonomous zone, and in In addition to violence and injury, the eviction resulted in considerable loss and damage to the cultural production of the community.
The land occupation of the ZAD is located near the village of Notre-Dames-des-Landes. Since 2008, anti-capitalist activists have occupied the site in western France to prevent the construction of a new airport. The French government officially discontinued these plans in January this year, a decision that quickly became a pretext to expel activists who refuse to leave the area. But activists remained camped out in tents, caravans and makeshift shacks, vowing to continue occupying the site some of them have called home for a decade. In recent weeks, the area has been besieged, subjected to daily doses of tear gas and concussion grenades, drone surveillance, batons, tanks and attack dogs.
After the decision to abandon the plans for the airport project, activists banded together and decided to stay and manage the land as a commons. In early April, the group collectively drafted a six point plan which envisioned how the community would be managed: as a commons with rural farmers under what is called an ‘assemblage of uses’.
While media coverage of the expulsions from the ZAD has been widespread, little attention has been paid to cultural artefacts – sculptures, paintings, houses, makeshift musical instruments, films and books – that have been abandoned or destroyed by French authorities since the pre-dawn eviction raid that took place there. started April 9. These include houses, sculptures, a library and a radio station. The activists have cared for the land for a decade and independently run a bakery, brewery, online newspaper and weekly vegetable market. They have also created dozens of makeshift homes, installations, sculptures and other works of art, many of which have already been destroyed while those that remain are under threat.
Opposition to the Aéroport du Grand Ouest project and the land development plans began in 2006, when a small group of residents came together. At first, the campaign was aimed at local farmers who were persuaded not to enter into negotiations with the French state which wanted to buy their land. The first wave of resisters included people with close ties to local factories, workers and unions, all of whom stood in solidarity against government plans to develop the area.
Today, the area remains essentially as it was then, small plots of farmland controlled by local farmers in settlements known as grove: pastures divided into small fields, interspersed with groves of trees separating each plot. In 2008, environmental activists and environmentalists took notice of the campaign launched by local farmers. By 2009, the movement had grown considerably, morphing into a climate action protest based on a similar protest that had initially – and unsuccessfully – opposed the enlargement from Heathrow Airport in London. By the end of 2008, several abandoned structures, farms and barns were occupied by outside activists who gathered in the area to oppose the Aéroport du Grand Ouest plan. Soon after, an anti-airport organization called ACIPA took the fight to the French courts, using legal means in addition to frontline activism to fight against government plans. The land near Notre-Dames-des-Landes – over 4,000 acres – has hosted hundreds of activists who have entered the fight, recalibrating what was once a local issue into a global movement against capitalist land exploitation. held in common.
Last month’s raids are not ZAD’s first eviction attempts. In 2012, for example, the French authorities started what they called “Operation Caesarwho used brute force to enter the area “in a clear attempt to erase the memory and history” of the occupiers, said an activist who wished to remain anonymous. During this first eviction attempt, dozens of makeshift homes and works of art were destroyed. The 2012 police intervention failed due to strong resistance and broad local, national and international support, as well as a very proactive media campaign using images of the violent tactics used by the authorities, which often went viral on social media, leading finally to a number of solidarity demonstrations that were organized throughout France. Thanks to a strong public opinion in favor of the ZAD, the French authorities backed down and allowed the militants to continue to occupy the ground – until recently.
On the morning of April 9, a group of around 2,500 French riot police attempted to evict the approximately 300 activists who remained on the ground. Shortly after 3 a.m., ZAD organizers alerted the community that police were on the way. Eight minutes later, they set fire to a barricade to prevent police from entering the area. Protesters claimed 70 police buses surrounded the site, boxing them in and sparking a violent confrontation, which has now lasted for more than three weeks.
Since April 9, at least 60 arrests have been confirmed – as well as six suspected cases of police brutality. Gérard Collomb, the French Minister of the Interior, noted police would stay “as long as necessary” to ensure the area was not reoccupied. He added that those evicted would be offered alternative accommodation: “No one will be left homeless,” he said. More recently, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that there would be no more evictions until May 14 and order 1,000 police outside the ZAD.
While evictions from the ZAD look set to resume on May 14, the fate of the community’s many incredible works of art, homes and community projects remains unknown. According to a mail written collectively by activists who remained on the spot and published last week: “The ZAD has always tried to go beyond the idea of a TAZ (Temporary Autonomous Zone), in favor of building a PAP (Permanent Autonomous Zone), this desire is part of the solid buildings, the long-term agricultural plans, the vines planted for wine in five years.
As of April 25, 29 houses had been destroy. There remain between 60 and 70 homes in the ZAD, while the prefecture estimates that there are “between 500-600” militants remaining on the spot. “You will need a building permit to settle in the building zones of the ZAD. We will no longer accept houses scattered in wetlands,” warned Jean-Paul Naud, the mayor of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, last week.
As a result, the cultural artifacts, houses and sculptures created on site are now at serious risk. Those who refuse to leave face an uncertain future. Nonetheless, activists said they remained committed to governing the land as a commons, focusing their efforts on rebuilding and creating a more equitable and horizontal set of uses. While the government argues that private property rights must be respected, the occupation of ZAD land points to the possibilities of what a vibrant anti-capitalist commons might look like.