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The illuminating tale of the monsieur who got cheesed off with Big Macs
Eamonn McCann, 20 Jul 2000
A public opinion poll in France suggests that the most popular man in the country right now is not Zidine Zidane but Jose Bove.
Who he? In the long term, perhaps it doesn t matter. Opinion polls merely provide a snap-shot of views which prevail at a particular moment. Maybe Jose s fame will be fleeting. So let s just note, en passant, what s made the small farmer from Millau such a big cheese.
What made him a hero was that he d trashed the local branch of McDonalds.
We might pause for a moment and ponder the various ways in which people react to attacks on McDonalds. During the anti-capitalist demonstration in London on May 1st, a small group styling itself anarchist tore down the golden arches and smashed a window in McDonalds in Whitehall. This group, and an imaginative former soldier who placed a sod of grass on a statue of Winston Churchill to give the old war-monger a fetching green Mohican, were predictably denounced by the press and by politicians of all mainstream parties.
Less predictably, they were also excoriated by leaders and prominent supporters of the demonstration. The movement s most prominent journalistic advocate, George Monbiot of the Guardian, wrote that: The movement has lost the plot. It has turned into an association of incoherent vigilantes, simultaneously frivolous and menacing...The nutters in the crowd smashed up shops and defaced the Centaph .
They seem to see such things differently in France.
On the first weekend of this month, 60,000 people travelled from all over the country to Millau population in normal times, about 18,000. Banners strung across access roads welcomed the visitors to a Festival against Capitalism . The opening rally on the Friday night was addressed by M. Bove. We are here to protest against the logic of a world in which money rules and the market dictates, he declared. With bodies like the World Trade Organisation it is either passivity and resignation or action and resistance. We chose the second path.
His address was followed by an all-night open-air concert involving 15 bands, their sets interspersed with political speeches from a wide range of left-wing, environmentalist and anti-GM food groups, and organisations campaigning for the right of immigrants.
One returning demonstator writes: Stalls from a huge variety of organisations packed the town centre. There was lively discussion at all of them. On every corner, it seemed groups were performing street theatre or reading poetry or playing music, all with a message against global capitalism.
Thousands flocked to a series of debates in halls and open-air forums. A debate on the role of trade unions in the struggle took place in a square. A park was the scene for a debate on immigration. Others listened to speakers such as the left-wing sociologist Pierre Bourdieu discuss the impact of capitalism on culture.
There were countless street-corner meetings outside these forums. The organisation thrown up to accomodate the huge numbers was impressive, and all done by local activists.
The immediate occasion was the trial of M. Bove and nine others for making mayhem in the burger joint. They had undertaken the action in protest against a decision of the World Trade Organisation to back the US in a trade dispute with the European Union.
The EU had claimed that imports were swamping the market for certain European products. The French were particularly concerned that big-budget Hollywood films were displacing French-language movies from Parisian screens. So, the Jospin Government took the lead in pushing for EU limits on the import of a number of US commodities. Washington claimed this broke free-trade agreements and successfully appealed to the WTO.
France refused to accept the ruling. So the US, with WTO approval, slapped retalitatory levies of 100 percent of value on named categories of French produce. These included a specialised cheese from the Millau region. Hence, the particular animus of M. Bove, and the wide resonance of his action.
Referring to the river which runs through Millau and to the huge demonstration against capitalism at the WTO meeting last year, a local newspaper dubbed M. Bove s weekend Seattle on the Tarn .
Does any of it have anything to say to us here?
Well, in Ireland, too, North and South, the logic of a system in which money rules and the market dictates bears down upon us. We are told day in and day out that global capitalism cannot be challenged, that to demand to be treated with dignity at work, to campaign for ethical investment, or to stand in the way of the destruction of the environment, is to put the economy at risk. Production can be shifted around the planet at the whim of the miniscule minority which owns and controls the wealth of the world. Indeed, anything can move instantly to any part of the planet except people. Or to be more exact, except poor people.
There s nothing that can be done about any of this, comes the message from mainstream parties, political commentators, kept economists and the like. For plain people, passivity and resignation, or a wholehearted embrace of the system, are our only options.
It is widely preached that the vast majority of the people have accepted and internalised this account of their status and place in the world. And for much of the time, for most of us, this may be true.
But what Millau showed, following on from Seattle, is that when a focus is provided for resentment and anger, huge numbers rally to the banner of revolt.
We will see this again in Prague in September, when the lords of the earth gather again, a year on from Seattle. Among those confronting them will be a contingent travelling from Ireland. Among the speakers will be Jose Bove. A good gig not to miss.
Sme of them appeared to have gone clean mad, commented a garda, as members of the force attempted to come to terms with the terrifying scenes which greeted a patrol answering an emergency call from patrons of the John Mitchell s Club in Tralee caught up in a Sonny Knowles concert.
The silver-haired icon wasn t on stage as the sensational events unfolded. He had fled the building minutes earlier after responding to the wild enthusiasm of fans by performing no fewer than four encores, each of which appears to have boosted the level of excitement towards an even more dangerous pitch. A man described in media reports as a local entertainer then attempted to calm the situation by offering a selection of comical songs.
However, the fanatical followers of the charismatic performer they call The King of Clontarf Castle refused to still their chants of We Want Sonny! or to accept the increasingly desperate announcements of John Mitchell s officials that he had really left the building. Gardai said that at some point a hard core of around 15 fans precipated the crucial escalation by hurling ashtrays, mineral bottles and anything else which came to hand at the stage.
A large body of people was put in fear, said a spokesperson for the club. It s the mercy of God no-one was killed .