Solidarity from the Sheepfold

Teleri Williams on what Wales could learn from the successful fight against the militarisation of the agricultural Larzac region of France


This August marks the fortieth anniversary of a remarkable demonstration. During the ten year struggle for the Larzac, from 1971 to 1981, centralised power in Paris confronted the reality of farming life. Just as parts of Wales have been and continue to be seen by the state as available for military use, the French government saw the Larzac as an empty space on the map. There had been a military training camp at La Cavalerie since 1902, but on 11 October 1972 it was announced that this would be extended from 3,000 to 17,000 hectares. The authorities in Paris (650 kilometres north) believed that the plateau was deserted:

there are ... a few peasants, not many, who used to raise a few sheep, living more or less in the Middle Ages, and [whose land] it is necessary to expropriate. (André Fanton, secretary of state for defence) [my translation]

For the 103 families who farmed the plateau, most of whom would have spoken Occitan as well as French, it was a home, a terroir that provided life and livelihood. The Larzac is a limestone karst plateau (causse in French) covering 100,000 hectares between Millau in the Aveyron department and Lodève in the Hérault. It is a place of extremes – cold winters and hot summers – that has for centuries produced wool and sheep’s cheeses, especially the famous Roquefort. For many the plateau has a spiritual quality, perhaps best expressed in the book LARZAC with words by Max Rouquette and photographs by Georges Souche:

The Larzac feels. It experiences. Like a living being, hidden under its skin, only the sight of which can, for those who are sensitive to it, reveal their reflection ... And the waves that it awakens in us will not cease to spread and enchant us...

We recently received the sad news that Teleri Williams passed away early in July. We would like to take the opportunity to remember Teleri's wide-ranging contribution to Occitan and Welsh life. We would like to pass on our deepest condolences to Teleri's family and friends.