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Revisited

Notre-Dame-des-Landes: French environmental activists still dreaming of freedom

REVISITED
REVISITED © FRANCE 24

In January 2018, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced the government was scrapping plans to build an airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, a small village in western France. It was a huge victory for environmentalists and farmers, who had long opposed the plan. Two years on, what has become of those activists who chose to stay? FRANCE 24's Jonathan Walsh and Karim Yahiaoui report.

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The village of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, in western France, has come to symbolise the greatest environmental and social struggle in the country for years. It surrounds plans for a huge new airport for the region. The site was first opposed by residents and farmers, then by environmental activists as it threatened a protected wetland. Little by little, as it attracted more and more activists, the planned site became its own libertarian and anti-capitalist mini-society, with farms revamped, huts built, houses and farms squatted in.

In 2010, when the first work on the airport was supposed to get underway, the number of clashes with the police shot up. In 2012, the government ordered the site to be evacuated, sending in 2,000 police officers. But the environmental activists stood their ground and Notre-Dame-des-Landes became a symbol of resistance. Then in January 2018, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced the abandonment of the airport plans, telling those squatting the site that they had just three months to leave. 

Two years on, a good many activists are still there – but legally, this time. They say they want to continue their social project, which now goes far beyond the fight against the airport. For them, Notre-Dame-des-Landes must remain a place of unfettered freedom.

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