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Our ‘Lad in the ZAD’, valiantly defending the rural community

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Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 14.27.14IN AN OCCASIONAL series, The Herald tracks down West Wales people who are living, working and doing extraordinary or even extraordinarily ordinary things abroad.

For more than seven years, Yoann Le Guen was a popular figure in activist circles in West Wales, always busy organising. Originally from France, Yoann worked as an engineer on renewable energy projects in Wales and more widely. And he certainly brought a lot of energy to local and national groups campaigning on climate change and social justice. Having learned Welsh fluently, Yoann was active in the Climate Camp Cymru mobilisation that saw more than 500 people from all over Wales and beyond joining a protest camp against Ffos y Frân opencast coalmine near Merthyr Tydfil in 2009.

More recently, Yoann was a prime mover in the network Ceredigion Against the Cuts, that organised local actions and buses to take people to national demonstrations. As part of Ceredigion Against the Cuts, he was also involved in supporting campaigns to save Park Avenue Day Centre and Bodlondeb residential home. So, with Ceredigion People’s Assembly in full swing, climate breakdown hard upon us, and various local groups, including Aberaid, taking action to help refugees held in wretched camps in France and elsewhere, where is Yoann when we so badly need his commitment, hard work and skills?

AGAINST THE AIRPORT AND ITS WORLD

The Herald visited Yoann at a remarkable experiment in protest action at an autonomous community set up in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France: La ZAD. The ‘zone à defender’ – the defended area – is an occupation of land to stop the development of a second Nantes airport near the village of Notre- Dame-des-Landes. But it’s become much more than a negative protest, because La ZAD is also saying a resounding yes to a different society with a very different economy. Putting the principles of ‘degrowth’ into practice means living within ecological limits, with open, localised economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institution. La ZAD has become a living alternative to the outdated model of development which the airport project represents. For instance, all trade on La ZAD is by donation and there is a weekly free market to distribute any surplus, some of which then goes to homeless people in the nearby city of Nantes. The slogan runs that La ZAD is ‘a struggle against the airport and its world’.

Unlike the case of Heathrow in London, a second international airport near Nantes is not being justified by citing a high volume of air traffic. On the contrary, the proposed airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes is intended to stimulate economic growth in the region that will, in turn, increase air traffic to increase airport profits. However, Yoann agrees that ‘ for more and more people , the airport seems to be just a way to line the pockets of the bosses of the public works and construction industry’.

The airport plan dates all the way back to the 1970s and opposition to it has been mounting for the last 40 years. Clearly, the logic of the plan is sorely outdated, not least when the impact of the aviation industry on the climate is considered. Nevertheless, lobbied by the developers, Vinci, a mega-corporation which has operations in over 100 countries including the UK, the French authorities seem determined to go ahead and evict the more than 300 people who have settled in La ZAD to fight alongside local farmers and the community. The latest deadline for eviction to hang like a sword of Damocles over La ZAD is October this year. Undaunted, the community of La ZAD, some 60 dwelling places occupied by collectives engaged in a wide variety of activities, continues to build for a future. La ZAD is thoroughly imbued with a never-say-die spirit: “Our first victory is that we defend ourselves despite the fact that nothing enables us to foresee victory. “

As well as numerous horticultural ventures, there are two bakeries on La ZAD, a cheese making enterprise, a mechanical engineering workshop looking after the tractors used both in farming and to obstruct the police, a forge, a pottery, a cinema, a bicycle workshop, a radio station… The list goes on and on. Dear to this Herald reporter’s heart , there is both a weekly newspaper – ZAD News – and a brewery.

CALLING ASTERIX AND OBELIX!

Compulsory purchase of farms on La ZAD has already taken place, though the farmers continue to work the land and most refuse to touch the money deposited in their names by the state. With its long history, the drive behind La ZAD resistance almost predates climate change considerations. At the core of the controversy is land, the farmers working on it and the communities who live there. La ZAD is situated on the almost 5,000 acres of wetland earmarked for airport development. With the water-table less than a metre below the surface, through the winter much of the area is a quagmire and is everywhere scarred by deep tractor ruts. Not, you might think, the ideal land on which to build an airport. Rural life is the heartbeat of the struggle and farmers from all over France stand ready to offer their physical support if the government presses ahead with its plans for eviction and developing the airport. Dating back to 2012 and the government’s last attempt to evict La ZAD, there are over 200 support committees across the length and breadth of France.

In October 2012, the government, directed by then Minster of the Interior, now Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, launched ‘Operation Cesar’ to evict La ZAD by force. Two thousand armed and armoured police spent several weeks trying to accomplish this mission, liberally deploying tear gas and demolishing a dozen dwellings in the process, but a reoccupation attracted 40,000 people and Operation Cesar was finally abandoned and the police withdrew. Many people had been injured, however, thirty seriously, mainly by shrapnel from the ‘flashbang’ grenades used by police. In 2014, a young botanist, Rémi Fraisse, was killed by one of these grenades thrown by police at an occupation against the construction of the Sivens Dam in southern France.

Before most of them return to their homes and jobs, the 40,000 people in La ZAD, running on solidarity and the adrenaline of victory, built a small village to replace the homes that the police had destroyed. Farmers protected the new settlement from police incursion by circling their tractors around it and chaining them together. Yoann points out that Operation Cesar may have been a poor choice of name in the region where the indomitable rebel Gauls Asterix and Obelix regularly defeated and embarrassed the Romans Legions which attempted to occupy their land! On the downside perhaps, La ZAD certainly cannot count the humiliated Manuel Valls among its friends and supporters in the future process of political decisionmaking about the land and its people. The communal feeling on La ZAD is that the Prime Minister may be committed to revenge rather than reason.

The idea of La ZAD has spread, and the philosophy and practices as well as the ‘zad’ prefix has been adopted by other occupations. In France, as elsewhere, the widespread rise of the degrowth movement in various forms is clearly worrying for the political establishment. Bruno Retailleau, a member of the Senate of France who represents the Vendée department, has described La ZAD as ‘this territory lost to the republic’. Indeed, the slogan ‘La ZAD partout!‘ – ‘the ZAD everywhere!‘ – has become a rallying call for protesters and social movement worldwide as well as in France.

We end up discussing the possibilities of a zad in Ceredigion, in the wake of the Brexit referendum result that leaves the county so out of tune with much of the rest of the UK and even Wales, particularly some urban areas. In that vein, Niall Griffiths’ letter in the Guardian (Aug 6) protests against commentators who lump rural Wales together with rural England as ‘the bedrock of the Brexit vote’. With the UK facing an extended period of economic recession, and social unrest already evident, the Ceredigion zad idea didn’t seem so daft to Yoann and myself. Mind you, we had sampled the fine produce of the local brewery. That said, the prospect of making degrowth everyday practice did excite the imagination. La ZAD par tout? It’s worth thinking about, at least.

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How museums can help to shape the future of Wales

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ON DECEMBER 6, Ceredigion Museum hosted the launch of a new report. The Happy Museum report, ‘Welsh museums and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act’, shines a spotlight on the many ways that Welsh museums are responding to the goals of the Act.

Focusing on the work of six Welsh museums, the report shows the significant contribution museums can make through examples of current or recent practice. It also details the museums’ efforts to develop projects to respond to the Wellbeing goals.

Ceredigion Museum Curator, Carrie Canham said: “It’s an honour to have had such an important document for museums throughout Wales launched at Ceredigion Museum. Ceredigion Museum has been a Happy Museum partner for some years now. They’ve supported us to deliver projects that have had a positive impact on local people’s lives, so it’s great to put that in the context of the ground-breaking Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015. This report shows how we, and other museums in Wales, are ahead of the game in responding to the Act and how much we have to contribute to the wellbeing of our nation.”

The report was developed through a partnership between Happy Museum and Ceredigion Museum, Monmouthshire Museums, Cardiff Story Museum, Oriel Môn, Storiel and Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives. The project was supported by the Welsh Government through an accreditation support grant from the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales,

The Director of Happy Museum Project, Hilary Jennings said: “The Future Generations Act in Wales is an exemplary piece of legislation and museums in Wales are responding across the board to its seven goals.  We hope that the work of these Welsh museums will provide inspiration for the potential of museums worldwide to work in support of the wellbeing of people, place and planet.”

Happy Museum project supports museum practice that puts wellbeing within an environmental and future-facing frame. It rethinks the role that museums can play in creating more resilient people, places and planet.

The six Welsh museums worked with the Happy Museum over six months, to deepen their understanding of their Future Generations Act obligations. They also looked at the ways that they were already responding to the goals, planning new activities and embedding ways of working that would improve how they meet the goals of the Act.

The new report draws together all this learning as a resource and inspiration for museums across Wales – and to help them demonstrate their response to meeting the goals of the Act.

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Drakeford confirmed as First Minister

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MARK DRAKEFORD was confirmed as the new First Minister after a vote in the Welsh Assembly on Wednesday (Dec 12).

Carmarthen-born Drakeford succeeds Carwyn Jones as Welsh Labour leader, after Jones resigned on Tuesday.

Mr Drakeford, 64, has styled himself as a ’21st Century socialist’, and throughout his leadership campaign promoted continuity and stability as a candidate, having worked as a Welsh Government special advisor under Rhodri Morgan and being the only Welsh Government cabinet minister to support Jeremy Corbyn when he ran for the UK Labour leadership in 2015.

The AM for Cardiff West has been in the Assembly since 2011, becoming Health Minister in 2013 before becoming Finance Secretary in 2016.

Mr Drakeford grew up in Carmarthen, and was educated at the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School for Boys. He then went on to study Latin at the University of Kent, before working as a probation officer and Barnardos project leader in west Cardiff.

Mr Drakeford went on to pursue a career in academia, lecturing at Swansea University, and then becoming a professor of social policy and applied social sciences at Cardiff University.

His first experience of electoral politics was as a councillor on the old South Glamorgan County Council, before serving the Cardiff ward of Pontcanna between 1985 and 1993.

Mr Drakeford was one of the two candidates, alongside Eluned Morgan, to have produced a manifesto during the leadership campaign, setting out many of the policies he hopes to introduce. These include an extension of the smoking ban to outdoor areas such as restaurants and town centres, the cutting of emissions through greater emphasis on public transport and building on Superfast Cymru – a scheme to rollout 733,000 homes and businesses across Wales.

The manifesto also proposed installing drinking fountains across Wales, double allotments, and piloting a ‘baby bundle’ – similar to baby box schemes in other countries with a package of essential items.

Mr Drakeford also suggested introducing a committee to advise the Welsh Government on the Hinckley Point power plant in Somerset, as he has spoken of his scepticism regarding nuclear power.

The new First Minister has also backed proposals put forward by economist Gerry Holtham to fund elderly social care in Wales through a tax. An annual review of PFI contracts across the Welsh public sector would be introduced, and the 22 councils across Wales would be kept as they are.

One issue that has been subject to much debate is the potential for the M4 Relief Road, but Mr Drakeford’s manifesto does not mention it specifically. Instead, it states a commitment to dealing with congestion, citing the A40 in Mid and West Wales, the A55 in the North and the M4 in South Wales.

The other two leadership candidates, Vaughan Gething and Eluned Morgan, had both backed another referendum on whether the UK leaves the EU, yet Mr Drakeford is less set on another vote, saying he would only back it should the final deal fail to protect workers’ rights.

As Finance Secretary, Mr Drakeford has been in charge of much of the Welsh Government’s approach towards Brexit so far.

In Wednesday’s vote, Mr Drakeford was backed by 30 AMs, with 12 voting for the Conservatives’ Paul Davies and nine supporting Plaid Cymru’s Adam Price.

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Are you a £1m Euromillions winner? Time is running out to redeem prize

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A LAST ditch attempt is being made to locate a mystery local winner of an unclaimed £1 million pound lottery ticket.

Time is running out to find the owner of the winning ticket from the Euromillions draw bought in Ceredigion on June 22, 2018 – with Millionaire code MDLG 86259.

The winner has until Wednesday, December 19 to claim their life-changing prize.

Andy Carter, senior winners’ advisor at The National Lottery, said: “Time really is running out for the winner of this prize, but we are still hopeful that someone will come forward to claim the money. We’re urging everyone to check their old tickets or look anywhere a missing EuroMillions ticket could be hiding. This life changing prize could really help to make dreams become a reality.”

If no-one comes forward with the winning ticket before the prize claim deadline, then the prize money, plus all the interest it has generated will go to help National Lottery-funded projects across the UK.

The National Lottery changes the lives of individuals as well as communities – players raise, on average around £30 million for National Lottery-funded projects every week.

Euromillions UK Millionaire Maker creates two UK millionaires in every draw. For every EuroMillions line played, UK players automatically receive a Millionaire Maker Code printed on their ticket.

Ceredigion alone has around 1,675 individual National Lottery grants that have been awarded to help projects across the arts, sports, heritage, health, education, environment, charity and voluntary sectors.

With all National Lottery draws, players only have 180 days from the day of the draw to claim their prize if they have the winning ticket. Anyone who has any queries or who believes they have the winning ticket for any of The National Lottery draws within the 180 day deadline should call the National Lottery line on 0333 234 5050 or email help@national-lottery.co.uk.

Anyone concerned about lost or unchecked tickets may like to consider either setting up a National Lottery Direct Debit or playing online at www.national-lottery.co.uk.

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