« Larzac-Gorleben : même combat » ? Competing Franco-German Solidarities in Local Struggles of the 1970s

Presented at the annual conference of the Society for the Study of French History (SSFH), Cardiff, 30 June 2013.

Abstract: Throughout the 1970s, the struggle of 103 farmers against the expansion of a military camp on the Larzac plateau attracted widespread support from French and foreign activists.  The farmers of the Larzac cultivated relations with local struggles as nearby as Naussac (Lozère) and as far away as Narita (Japan); some of their most sustained transnational relations were with activists from West Germany opposed to a nuclear waste facility in Gorleben.  This paper will explore the benefits and complications arising from this Franco-German solidarity, examining the asymmetrical impact of cross-border co-operation and arguing that support from abroad strengthened the Larzac movement while simultaneously exposing it to misunderstandings and outside conflict. 

A multi-faceted struggle, the Larzac drew support from different protest networks that were each connected across borders: non-violent protesters, left-wing anti-militarists, regionalists and neo-ruralists all read their own meanings into the struggle and linked it up to local protests elsewhere.  The Larzac farmers’ repeated successes in mobilising these diverse supporters for peaceful protest actions provided an inspiration to key activists in the West German anti-nuclear movement, who consciously imitated and forged ties with the Larzac.  On the plateau itself, non-violence was fundamental to the farmers’ understanding of their movement, but it was not always the most important element for outsiders.  In West Germany, non-violent and ‘non-non-violent’ Larzac support groups competed with one another to propagate their own particular understandings of the Larzac struggle – and to define, through it, opposition to the Gorleben project. 

This paper will illuminate underexplored aspects of how transnational protest works and what its limitations are.  Touching on questions of transnational exchange, conflict among allies and social movements in French history, the paper should contribute valuably to the SSFH conference on ‘Solidarities, entanglements and conflict in French history’.