Two struggles have come to define the ground of activism in mainland Europe: the zad (Zone À Défendre - or the zone to defend), and NoTAV (the No to Treno ad Alta Velocità rail line). Despite these struggles being little known in the English-speaking world, each offers a continuation of the kinds of localised, spatial conflict whose genealogy can be traced from the Paris Commune, through Sanrizuka in Japan, the Zapatistas in Mexico and Standing Rock in America, a form of struggle which has been analysed most forcefully in the work of David Harvey.
In this extract from the introduction to the new ebook The Zad and NoTAV by the French collective Mauvaise Troupe, which offers English readers the first and most comprehensive narrative of the interlinked stories of the two movements, Kristin Ross offers an introduction to this "never-ending process of soldering together black bloc anarchists and nuns, retired farmers and vegan lesbian separatists, lawyers and autonomistas into a tenacious and effective community".
In recent years the rise in the number of occupations and attempts to block what have come to be known as ‘large, imposed, and useless’ infrastructural projects bears witness to a new political sensibility. It is as if some time toward the end of the last century, people through- out the world began to realize that the tension between the logic of development and that of the ecological bases of life had become the primary contradiction ruling their lives. And, in many rural and semi-rural regions throughout the world – in the Larzac in France, for example, or at Sanrizuka (Narita) in Japan – struggles sprang up against state-control of land management. These were movements whose particularity lay in being firmly anchored in a particular region or territory . . . From the 1988 opposition to a large-scale dam on the Xingu River in Altamira, Brazil, through the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, to the Standing Rock Sioux’s recent resistance to the North Dakota Pipeline, situated movements of this kind in the Americas have tended to be characterized by an indigenous base and leadership.1 The two most emblematic and ongoing European territorial movements, the zad and NoTAV, however, whose intertwined stories are recounted in this book, differ from the American examples in that each holds together and is held together by people of vastly different cultures and practices, with no one social or ethnic group in charge. But by trying to block what the book’s authors call ‘the inexorable extension of a nightmarish world’, they unite with their American counterparts in reconfiguring the lines of conflict of an era. In so doing, they make visible the silhouette of a new political grasp on the everyday and a way of managing common affairs. Henceforth, it seems, any effort to change social inequality will have to be conjugated with another imperative – that of conserving the living. Defending the conditions for life on the planet has become the new and incontrovertible horizon of meaning of all political struggle.
The occupation of a small corner of the countryside outside of the village of Notre-Dame-des-Landes in western France is the site of the longest lasting battle in the country today. For forty years the construction of an international airport on that spot has threatened to destroy 4,000 acres of agricultural land, wetlands, and woods. In the Susa Valley in the Italian Alps, the quasi-totality of a valley inhabited by 70,000 people has battled for over a quarter of a century the construction of a high-speed train line (Treno ad Alta Velocità or TAV) through the Alps between Turin and Lyon. While it is frequently said of indigenous peoples that they ‘stand in the way’ of progress, in each of these regions in Europe a heterogeneous but highly efficient coalition of people has effectively done just that. They have succeeded in delaying, obstructing and perhaps, ultimately – time will tell – blocking, the progress of construction and the destruction of their regions.
In the first chapter of this book readers will find the most thorough chronology of the two movements available in English – here, though, is a brief sketch of the two projects that generated the opposition.