Time and again, environmental activists and scholars have proved with substantial evidence and rationality that large development projects can neither benefit the humanity nor the ecology. Especially, large dams have been disruptive to the land and aquatic ecosystems. They are expensive and wasteful if the making of dams and also the decommissioning of dams are considered. Although dams are carried out under the vintage of ‘greater common good’ and the popular propaganda that - management of water is required for the equitable distribution of the resource to cope with scarcity, and is instrumental for increasing agricultural productivity – then we should also turn our attention to techno-driven large dams as the material paraphernalia of modernity and neoliberal brutal capitalist interventions for wealth accumulation. Dams have always benefited the wealthier classes while disrupted the lives of the immediate victims and those close to nature, and undeniably dis-balanced the ecological equilibrium.
Sivens Dam is a water retention project constructed in Le Testet, in the Tarn Valley, Southern France. The project has a reservoir capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters water that ensures irrigation and the substantially increase of the agricultural productivity of high-valued crops. Also, the project should meet an annual deficit of 39 million cubic meters of water in the Tarn valley. Contrarily the major grievances by anti-dam activists point to the gross meddling of the actual statistics on: the huge state expenditure for the dam, the ecological destruction of the valley, and the state sanctioning of the project influenced by major corporate agricultural lobby. Arguably, the moot question is that if the Tescou watershed already had 185 small dams with a reservoir capacity of 5 million cubic meters then why an additional investment of roughly 8.4 million euros was required ?
From the beginning of September, Le Testet met with skirmishes and rallies, which intensified in late October. On Saturday 25 October, thousands of activists from all of France led a massive demonstration against the Sivens Dam and occupation of the dam site known as “ZAD” or the “Zone to Defend”. Early evening the police initiated an assault on the protesters. “Utilizing various types of so called “non-lethal weapons,” including “deafening” flash grenades and “dispersal” bombs that emit metal shards that lodge into the bodies of activists.” Various reports detailed young activists with “hematomas all over their bodies” due to the continuation of forceful assault throughout the night. “Activists claimed that between 2 and 3 AM, they saw someone fall to the ground. Subsequently they witnessed the body of a young man being taken by the police. Police stated that they had ‘found a dead body in the forest’ .” The person who died is Rémi Fraisse, a 21 year-old botanist specializing in environmental protection, who was simultaneously working with several ecological associations. He was a native of Plaisance-du-Touch in the Toulouse area, and like thousands of non-violent green activists, he was protesting against the construction of Sivens water project. At first the government refused to release any details on Rémi’s death but the autopsy reports revealed that there was a “significant wound” a deep burn at the top of his back and knap-sack and also traces of TNT found in his clothing. Rémi was shot by a “grenade désencerclement’ (similar to a stun grenade), projected from a launcher” . Before and after the autopsy different versions on the cause of Rémi’s death have been forwarded such as an explosion could occur from the contents of his backpack or he had potential health problems . However it could also happen that the explosive was stuck on his backpack.
The French authorities such as Lieutenant-Colonel have tried to exonerate his position by stating that “100-150 and hooded anarchists dressed in black threw incendiary devices and other projectiles at police surrounding a mobilization of 2000 opponents ” also paradoxically pointed that the majority of the protest was peaceful – but then I wonder, how could the protestors be violent and peaceful at the same time?
The French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced a suspension of the use of grenades but also stated that those who were protesting were responsible for taking risk to be attacked by the dutiful police . Anyhow the statement definitely throws some light on the usage of so-called “non-lethal weapons” that brutalized the protesters of Sivens project. As a scholar working on environmental movements and dams for a decade, I ponder - why protesting against a dam, which had ‘major’ ecological consequences, was projected as a ‘crime’.
Above all, the crude reality and the strange irony is that hundreds of riot police armed with grenades and flash ball guns or a helicopter control was launched to supervise “a ditch dug at the dam site” and a group of nature lovers.
This incident also makes me think that if coloniality is a constitutive of modernity , can there be no modernity without brutal civilizing tactics. Anyhow, the death of Rémi and the brutal assault of armed police against the non-violent environmental demonstrators make this sufficiently clear that the logic of polycentric capitalist neoliberal world can be historically and currently traced in the ‘civilized’ European metropoles. And, I stand at the interface of several unanswered questions:
Why should the ostensible Western civilized ‘democratic’ society deny human capacity for creative and authentic self-directed abilities, freedom of expressions, and ensnare its subjects in negative freedom?
Why should the state unreflectively allege to repressive forms of governmentality and force its subjects to stay hostage to market-driven pursuits of accumulation?
Referred sites and readings:
Mignalo, W.2007. Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality. Cultural studies. 2 (203):155-67.