The Organizers of the Sainte-Soline Demonstration

The Organizers of the Sainte-Soline Demonstration

The protest at Sainte-Soline on March 25, 2023, was planned by three environmental and  peasant/farmer groups (peasant is a term defiantly preferred by some): Bassines non merci, Confédération paysanne, and Les Soulèvements de la Terre.

Bassines non merci! (bassines, no thanks!) describes its mission as especially local to Deux-Sèvres.  Their website includes the following description: “We are a citizens’ collective named “Bassines Non Merci,” which has fought for five years against a project for 19, then 16 réserves de substitution (called “bassines”) for agricultural irrigation in southern Deux-Sèvres.  We also have sites in Vienne and Charente-Maritime.  [Both are nearby departments where the bassines are being built; all three are in the Région Nouvelle Aquitaine; see map below.] This project will seriously impact the valley of the Sèvres niortaise (a branch of the river Sèvres) and the Poitevin Marais.” 

They call out the lobbying, the public money spent in the service of private “productivist agriculture” [high intensity, high pesticides, production for a global market] which ignores the environment, and they are not strictly limited to farmers as members.  Their mode of organization results from their determination to mobilize passionate local opposition in the area where such projects are being built, and to attract the attention of climate activists to these massive intrusions in a mostly rural part of France.[1] 

Julien Le Guet, the founder and spokesman of BNM, and recently referred to as an “ecoterrorist” by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, has cast his long-term struggle as a mission to protect water as a common good:  “We are trying to make [people] understand that this is not only a Charente issue, but a matter of national import.”  He is professionally a boatman who takes tourists through the marshes, a job he has been doing since the age of 14.  He started BNM in 2017, when the project of construction of sixteen (originally nineteen) bassines in Deux-Sèvres was settled, with a budget of 59 million euros.[2]  In the flurry of controversial actions in the early Macron administration, this decision got relatively little national attention.  On the morning of March 25, he was briefly interviewed in the midst of the tractors and people who had come to the site, and he can be heard shouting, “They’re here!” At the end, we see the construction site.

The Confédération paysanne, a farmers’ union, defines its mission in this way: “The Confederation paysanne fights against an agricultural model which leads to economic domination by a few hyperproductive and hyperconcentrated models, just as it is opposed to a vision of hobby farming [“agriculture paysagère ou de loisir”].  The peasants/farmers have a mission that only they can fill: to feed people.  Their labor has value and should assure them a just revenue.”[3]

The Confédération issued a joint press statement, with the other two groups, on the day following the protest, challenging the government’s portrayal of the event.  These included the dispute over numbers (6,000 according to the Prefecture; 30,000 according to the organizers).  Though the government stated that the protesters had been kept from reaching the bassine, still under construction, they did indeed reach the pump and dismantle it; and they also planted more than 300 meters of hedges in the region, “a major means of retaining water in the soil.”  

They argued, as well, that the police had deliberately delayed an ambulance for one of their wounded, which the government has since denied.  And finally, they detailed the injuries, both from LBDs and from explosive tear gas grenades (called GM2L grenades) which had been responsible for one of the worst head injuries.  Beyond that, one person was in danger of losing an eye, while “a lot” of people had suffered perhaps life-changing injuries to limbs and faces.They ended with a renewed demand for the halting of the construction and for “the opening of a dialogue on the preservation and sharing of water.”[4]

Les Soulèvements de la terre (The Uprisings of the Land, or the Earth) is not limited to bassines, but generally to capitalist threats to the environment; nor are they a large central organization, but rather a collective of local groups: “We rise up, each in our locality, each in our own way.”

A few days after the protest, on March 29, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he was beginning the process of formal dissolution of the group.  They responded immediately, arguing that this was the action of a government that was terrified of its own weakness: “This announcement is targeted to respond to the deluge of criticisms about the deplorable handling of maintaining order in France for some weeks [i.e., the retirement protests] . . . . The dissolution, this new maneuver of the minister of the Interior to try to make [the country] forget the brutal repression that he orchestrated is a little too crude. . . . What we understand, from the thread of interventions of the ministers of this government, is that they seem to have decided, carried away by their own agitation, to describe as “ultra-Left” everyone that puts an obstacle in their way.”[5] 

The participants and organizers, then, were a farmers’ union of long standing, and a citizens’ environmental activist group attempting to protect their locality. And then there was a deliberately unorganized environmental group composed of small groups–unable to be dissolved, as they pointed out, because one could not get them all: a common organizational pattern among revolutionary groups from the nineteenth century on. But another common pattern, of late, is the ZADiste movement, and that above all is what Darmanin seems determined to prevent, no matter the cost.

ZAD stands for Zone à défendre–a place to defend–and was famously carried out, in a years-long battle (most intensely from 2012 to 2018, when the government gave up) over plans to build a large new airport near Nantes, in a largely rural area (just to the north of Nouvelle Aquitaine, in the Pays de la Loire region). Protestors at Notre-Dame-des-Landes built a makeshift settlement on the site and lived there, thus halting construction. The attempt by protestors to get to the Sainte-Soline mégabassine under construction was what the battle of March 25 was about.

On April 1, in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Interior Minister Darmanin announced his plans to create an anti-Zadiste specialty unit within his forces: “No ZAD will install itself again in our country.” Asked abut the extreme violence of the struggle, he answered, “I refuse to cede to the intellectual terrorism of the extreme Left, which consists of reversing values: the casseurs [violent protesters] become the aggressed against and the police the aggressors. . . . When the police use legitimate force, which can obviously be muscular, that [usage] is to respond to extremely violent attacks of professional casseurs, who are there to destroy property, or, worse, to ‘kill a cop (flic).’”[6]


Header image from


Their website:

[2] Laury-Anne Cholez, “Julien Le Guet, l’homme qui fait trembler les mégabassines,” Reporterre. January 3, 2023.

[3] Here is their press dossier for the bassines, and here is their homepage, quotation from “Qui Sommes-Nous.”

[4] Confédération paysanne, “Ce qui s’est vraiment passé à Sainte-Soline malgré les mensonges de la préfecture et du ministre de l’Intérieur.”’est%20vraiment%20pass%C3%A9%20%C3%A0%20Sainte-Soline%20malgr%C3%A9%20les%20mensonges%20de%20la%20pr%C3%A9fecture%20et%20du%20ministre%20de%20l’Int%C3%A9rieur.pdf


[6] Jérôme Bèglé, Sarah Paillou, David Revault d’Allones, “Gérald Darmanin au JDD,” Le Journal du Dimanche,” April 1, 2023.

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