Land grabbing is a phenomenon whose extent, rhythm, and continuity are becoming a threat: at least 50 million hectares of agricultural land was sold or rented in the last few years.
But it is not a recent phenomenon, as is also not new the resistance of the peasants when it is a question of countering the interests or the arrogance of powerful people. Wikipedia reports a non-violent civil disobedience movement. It is about the fight of Larzac (France) against the extension of a military camp which lasted a decade, from 1971 to 1981 that ended with the victory of the peasants when the President of the Republic, François Mitterrand decided to give up the project. Its account makes a historical and significant example.
The opposition was organized around 103 peasants opposed to the expropriation of their lands to widen the military camp from 3,000 to 17,000 hectares, which would affect dozens of communes and a sixth out of the 100,000 hectares of the Causse du Larzac total. In 1973, between 60,000 and 100,000 people of different social groups converged towards Larzac to support the peasants and to form a heteroclite movement that would deliver a “war of attrition” to the public authorities. They are in the midst of what will be later known as the French other world movement.
The review Gardarèm lo Larzac (we will keep Larzac in local dialect) which appears regularly since 1975 is its symbol. The movement will also contribute to popularize the Lanza del Vasto‘s figure, founder of the Arch communities, who was inspired by the Christian spirituality of non-violence and civil disobedience.
They argued against the assertions of the defense minister that this project would be “very useful not only for national defense”, but also to the Larzac region while making the improvement of rural electrification, the water conveyance and the roadway system. They contradicted the affirmation of the Larzac having a very sparsely populated because it lost two thirds of its population. In so far, the peasants showed how those data were dated since they did not take into account either ‘‘neo-rurals’’ arrival nor that in 1971, approximately 90,000 sheep were in pasture providing milk for the Roquefort cheese. A fifth of this livestock, would be threatened by this project which will not create jobs because it was “a training camp where the units won’t do nothing but pass”.
From a protest to another, from an oath to the strike of hunger, the very local fight becomes regional and national, while associating catholic institutions like the Catholic Agricultural Youth (JAC in its French acronym) and the militants of all edges including political parties. Spectacular actions were organized, a ewe flock was led to pasture on the Champ-de-Mars lawns of Paris in 1972 and a new protest march took place the following year. A school was opened to change the image of a “Larzac populated by some old peasants”.
In 1978, several peasants walked 440 miles, supported along the way by other peasants and, at their arrival, they marched past to the doors of Paris with 40,000 people. That is when the peasants, supported by a young deputy, met the presidential candidate Mitterrand who promises them ‘‘not to forget them’’. Le Monde would define ‘‘Larzac, a window of protest’’.
During the conflict, 3,500 militants and sympathizers bought 6,180 parcels of the lands aimed by expropriations complicating in so far the process, because each owner should legally sign his agreement. The organization of resistance gave itself a formal office and two rules were always complied with during ten years, and which are: only the peasants and inhabitants of the place have power of decision in the assemblies and the decision making is done by consensus.
The Larzac everywhere leitmotif was translated into slogans such as sheep, no guns and wheat makes live, weapons cause death. Jean-Paul Sartre, two years before his death, send a letter of support: “I greet you peasants of Larzac and I greet your fight for justice, freedom, and for peace”. Local referendums were organized and hundreds of voluntary workers spend their vacations on the plateau to renew the infrastructures such as telephone, routes transportation, and buildings. Lastly François Mitterrand, President of the Republic, on May 10th 1981 states that the project of extension of the military camp of Larzac was abandoned.
Not only was it a peasants’ victory who preserved their lands, but it was a serious blow to the bargaining of land. A logic of speculation had occurred: rich politicians had bought land in Larzac thinking that thanks to expropriation, they were going to multiply by 10 their value. The return to normality was not easy. All finished when a batch of 6,300 hectares became a land unit with agricultural vocation whose legal tools for management were assumed by the peasants. The lands in any case had never ceased being cultivated during the fight. A victory but also an example.
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO
with consultative special status at UN