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Zone to Defend

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Dec 15, 2021

Zone to Defend or ZAD (French: zone à défendre) is a French neologism used to refer to a militant occupation that is intended to physically blockade a development project. By occupying the land, activists aim to prevent the project from going ahead. The acronym “ZAD” is a détournement of “deferred development area” (from French: zone d’aménagement différé). The ZADs are organized particularly in rural areas with an ecological or agricultural dimension, although the name has also been used by occupations in urban areas, for example in Décines-Charpieu and Rouen.

French sites occupied by citizens to resist development projects

A 2019 map showing the location of various ZADs in France

The most notable example is the ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes which helped a broader campaign to defeat the Aéroport du Grand Ouest, a proposed airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, north of Nantes. The ZAD du Testet existed from 2011 until 2015 and prevented a dam from being constructed. Evicted ZADs have amongst other things contested the construction of an electricity substation, a motorway and a facility for the storage of nuclear waste. There have been ZADs in the departments of Aveyron, Bas-Rhin, Doubs, Isère, Loire-Atlantique, Meuse, Seine-Maritime, Tarn and Yvelines. The occupation of the Hambach Forest in Germany and the No TAV movement in Italy have both been compared to ZADs. The ZAD de la Colline was the first Swiss Zone to Defend.

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The acronym “ZAD” meaning “zone to defend” (French: “zone à défendre”) is a détournement of “deferred development area” (French: “zone d’aménagement différé”).[1] In 2015, the French term “zadiste” (English: Zadist) entered the 2016 edition of Le Petit Robert dictionary as “a militant occupying a ZAD to oppose a proposed development that would damage the environment.”[2][3] The ZADs are organized particularly in areas with an ecological or agricultural dimension.[4] The name has also been used by occupations in urban areas, for example in Rouen[5] and in Décines-Charpieu.[6]

Appearing in France in the early 2010s, the term was first popularized during the opposition to the airport construction project in Notre-Dame-des-Landes.[7] In France, the most famous antecedents of the ZAD movement are the Larzac struggle (1971–1981),[8] the protests against the proposed nuclear power plant at Creys-Malville, in Isère (1977), and at Plogoff in the 1970s and 1980s.[9]

One of the movement’s first slogans was “ZAD everywhere” (French: “Zad Partout”) and though there are no official figures, in early 2016 La Gazette des Communes estimated there to have been at least a dozen ZADs across France since 2009.[10][3] In other countries there are projects similar to the ZAD concept, such as the occupation of the Hambach Forest in Germany, the No TAV movement in the Susa Valley in Italy and the Grow Heathrow squat protesting against the expansion of Heathrow Airport in London.[11][12]

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