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A Beef With More Than Big Mac

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  • Clore Daniel C
    A Beef With More Than Big Mac By Charles Trueheart Washington Post Foreign Service Saturday , July 1, 2000 ; A01 MILLAU, France, June 30 –– To hear the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2000
      A Beef With More Than Big Mac

      By Charles Trueheart
      Washington Post Foreign Service
      Saturday , July 1, 2000 ; A01

      MILLAU, France, June 30 –– To hear the defendants and the
      20,000 supporters who packed this little town tell it and
      yell it, the criminal trial that opened here today was not
      really about 10 local men charged with trashing a McDonald's.
      No, it was farm v. city, authentic food v. junk food, local
      v. global, France v. the United States.

      "We're making it the trial of globalization," declared one
      of dozens of unnamed partisans pumping up the crowds in the
      sunny Millau town square before the trial started. And no
      need, really, for the trial. "The verdict is already in,"
      the speaker said. "No to the World Trade Organization. No to

      The man at the center of this unusual spectacle, a sheep
      farmer and longtime rural activist named Jose Bove, was borne
      into the cheering, whistling crowd on a hay wagon--yet another
      symbol of the worldwide struggle he has helped to crystallize.

      A CSA-Le Parisien poll released today showed broad support in
      France for Bove. Both President Jacques Chirac and Prime
      Minister Lionel Jospin have cozied up to the jovial 47-year-old
      farmer with the oversized mustache. In crusading against all
      that McDonald's stands for, he appears to have tapped into a
      deep well of public discontent over a range of ills from
      genetically modified food to plain bad food.

      "The party is wonderful. We must continue our fight this
      weekend with joy," Bove declared before being propelled with
      his co-defendants through the throng and into the courthouse.

      The 10 defendants, members of the Peasant Confederation charged
      with wrecking the restaurant as it was still under construction
      here last Aug. 12, have brought 17 witnesses, including activists
      from around the world, to speak for them in court. A verdict
      could come by summer's end.

      The "symbolic dismantling," in Bove's words, of the McDonald's
      outlet resulted in more than $100,000 worth of damage, according
      to the restaurant chain. Alain Soulie, a co-defendant, explained
      to a French newspaper that the event had been "a festive
      dismantling with collateral damage."

      Those charged face as much as five years' imprisonment and a
      $73,000 fine if convicted. Although last week Bove said he
      doubted they would be found guilty, he warned of trouble if
      they were.

      "People will go on the streets across France and cause serious
      damage to the government," he warned.

      Today and Saturday the famous restaurant--now completed--is
      closed. It stood encircled by bus loads of French security
      forces, on hand for the trial and possible violence. None was

      "There is no question of taking French justice hostage," said
      the presiding judge at the trial, Francois Mallet. "What happens
      in the street does not interest the court."

      Unlike his nine co-defendants, Bove spent 19 days in jail after
      his arrest, refusing to post bond. In custody he also had himself
      photographed, handcuffed wrists held in the air, a smile on his
      face. The cuffed wrists have become his symbol: The most popular
      T-shirt selling here today shows the globe open in the form of a
      huge jaw, and from its maw protrude the familiar arms in manacles,
      keeping the teeth from snapping shut.

      The slogan on the T-shirt: "The world is not merchandise, and
      neither am I."

      Despite nine months of angry protest against the French criminal
      justice system, Bove and his friends have enjoyed international
      attention they could not have anticipated when they singled out
      the Golden Arches for a protest action. He has been quoted as
      saying he could have embraced the young investigating magistrate,
      Nathalie Marty, when he learned she had recommended charges be
      brought against the Millau Ten.

      "They handed this to us on a plate," commented a young Belgian
      named Luc who drove through the night to join the crowd.

      Bove's beef last August was specific, local and personal.

      Retaliating against Europe for banning imports of hormone-treated
      U.S. beef, the U.S. government had just imposed 100 percent
      tariffs on certain French, and other European, specialty products
      such as foie gras, mustard and Roquefort cheese. On a farm near
      here 50 miles northwest of Montpellier, Bove raises sheep whose
      milk is used to make the Roquefort, which is cooled in cellars to
      ferment the cheese's bitter veins.

      Roquefort was as ubiquitous a presence here today as sandals and
      backpacks. Hundreds of protesters lined up at the local sheep's
      milk producers' association stand to buy a dab of Roquefort on a
      bread crust and a cup of coarse local wine.

      Chowing them down on the sidewalk nearby, a young woman named
      Sylvie Monot said between bites: "We have nothing against the
      Americans. It's the American system we've had enough of--all that
      bad food makes for bad thinking." Did she ever eat at McDonald's?
      "Well, sometimes I have no choice. And I get a stomachache. Every

      The sacking of the McDonald's here was a loud pop on the fuse
      that led to Seattle in November, when the World Trade Organization
      meeting was besieged by a well-orchestrated rainbow of
      anti-globalization, protectionist, environmentalist and other
      demonstrators. More modest contingents of the same forces, feeling
      their oats, confronted global pooh-bahs gathering at the World
      Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last winter and at the
      International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Washington in

      They are now frequent unwanted visitors wherever the official
      shepherds of the free market gather. Bove has often been among
      them, a colorful talking head who speaks passable English after
      spending a few years in California.

      The gathering of the protest forces in this southwestern town at
      the mouth of a dramatic mountain gorge--"Seattle-on-the-Tarn,"
      the French media have dubbed it, referring to the Tarn River--
      reflects the panoply of causes that seek the heat of the publicity
      Bove has generated:

      Housing activists, Greenpeace, anti-agribusiness protesters,
      people fighting the Lyon-Toulouse superhighway, Young Communist
      Revolutionaries, Occitan-language proponents, people protesting
      the deaths of 58 Chinese refugees in a refrigerator truck in
      England, the Young Christian Rural Movement, French public service
      unions, anarchists and others.

      Dan Clore

      The Website of Lord Weÿrdgliffe:
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      &c., &c.,"
      -- The Book of Dzyan.
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