This interview with Brice Lalonde by email was conducted by Dr Hugh McDonnell, ERC Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Edinburgh on June 3, 2018. Thanks to Brice for permission to post on this blog. His answers are in italics. Peter Hayes
First, could you tell me anything about your experience of the nature of, on the one hand, the attacks and criticisms the crew received, and on the other hand the support it received. I wondered if these were in any way a surprise, or more or less what you had expected before embarking.
Actually the first surprise for me – as a radical activist from Friends of the Earth - was the involvement of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber(JJSS), a prominent French politician from the moderate right wing. He owned a weekly magazine with wide circulation, l’Express. It is JJSS who introduced me to Bollardière and his friends (Jean-Marie Muller and the priest Jean Toulat). JJSS had been sent to Algeria during the independence war. It is there he met Bollardière who had resigned from the army to protest against the use of torture.
At the time the established left side parties and trade-unions refused to support my proposal to send a representative from the French anti test movement in the antinuclear fleet in the Pacific, arguing it was “adventurous”. The fact was that Peter Hayes (and consequently myself) was the only person in Paris who had contact with the people on the boats (and Barry MITCALFE’s Peace Media in New Zealand).
But JJSS said yes instantly. He was looking for some action to propose to Bollardière and his friends (who didn’t speak much English). He asked around to see if he could trust me. We finally agreed to join forces.
JJSS succeeded in getting support from other moderate center right MPs close to Christian circles (catholic and protestant) and from the Socialists who sent 2 young MPs (Louis BESSON and Charles JOSSELIN) with JJSS to hold a meeting in Papeete. At the time, the socialists were still struggling against the communists.
So l’Express and JJSS gave us a large coverage. They advanced the money. Of course the Gaullists in the government were our main opponents.
I also wondered if you could tell me a bit about relations between the crew. For example, did you talk about your different motivations? One aspect of Bollardière that interests me is the impact of post-Vatican II Catholicism on his life, and how this was expressed in the ecumenicism of the non-violence movement, engaging with left politics, environmentalism, Gandhian thought, etc.
Yes you are right. Bollardière was pious, as the two others (Jean TOULAT of course was a catholic priest, a writer, a former anti-Nazi resistant, a pacifist). Jean-Marie MULLER was (and still is) a leader in the “non-violence” movement. All three believed the use of non-violence was the best way to fight for fair causes. They were inspired by Gandhi, Mandela, Lanza del Vasto, etc. But non-violence didn’t mean passivity. Bollardière was already famous for being a war hero refusing to obey immoral orders. His wife probably played an important role as she was known for standing on railways to stop trains in protest against the closing of train stations in Brittany. All three celebrated mass on Sundays, whether on the boats or ashore. I wouldn’t say they were on the left, more outside of traditional politics. As for environmentalism I believe I was the spokesman. The other three were easily convinced, especially Bollardière as a sea lover from Brittany. My opposition to the tests was based on environmental concerns (they were atmospheric at the time). They were opposed to hold atomic bombs because they were pacifists.
Also, did you feel in danger at the time? – it’s my understanding that it emerged in the 1980s that one option considered was to sink the Fri!
We were of course a little anxious. First sailing in a little boat (the Arwen)* so far away could be risky. Second we were afraid of the test itself. Third we didn’t know how the French army . would react. There was a strong tension when all these war ships were running to us, but we didn’t believe the French army would be using violence. It was a mix of courteous officers communicating with us and fairly violent commandos boarding the boats. Also a mix of being prisoners with armed guards, and a few days after, treated as guests.
We saw a few years later that the French secret services were allowed to do stupid things (sinking the Greenpeace in Auckland). But on the other hand, having sailed a second time in 1981 to Mururoa (with David McTaggart from Greenpeace), we got the French government to invite scientists to assess the situation of the atoll when the tests were blown underground. And in the end, France did sign to test ban treaty.
* Note from Peter Hayes: The Arwen was a small yacht that sailed with the battailon from the Cook Islands to Muroroa as it proved very difficult to find a boat from New Zealand. The day after they arrived at Muroroa and joined the Fri, half starving from lack of provisions aboard the Arwen, the commandos stormed the Fri.