“Invasion forces” Repelled at Rodilhan Bullfight
Efforts by joint American and European animal rights groups to disrupt the traditional annual bullfight in the village of Rodilhan (pop: 2 528) near Nimes in southern France were thwarted Sunday by a heavy riot police presence.
(This story has been updated below, with a contribution from two animal rights activists to reflect their viewpoint),
Bullfighting across southern France is lawful and authorised. Indeed France is the first country in the world where bullfighting has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status — to the delight of aficionados or afeciouna in Arles, the French bullfighting heartlands and the disgust of Europe’s anti-bullfighting groups.
While an “invasion force” of some 600 demonstrators (300 according to the official count) failed to disrupt Sunday’s event, they clearly disrupted life for residents whose village was surrounded by a 230-strong force of well-equipped CRS riot police which searched all incoming cars and protesters and kept the “antis” well away from a ringside where two years ago similar protests led to violent confrontations. Police dispersed the activists using tear gas and one man was detained for questioning according to Midi Libre.
American animal rights protesters, led by Carole R. Davis, the US-based director of CAPS Companion Animal Protection Society, tweeting live from the protest, claimed the combined French, Belgian, German and US groups including Comité radicalement anti-corrida (Crac), d’Animaux en Péril and Fondation Brigitte Bardot had blockaded the bullfighters arriving by car and delayed the fight.
But other reports said the bullfight took place incident-free inside the arena even though earlier in the day the ring had been carefully swept after crushed glass was found sprinkled all over the ground.
Even though the loudly-trumpted Rodilhan protest unsuccessfully petered out the American contingent tweeted that it had mounted a campaign in the United States designed to hurt French tourism unless France outlaws bullfighting.
Friends of Animals (FoA) and Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) say they have launched an American campaign directed at the French tourist board in New York and the French embassy in Washington threatening a travel boycott to France. France is the number one destination for US tourists with more than 3 million Americans visiting every year. Any successful boycott would clearly have a negative impact on a country that is proud of its place as the world’s number one tourist destination.
The depth of feeling on both sides of the bullfighting divide can be seen in this video coverage from the Midi libre website…
… this embedded tweet from one angered aficionado…
— Pantone&Rolex (@rezosossio) October 27, 2013
…and this gallery of photos taken from the twitter feeds of the groups staging the attempted disruption. Due to the source the gallery overwhelmingly reflects the views of just the anti-bullfighting activists.
However as we have reported earlier these opponents tend to overlook both the historic and the economic importance of the bullfighting tradition in the region. Spanish bullfighting first appeared in France in 1701 and the first real French bullfight was held in Bayonne on 21 August 1853. Once the Roman arena in Arles was restored after 1825, bull fights became highly organised, profitable and popular. Bullfighting is defended in southern parts of France as part of the region’s long standing heritage. Indeed anyone who has driven around small towns and villages in Languedoc, Gard and Provence will find extensive evidence of the influence and importance of bullfighting. Road signs warn of bullfights ahead, highly prized stock breeders supply animals for the performances, touring bullrings and permanent rings in dozens of tiny villages all attest to the economic vibrancy of what Hemingway regarded as an art form as we reported here.
France3 Television reporting on the event, said a dozen activists had been treated by first aiders after teargas was used to disperse demonstrators at one stage of the afternoon:
In the wake of protests by anti-bullfighting groups and the ensuing clashes in his town, Rodilhan mayor Serge Reder plans to file formal complaints against the demonstrators on the grounds of “breach of public order” and “obstruction of culture”. According to La Provence.com he will also write to Interior Minister Manuel Valls requesting the government to order the dissolution of CARC, the Radically Anticorrida Committee which organised the demonstration in Rodilhan on Sunday.
His view was later reinforced by the Mayor of nearby Nîmes. Jean-Paul Fournier told Objectifgard.com: “More than 750 activists gathered Sunday in a face off with 260 gendarmes. Stone throwing, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and water bottles were among (weapons) used by the anti-bullfighting protesters who were notably overexcited. They flouted a proclamation issued by the local mayor, designed to prevent clashes between pro- and anti-bullfighting groups similar to those of two years ago. In the aftermath of this violent demonstration, politicians here in Nîmes have widely criticised the “excesses”. Through his contacts in Parliament namely Alain Marleix, chairman of the bullfighting study group in the National Assembly and Raymond Couderc, president of the same group in the Senate – Jean-Paul Fournier has called for a joint meeting of parliament, to alert the Minister of the Interior to the unacceptable excesses by the anti-bullfighting organisers and to consider dissolution of that organisation. The deplorable incidents that marred the day of the bullfight were due to the extreme language used (by the ringleaders).”
The mayor added:” Yes, bullfighting is perfectly legal in our country. Yes, people are free to protest including against something that is perfectly legal, that is their fundamental right. But no, the aggression of citizens by other citizens has no place in a democracy … “.
An anti anti-bullfight group has just posted this video of the protests as seen from the other side of the barricades:
Story: Ken Pottinger
- Carole Raphaelle Davis who flew from the United States to participate in multi-group efforts to stop the Rodilhan bullfight, says she was shocked at the treatment meted out to activists by police deployed to keep law and order and frustrated at not gaining entrance to the bullring to demonstrate. She and her animal rights colleague, Edita Birnkrant, have pledged to mount a campaign calling on US tourists to boycott France until bullfighting is ended. They contributed this commentary to French News Online because of their concerns that their views have not been fairly reported in France.
The Siege of Rodilhan—Government Sanctioned Animal Torture Under Attack
By Edita Birnkrant and Carole Raphaelle Davis
More than 800 activists from all over Europe and the US came to Rodilhan, a small town in the south of France, on Sunday October 27, to demonstrate against the torture and stabbing to death of bulls.
Two bullfights were scheduled that day and activists who arrived at 9 am were greeted at the off-ramp by scores of police in riot gear. In a case of blatant profiling, activists’ cars were searched and some were frisked while ticket holders to the bullfight were waved in.
Jean-Pierre Garrigues, President of CRAC Europe, the leading anti-bullfighting organization, ordered his troops into nine groups to be strategically positioned at every entry to the bullfighting arena. The town was on lockdown, with barricades 16 feet high and walls of police and military police in riot gear.
Amid blaring sirens and cries of “Basta Corrida!” we surged towards the arena to the barricades. The chief of police and Mayor Serge Reder ordered that activists be kept 400 meters from the arena in order for the bullfights to continue uninterrupted.
Rodilhan was under siege. Villagers had shuttered their windows, stores were closed and the violence began as soon as we met the barricades. As we rushed towards the centre of town, the front lines of each entrance, activists sat down in front of the police line. Rows of activists stood behind them. Swat teams beat, kicked and tear-gassed them, creating chaos as activists retreated to escape the poisonous gas. As some were running away to get medical assistance, others ran towards the police lines. Police then started shooting activists with potentially deadly rubber bullets, seriously injuring at least two people and hurting many more. One woman took a rubber bullet in her thigh—those treating her told us “there was blood all over the place.”
Nine activists were evacuated by ambulance and at least two were arrested. At times, there was no visibility—the air thick with tear gas and smoke bombs. Communications were difficult because of all the screaming and sirens.
As Americans, we were appalled at the violence of the police but the real horror show was going inside the arena. We heard the aficionados cheering as bulls and young calves were being tortured and stabbed to death. Many activists, frustrated at not being able to jump into the ring to stop it, were crying and wailing.
The rushing and retreating, the tear gassing and the shooting went on all day from sunrise to sunset. “We were treated like cockroaches,” said one activist in despair, “to be exterminated.
Though we are going back to America, we will not forget our fellow activists nor what happened on October 27 in Rodilhan. We will file a formal complaint about the police brutality at the US Consulate. We have launched a campaign at the French tourist board and French embassies around the US demanding that France abolish animal torture as entertainment or face a national boycott of France. A critical part of the French economy depends on American tourist dollars. Americans have no idea that the French government sanctions animal torture as a “culture” and “art.” The French tourist board (an arm of the French government) doesn’t want them to know. When they find out, they will be horrified. And we plan to make sure they find out.
Carole Raphaelle Davis is West Coast Director of the Companion Animal Protection Society and Director of Campaigns, Europe, for Friends of Animals. She is an American actress, writer and recording artist.
Edita Birnkrant is the New York Director of Friends of Animals an international animal advocacy organisation founded in 1957. Friends of Animals works to cultivate a respectful view of nonhuman animals, free-living and domestic. Our goal is to free animals from cruelty and institutionalized exploitation around the world.
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