France: When Talking isn’t Enough, Animal Rights Activists Do This
Anti-bullfighting activities are heating up this year in France. Frustrated by ineffective European lawmakers, eight young “underground” animal rights activists, seven men and one woman, jumped into a bullfighting arena in Beziers, France, yesterday, to disrupt and “delay a massacre of six bulls.” At the beginning of the “Corrida de Beziers,” the activists jumped into the ring from the stands and ran, yelling “basta corrida!” They scattered nails all over the sand and sprayed a “destructive chemical” on the matadors’ costumes so that the bullfight would either be delayed or annulled and costumes rendered “permanently unwearable.”
In an exclusive interview, the activists, who claim to be unaffiliated with any animal rights organization, said via telephone this morning that they spent one month organizing the operation.
One of the activists who is 24 and who wanted to remain anonymous, said that they scattered very small, sharp nails knowing there would be no danger to the bulls, but to the matadors, who wear very thin ballerina-type slippers.
Before being hauled out of the ring by bullfighting security officials, they were punched and kicked by fans. “I was strangled so severely, I thought I was going to die,” said one of the activists, 18, who wanted to remain anonymous because he is on probation for previous trespassing violations. “For once, the police saved me from being killed,” he said. “Aficionados (bullfight fans) threw themselves on us not to extricate us from the ring but to hit us as much as they could.”
“Two [bullfight fans] were holding my arms while another was kicking me in the ribs. Another, directly in front of me, got a hold of my neck with the intention to strangle me to death despite my non-violent act. ‘Drag him into the hallway,’ said one of the men, ‘we’ll take care of this one without anyone watching.’ I was beginning to lose consciousness when the police intervened and saved me from these barbarians.”
The activists were jeered by the crowd of several thousand who were in attendance to watch six bulls being stabbed to death.
Bullfighting is illegal in 90 percent of French territory and punishable under animal cruelty laws by up to two years in prison. La Corrida, as it is called in France, is considered an “art” and is allowable under a special judicial exemption for some southern towns which can prove an “uninterrupted tradition” of bullfighting. Over 80 percent of the French population is against the blood sport, which is subsidized by the French government. The European Union subsidizes bullfighting with taxpayer contributions of 600 million Euros per year (around $700 million).
After the activists were hauled out of the arena, they were held in police detention for three hours.
The activists claim their operation was a success as the arena had to be swept of all the nails with fine-tooth rakes — a clean-up that delayed the bullfight for a quarter of an hour.
“These are the pure and the hard,” said Michelle Barbagianni, a veteran anti-bullfighting activist who goes to all the protests and lives in the south of France. “These are courageous militants who are not satisfied with mere talk — they’re going to act.”
The activists are planning further activities to disrupt bullfights this season and they stressed that the year isn’t over yet. When asked what tactics they planned to use, they remained tight-lipped, but alluded to bringing helmets and gas masks to an upcoming demonstration.
With the massive and militarized police presence that usually surrounds bullfighting arenas in southern France, they seem willing to storm the barricades, which are typically up to 12 feet high and surround the immediate area surrounding arenas.
“One thing is certain,” said one of the anonymous activists on the phone last night from southern France, “we are not going to stop. As long as men torture a defenseless animal, as long as they continue to disrespect life, we will be there. I can’t say here what we are planning next but soft methods are over. We are coming and it won’t be with roses.”