Sunday, November 28, 2004

Larzac

As I mentioned earlier, I am reading Herman Lebovics Bringing the Empire Back Home, a book about contemporary French politics after decolonization. A point that he makes is that the new regionalism, or post-colonial regionalism, arose within the context of decolonization. Retreat from the world placed greater pressures on the French metropole, especially in agricultural sectors. What is interesting is that these farmers, usually described as conservative, connected their struggle with struggles for liberation and against globalization. The larger question, which Lebovics does not enunciate, is whether or not the question of decolonization leads directly to critiques of centralization: why should the national capital monopolize power if national conflict within Europe and imperialism have come to an end?

The origin of the radical regionalism was the fight against the expansion of military bases at the expense of farming in Larzac in the 1970s. The project was conceived by Michel Debré, a nationalist who served as minister of national defense. Debré advocated unilateralist policy toward North Africa as a means of protecting French interests; the expanded base would serve as a training camp for overseas interventions and a prison for foreign fighters. (Deja-vu, anyone?)

The farmers resented Debré's arrogance: he took little interest in the shape of the communities, their environment, or their future. The government started to buy up land in the area south of the Central Massif. The "Larzac Movement" attracted leftist intellectuals who felt that they had been shut out of the post-1968 nation, but they were tangential to the movement. Instead it produced political figures who associated the farmers' struggle with resistance groups around the world. The farmers also took on regional identities, incorporating the symbols of Occitan (south France) into their movement.

The farmers were creative. They would break into government lands and confiscated farms with their tractors; then they plowed the fields and seeded them. On other occasions they flooded the countryside with sheep in order to block the roads to military vehicles. They also engaged in more traditional resistance: collective squatting. The state reacted by withholding infrastructure improvements to the area: they refused to build and maintain roads and telephones. It was believed that the peasants would not be able to organize to prevent the demolition of farms without them.

Eventually, the Larzac Movement was memorialized in Mitterand's decentralization policies of the early 1980s ("Avem gardet lo Larzac").

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