You might remember from your youth a delightful series of cartoons entitled “Asterix” and its famous catch phrase: “The year is 50 BC, and all Gaul is occupied. All? No! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders”. It’s the story of a tiny French hamlet that resists against Roman invasion, with the valuable asset of a magic potion providing superhuman strength. A modern version of this tale can be currently found in Brittany, the very same region that was the home of the little Asterix. Indeed, a village of less than 2000 inhabitants near Nantes, the 6th most populated city of France, is the scene of an ongoing battle concerning the construction of an airport.
The project is overall quite ordinary. In the 1970’s, a pretty big parcel around Notre-Dames- des-Landes was destined to host a new landing strip. The plan was then dropped only to be brought back on the table 30 years later by the former mayor of Nantes who is now the prime minister, the second biggest figure in the French political sphere. Since then, the socialist government in place has been intransigent regarding the evolution of the project but has found a number of detractors that seem to be multiplying day by day. And this is not just a conflict caused by villagers not wanting to move from their homes, it has become so much more than that. We are now dealing with two distinct visions of how the world should evolve, fighting each other for the sake of their respective ideals.
In the role of Goscinny’s Romans, the “powerful” side, we have the French Government and the multinational corporations such as Vinci who are in charge of the project. The other side of the belligerents, the “resistance”, consists mainly of fed up agriculturalists, unionists, and far -left activists, concerned by the environmental implications of the project.
What is interesting here is that a so-called left wing government is acting as an economically liberal institution that is normally embodied, in France, by the right wing Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. Not only that, the Minister of the Interior has controversially used the police forces to evict the alter-globalist “squatters”, an act that reminds one of Sarkozy’s policies.
In the heart of an economic crisis, the real question is whether this airport is necessary. After all, one already exists near Nantes. According to those in favour of the project, it is too small to become an international hub – meaning another is needed. The opposing view states that air traffic will decrease with time along with the increasing cost of fuel so another airport is superfluous. Other diverging arguments include noise pollution, destruction of fertile soil, and the cost of such a project which would be financed in part by public funds.
Today this topic is dividing the French population as well as people abroad. The battleground has become populated by alter-globalists from all over Europe who have come to see this fight as a symbol of their cause. Do we want to keep on industrializing our world in order to perpetuate the image of power and progress, without taking into account cost or need? Or do we acknowledge that this race is long lost, and that the future lies in green energy and a move away from dependence on non-renewable resources?
At the moment, what motivates the opponents to the project is the strong will to alter the way in which they feel French society is headed, but it remains to be seen whether the opposition will run out of time or bend to the pressure of the “invaders”.
– Alexandre Vinson
(Featured photo: cafe repaire de Locmiquelic, Creative Commons, Flickr)