Solange Fernex – France (1934 – 2006)

Linked with Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom WILPF, and with Give Regional Cooperation a Chance.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Solange Fernex est une pacifiste et femme politique française, née en 1934 à Biederthal dans le Sundgau (Haut-Rhin), décédée le 11 septembre 2006. Suppléante du premier Français ayant proposé à des électeurs de voter écologiste au premier tour dans des législatives, pour Henri JENN, (32 ans à l’époque) dans une circonscription de Mulhouse en 1973. C’est elle qui mène la liste Europe-Ecologie aux première élections européennes en 1979. Cette liste obtint 4,39% des voix, totalisant 888 134 voix. En 1983, elle a participé au Jeûne pour la Vie, en jeûnant 40 jours à Paris pour le désarmement nucléaire. En 1984 elle participe à la fondation des Verts. Elle a reçu en 2001 un prix pour son engagement contre l’armement nucléaire, le Nuclear-Free Future Award (Lifetime Achievement). Présidente de la section française de la Ligue Internationale des Femmes pour la Paix et la Liberté, elle est membre du comité de parrainage de la Coordination française pour la Décennie de la culture de paix et de non-violence. (read more on wikipedia).

Death of Solange Fernex: The European Green Party pays her its most heartfelt homage, 13th September 2006.

She said: “A falling tree makes a lot of noise. But one cannot hear a forest germinate”.

Solange Fernex - France redim 50p.jpg

Solange Fernex – France (1934 – 2006)

She works for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom WILPF, for The Children of Chernobyl, and for the European Green Party.

Solange Fernex has been campaigning for the preservation of the environment, against nuclear power, and for equal rights for women for 40 years. Her activities as a member of the Green Party and of the European Parliament (1989–1994), of her town council (24 years), her involvement in several NGOs, her public presentations, numerous translations and books, her civic disobedience and her concrete actions promoting solidarity, have informed and inspired young people, helped others and encouraged them to shoulder their responsibilities, and served as a brilliant example to all.“God gives, and God takes.” Solange remembers her grandmother quoting this Bible text – her grandmother who lost two sons as “German” World War I casualties, decorated posthumously with the Iron Cross, and another son in World War II. Solange’s father died as a French soldier when she was six years old. Her mother was awarded the medal of the Legion of Honor, in his memory. “A very Alsatian story,” Solange Fernex comments, and one that early on made her a convinced war opponent. As for the story of God who gives life and takes it away, she never believed in it. “Human beings fight wars,” she used to say already as a child. Nonviolence became the thread running through her commitment to peace, to the cause of women and to the environment.

Solange thus spent a fatherless childhood in a farming family in Truttenhausen at the foot of Mount Sainte-Odile. She learned early to resist, to love nature, and became aware that all we have is our “small blue planet.” At the age of 20, she was fascinated by Gandhi, deeply interested in his philosophy and his nonviolent action: “A falling tree makes a lot of noise. But one cannot hear a forest germinate.” She loves this sentence, which aptly characterizes her hope to spread hope.

She interrupted her biology studies at Strasbourg University and then at the Catholic Institute in Paris to marry Swiss physician Michel Fernex, a specialist in tropical diseases and professor at Basle University. After training in a laboratory, she followed him to Africa and seconded him in his work.

In the meantime — between moves from Barr near Ste Odile, to Senegal, Tanzania and Mali — she bore four children, worked in the health sector and became a Third World activist.

After her return to Alsace, she joined the nature commission of the Jeunes Femmes (Young Women) movement and founded a Terre des Hommes chapter in the Upper Rhine region. In 1964, the couple bought a dilapidated house in Biederthal in the Sundgau foothills of the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border, which they renovated, installing solar energy well before it became popular.

This house was the setting for our interview – we had met previously as members of the Franco-German peace movement and the Ban the Bomb- demonstrations in the 1980s. This anti-nuclear pacifist and feminist – now a 70-year old woman with short graying hair and lively, intense eyes – welcomes us to her living room, the largest feature of which was an old piano. Her husband is being interviewed next door by a television crew. “Unfortunately, I no longer have the time to play,” she sighs regretfully. That day she had originally intended to attend a demonstration in The Hague against nuclear materials transport, but had to leave on the morrow to attend the fifteenth commemoration of the Chernobyl disaster in Minsk.

Between 2001 and 2003, she was a member of the managing committee of the Nuclear Phase Out (Sortir du nucléaire) Federation. In one week, she is scheduled to speak at a press conference in Berne on: “Nuclear-free electricity – the best no-risk insurance for Switzerland,” denouncing the falsehoods of the nuclear lobby and of the United Nations Scientific Committee (UNSCEAR) on radiation. According to the latter, there were supposedly “only” 33 dead and 1800 cases of thyroid cancer among children and adolescents after Chernobyl. “The statement is a bad joke,” protests Solange, who has visited Chernobyl and the contaminated regions several times – “practically all the children are ill,” she says. Official lies, like those of the French authorities who, in early May 1986, claimed that they could “stop the radioactive cloud on the Rhine, like Moses held back the Red Sea,” and that no safety measures were required.

In 2001, she and her husband founded the association Children of Chernobyl (Enfants de Tchernobyl), which aims to help the 500,000 children contaminated by radioactivity in the eastern and southern regions of the country.

Solange’s first commitment was to the environment, as member and president of Alsace-Nature (1974 to 1978) and co-founder of Ecology and Survival (Écologie et Survie) and of an association to preserve rural houses in Alsace. She also actively fought against the installation of a chemical plant in Marckolsheim, where she spent spent five months in her tent in the occupied forest, in rain, sleet and snow. In 1975, Solange and her tent moved to Wyhl, where a civic movement organized by women of the Baden and Basle regions demonstrated against the construction of a nuclear power plant in Kaiserstuhl. “Being a transnational movement we conducted an active European policy – it was a miniature European grassroots movement,” she said in 2000 during the 25th anniversary celebrations that marked this successful campaign – the Wyhl forest was declared a nature reserve in 1995.

After Wyhl, she was active in the occupation of the planned nuclear site in Kaiseraugst in Switzerland, with activists and their tents from Alsace. She became more and more involved in the anti-nuclear movement, going on a twenty-three day hunger strike with her son, Antoine and his friends in Roggenhouse, to protest against the nuclear plant in Fessenheim. Then, thousands of white daisies flowered along Alsatian roads as an acknowledgment and emblem of the fight.

Today, she is a member of the local commission that supervises the plant, created in 1977 as a result of the strike. It consists of five representatives of various associations, town mayors and local councilors; it meets twice a year and has commissioned an independent expert group that publishes a report every ten years. She is still battling Fessenheim, one of the oldest nuclear plants that suffers from constant technical problems. Solange thinks that the reactor tank should be replaced immediately since it is cracked. “But that would cost a lot of money, and it would be like putting a new motor into a 22-year old automobile. With the money – 1.8 billion FRF, we could promote alternative sources of power.” As a committed anti-nuclear campaigner, she hopes that Fessenheim will soon be closed down. “We must do away with nuclear plants before they destroy us.”

In 1983, she took part in the 38 days of the Jeûne pour la vie in Paris, for the nuclear arms freeze, against Pershing 2, Cruise and SS 20 missiles – a hunger strike that ran in parallel in Bonn and San Francisco, and was described by her in the book “A Life for a Life” (La Vie pour la Vie). She participates in the annual commemorative hunger strike for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which takes place between 6 and 9 August in Taverny, north of Paris. Taverny is the site of the central command of the nuclear strike force, and the strike is a protest against nuclear testing.

Like her friend Petra Kelly of the German Green Party, in 1979 she headed the European Green Party list, and was a member of the European Parliament from 1989 to 1994. In charge of the Agriculture Committee and member of the Fishery Sub-Commission, she worked intensively to bring through organic farming regulations which define the criteria and procedures for obtaining the organic label. No easy feat, since with their 1% of votes, the Green Party retains what one could call an absolute minority. Yet Solange obeys her old principle: “With grass-roots support you can make things move – but the grassroots have to make a move for things to work.” This is what she says to grassroots organizations and organic farmers to get them to put pressure on their parliamentarians.

For Solange, being a grassroots activist and a parliamentarian is in no way contradictory. The most important thing for her is to be involved. “I have often been voted against, but I have never given up and I have always spoken my mind. One can have different points of view and cooperate – the important thing is to stand by one’s opinion.”

For this woman, who loves nature and life, this also means fighting for feminist causes. “Women have to modify the rules of the game,” she says. This is why she founded the Women for Peace (Femmes pour la Paix) organization in 1979, which she headed until 1996. Between 1995 and 2003, she chaired the French section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and in 1987, with Dominique Voynet among others, launched the initiative for women to men parity in the Green Party. According to her, this is a good move: “When we have reached 50 percent we will be able to change things, and establish different priorities. When you represent only one percent, you have to adapt.” But when I ask whether this also applies to the army, the answer is a vehement no. Instead of doing army service, women should get involved in safety issues, conflict prevention and mediation. Which is exactly what she has done all her life, particularly between 1994 and 1998 as Vice President of the International Peace Bureau in Geneva, one of the oldest anti-war organizations which boasted the membership of the Austrian Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2001, Solange received the Nuclear Free Future award in Ireland for her commitment against nuclear weapons. A cancer caused her to give up certain activities in 2003, among others, the vice-chairmanship of Alternative Alsace Energy (Alter Alsace Énergie) and her responsibilities in other associations.

Solange has been fighting for women’s rights, for peace and for the environment for over 30 years, in a battle often fraught with obstacles, setbacks and disappointments. “Things are too slow, but they do move forward. I am an eternal optimist,” she says, and quotes her countryman Albert Schweitzer: “Be a pessimist in the diagnosis, an optimist in the forecast.” The important thing is the action, the commitment. She rewords her grandmother’s saying: “It is not God’s help that will get us there; we have to make an effort ourselves.”

For her, who served as political councilor for 24 years, from 1977 to 2000, and “outlived” three mayors, local politics are particularly important. Solange has strong Alsatian roots. She still speaks the dialect, and opts for bilingualism, with German as the first foreign language because it is essential to understand one’s neighbors. Moreover, in a border region such as hers, language is an important economic factor. “If you want to work here, knowledge of German is a definite asset.” For Solange, a busy woman who likes hiking, reading and cooking, Alsace is a region “rich in contacts” and privileged by its borderline position; a region in which one can easily swap experiences with one’s neighbors, for example concerning innovative power sources: “We are bilingual, we watch both German and Swiss television and follow current affairs and debates. During the campaign against the nuclear plant in Kaiserstuhl, participants were able to communicate in a regional dialect called “alémanique” which is spoken on both sides of the border. Obviously this was a great advantage. Such border regions offer great opportunities for a pacifist, nuclear-free and demilitarized Europe.

As a token of her lifelong commitment, in 2001, Solange was awarded the Legion of Honor by the Environmental Minister Dominique Voynet. Taking it out of the cabinet in which she keeps her memorabilia from around the world, she shows it to me ,but says that she hesitated to accept it. She wears it only when it serves environmental causes, for example in her meetings with administrative officials: “My grandmother received three medals in memory of her sons who died during a war. As a child, I would not look at them. You cannot replace a father by a medal!” She covers the medal with her hand and refuses to have it photographed. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

(Extraits, voir l’ensemble de l’article sur EcoRev) – Encore en mai 3, 2006, Bruno Villalba ecrit sur Solange Fernex, une militante exemplaire. Pacifiste, féministe, tiers-mondiste, militante anti-nucléaire, Solange Fernex est de tous les combats du mouvement écologiste. Née en 1934 à Strasbourg, elle connaît la souffrance de la guerre, la perte de son père, la confusion des identités (elle a changé 5 fois de nationalités dans sa vie) … L’action de Solange Fernex s’élabore sans schéma idéologique préconçu, mais en tenant compte de certaines notions fondamentales, constitutives de son identité: sa foi, son féminisme, son pacifisme et son souci de la nature. A partir de ces pôles, elle tisse des liens entre les questions du tiers-mondisme, de l’égalité, des droits de l’homme, de la lutte anti-nucléaire… Solange Fernex est marquée par son rapport spirituel à la vie : pour elle, la référence à un Dieu est la trame indispensable pour maintenir un “principe de vie” sur cette planète, entre les hommes et entre les hommes et la nature. L’engagement politique de Solange Fernex se construit à travers la question du pacifisme … Le féminisme constitue le troisième pivot de sa personnalité. La condition de femme ne se résume pas à un statut social spécifique – femme et mère – mais doit résulter d’un choix assumée (y compris celui de mère) … L’écologie, enfin, amène définitivement Solange Fernex à voir les impasses du monde tel qu’il va … Solange Fernex participe à la création du premier parti écologiste d’Europe, Ecologie et Survie et, des années plus tard, s’engagera fortement pour la création d’un parti Vert autonome. Auprès des écologistes, elle milite pour l’adoption de règles de fonctionnement paritaire, non pas dans une stricte logique d’égalité, mais au nom d’une reconnaissance de la singularité des femmes dans leurs rapports au politique. Elle insiste aussi pour que ce parti reconnaisse le principe de la non-violence comme mode d’action et de décision. La force de Solange Fernex ne réside pas dans sa capacité à produire des systèmes théoriques, sa propension à dire ce que devrait être l’écologie politique; elle réside dans le fait qu’elle a su rendre exemplaire sa conduite de vie et que son action quotidienne tente de réduire la contradiction entre l’être et l’engagement politique. Sans dogmatisme et sans violence. (voir l’ensemble de l’article sur EcoRev).

links:

german wikipedia;

Disinformation on Chernobyl fallout in France;

World Uranium Weapons Conference, Oct 16-19, 2003 – University of Hamburg, Germany;

2001 Nuclear-Free Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient.

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