BB’s Braves Clash Over Rodilhan Bullfight

A bloody battle over bullfighting in the small village of Rodilhan (near Nîmes) has provoked an outcry from Brigitte Bardot and animal welfare groups and charges of ‘entrapment’ by the local mayor.

Bullfight supporters showed little patience with a recent sit-in protest

(Read more online French News here)

The violent clashes occurred ahead of the finals in the Graines de Toréros or “Apprentice Bullfighter” event at Rodilhan on October 8. The protest was filmed by a member of the group and it can be seen in the clip below.

While it clearly shows people in the crowd indulging in violence and aggression against those seated on the ground, local bullfighting officials and organisers as well as the Mayors of Rodilhan and Nîmes, have rebutted some of the claims made by the demonstrators.  Serge Reder, the Mayor of Rodilhan, insisted that the protest was a “booby trap” set for the organisers of the bullfighting finals.

Paris Match reported that “a peaceful demonstration against bullfighting, escalated after bullfighting aficionados fire-hosed, grappled with and forcibly expelled activists, leaving some 20 injured in the aftermath. Those hurt  have reportedly filed formal complaints about their treatment. The violence used during the clash led ex- movie-star Brigitte Bardot, now an animal rights and anti-Halal-slaughter campaigner , to write a strong complaint to Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand.

It also prompted Christophe Marie of the Bardot Foundation and one of those at the bullring sit-in — which saw demonstrators chain themselves together in a circle in the ring, and set off smoke flares – to label the spectators “violent barbarians”.

He said animal welfare advocates (from anti bullfight associations such as Crac Europe, Animal Rights and Animals in Danger), attempted to block the bullfight which marked the Graines de Toréros finals “where children are taught to kill animals using daggers.” He said nearly a hundred activists from all over France and Belgium gathered to show “citizen’s resistance to animal torture”. He insisted the activists convened by the “Save the Animals” organisation had planned a peaceful protest which included unfurling banners on the grandstand and occupying the arena in an attempt to block the  “becerradas” (bullfights performed using young animals). But, he said, bullfighting aficionados were not having any of it.

As the video below shows, the sit-in group were given no quarter, spectators attending the event can be seen chasing, kicking, punching, spitting on and fire-hosing the protesters.

Rassemblement anti corrida arène rodilhan (08.10… par licaon

Christophe Marie claims the protesters earlier agreed “not to respond to provocation,” and as result, he claimed, “defenceless activists were beaten, sprayed with water, hit and subject to obscene gestures. In the general chaos the bullfight supporters also molested a cameraman from France 3 broadcasting network and ejected him from the arena.”

He said the activists and their associations were shocked and shaken by the level of ” abuse and violence ” to which they had been subjected and insisted they were merely seeking to underline their campaign message that “torture has no place in our culture “.

He said the activists occupied the bullring for “20 minutes of madness that no film images can describe,” during which time “we got no sympathy” from those in the grandstands — who can be heard cheering on the video clip below — and “once our chains had been cut we were dragged in groups, some by their hair, out of the ring.”

Brigitte Bardot reacts angrily to the violence

The Bardot Foundation statement has condemned the police, for doing only the bare minimum to protect protestors and claimed the Mayors of Rodilhan and Nîmes, were “passive in the face of the turn of events”.  (The mayors have rebutted these claims, see below). Despite this chaos and violence, the bullfight went ahead and according to Christophe Marie, “six calves were tortured to death in Rodilhan to the applause and joy of a drunken violent crowd…”

Following the clash Brigitte Bardot wrote the Culture Minister saying: “A few months ago, you placed French bullfighting on a (UNESCO) inventory of national intangible heritage…Today, I want to alert you to a terrible and extremely serious attack (on protesters) near Nîmes … your uncle (former Socialist President François Mitterrand) abolished the death penalty in France, 30 years ago, now it is high time to abolish animal torture”. (See full text of  letter below).

A report in Midilibre the regional newspaper, said the disturbances occurred ahead of the finals of the “Graines de Toréros,” when dozens of anti-bullfighting protestors tried to block the event. “First they unfurled banners and protest placards on the grandstand and then they invaded the centre of the bullring, attached to each other by strong anti-theft locks. They were soon attacked by the bullfighting aficionados who had gathered for the event,” the paper reported. “The images”, said the paper, “speak for themselves”.

The video, posted by the radical anti-bullfighting organisation (Crac), has already been viewed over 16,000 times on YouTube and shows anti-bullfighting activists being violently dealt with by aficionados.

The paper described the violence as “deplorable” and said an umbrella organisation for bullfighting groups had issued a statement lamenting the violence against the protesters.

However René Abric Mayor of Langlade and organiser of the event told Midilibre he  “condemned the anti-bullfighting protestors. (…) who occupied the ring.”


Midilibre claimed that Jean-Paul Fournier, a UMP Senator and president of the metropolitan region, Daniel-Jean Valad, his deputy in charge of bullfighting, and local MP Yvan Lachaud failed to react to the affair. Jean-Paul Fournier reacted strongly to this charge. He denied he had done nothing during the Rodilhan rampage. “I immediately responded by contacting the Gard prefect to mobilize the police (…) I obviously regret that the means used by the State were unable to prevent acts of violence that I strongly condemn.”

The local state prosecutor’s office said that it had not yet received any formal complaints but it had ordered the police to open an inquiry.

Serge Reder, Rodilhan mayor confirmed to a Midilibre reporter that he had made a formal complaint to the local gendarmerie against the anti-bullfighting protestors for “obstruction, launching smoke flares and insults”.

Asked if he felt the bullfight organisers had been entrapped by the protestors, he responded : “Yes, I think it was indeed a booby-trap”. Asked about the level of violence used and shown in the videos and photos of the sit-in, he said: “There were two opposing camps. The pro- and anti-, and I respect their convictions. I agreed that they be allowed to demonstrate at the entrance to the bullring. But after that, once they were there, they crossed a line (by invading the arena) and encroached on the freedom of others”.

Asked if he regretted the violence used during the sit-in, he said: “Of course, I can only regret the degeneration (into violence) that occurred. We were faced with an unexpected situation. I was outside when it started. When I heard the cries my first reaction was to summon the police … The protesters were initially chained one to another. A hose was connected to extinguish their smoke flares and to hose them down. Then they were driven out. I never said that there had been no assaults. We saw things happen that are unacceptable and regrettable.”

Asked to react to formal complaints made to the police by anti bullfighting protestors that elected officials present had failed to “provide help to persons in danger” (France has a strict good Samaritan law ), he said: “I tried to calm both sides down. But in the midst of such chaos, it became impossible.”

Asked if at the end of all the violence that he saw  it was the right thing to do to allow the event to proceed, he responded: “Why should it not have taken place? I have apologised for the situation that developed”.

The Mayor added that his officials had been seriously inconvenienced in the aftermath: “I am very uncomfortable about the affair. We at Town Hall have received many telephone threats. Our email has been overwhelmed. Municipal staff have been insulted and threatened, we were forced to close down the switchboard for three days as a result”

The chasm that separates supporters of bullfighting and its local cultural importance and tradition, from the (often violent) animal welfare and anti-bullfighting crowd, is well summed up in this blog report in Midilibre from the paper’s Rodilhan correspondent:

“ The Graines de Toréros final took place Saturday, October 8 in the Rodilhan bullring richly decorated for the occasion by the Toros y Caridad association, chaired by Mayor Serge Reder. The finals were hosted by Nîmes Métropole in partnership with the municipality and Rodilhan’s Toros y Caridad.(Bulls and Charity)

“Toros y Caridad hosted a morning event using two cows from breeder Rolland Durand and students from the Centre de tauromachie de Nîmes. Then in the Graines de Toréros final Tristan El Diego faced one a becerro from the stud of breeder Patrick Laugier.

“In the afternoon, Santiago Sanchez Mejia was declared winner of the Graines de Toréros final, Alexander Rubio was second and Maxime Curto, third. The prize giving was attended by the president of the metropolitan region, Jean Paul Fournier, Yvan Lachaud, MP for Gard, René Abric vice president of the metropolitan region in charge of bullfighting, Serge Reder Mayor of Rodilhan, Brigitte Dubois of the Centre de tauromachie de Nîmes and Daniel Jean Valade Nîmes councillor in charge of culture.

“An exhibition of paintings of Nicole Décieux’s (bullfighting) knife and Yves Porras’ bullfighting photographs was also held.

“During the bullfight, a group of anti-bullfighting protesters occupied the ring just before the paseo. Some aficionados responded violently to the protest.”

As French News Online has reported previously, 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.

However a tide of vociferous activism is moving in Europe seeking to ban the bullfight in southern France, Spain and Portugal. Among a large number  of anti-bullfighting pressure groups operating in France are:

Save the Animals; Fondation Brigitte BardotCRAC EuropeAnimal Rights;

CLAM, Animal Liberation Committee of Montpellier;  LAC Brigade Anti Corrida de Marseille

There are also many bloggers and other online activists among them: Unanimus, une Âme, un Choeur pour les Animaux

Nevertheless local supporters of the tradition, and they include many powerful national and regional political figures are clearly not taking all the protest lying down.

Jean Paul Fournier

A firm word of bullfighting support  was published shortly after the Rodilhan protest on the website of Jean Paul Fournier President of the metropolitan region:

“I chaired, on Saturday at Rodilhan, the Graines de Toréros final, organized by the Nîmes Métropole, in close collaboration with the Centre de tauromachie de Nîmes chaired by Brigitte Dubois. The event, won by Colombian bullfighter Santiago SANCHEZ-MEJIA, was somewhat disturbed by the presence in the bullring, of a group of activists, booed by pro-bullfighting spectators, chanting the motto of the Nation: Freedom! I totally regret the approach of these intolerant individuals, who ignore local traditions and our desire to attend a bullfight now classified as part of the intangible heritage and culture of France and, for some, a passion to perform, and since the end of 19th century, properly enshrined under the law of the Republic.”

Here is the Brigitte Bardot letter in full:

Open letter from Brigitte Bardot to the Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand.


A few months ago, you placed French bullfighting on a (UNESCO) inventory of national intangible heritage…Today, I want to alert you to a terrible and extremely serious attack (on protesters) near Nîmes .

“That day, six calves were to be tortured to death during a “becerradas“, a bullfight practiced on young calves, understanding nothing of what is about to happen to them and suffering pain from banderillas that tear their flesh….

“So on October 8, nearly a hundred opponents of torture demonstrated peacefully in the bullring , in an act of strength and bravery in the face of people driven by hatred, perversity and decadence of circus games that should longer be tolerated in a civilized society.

“These opponents of cruelty, whose courage and tenacity I admire, had chosen not to respond to provocations … So the hatred of the barbarians was demonstrated in all its ferocity, not only violence against animals, but of course, against defenceless activists who were beaten.

“While some protesters were molested in the grand stands trying to put up banners, about fifty people were chained together in the ring where they received punches, kicks, slaps, and were spat on…

“Sir, look at the video that I attach to this letter, it is edifying! We see a young girl abused by guys that tear off her clothes leaving her in a bra, others receive kicks and punches in the face , the violence is unbelievable, unimaginable … All this happened on Saturday in France, in Rodilhan!

“This is the true face of barbarians who enjoy seeing an animal being tortured to death, that same public, these same fans also enjoyed seeing peaceful opponents being abused, being beaten while chained together . All these people were victims of this relentless monster under the indifferent eyes of local elected officials, municipal police and gendarmerie…!

“The spokesman of my Foundation was among the protesters, chained, and beaten, and dragged out by the hair. Like all others he was physically and psychologically affected by this terrible ordeal, some were more seriously injured, and sought treatment in the local hospital. Twenty opponents were so badly abused that they have today laid formal complaints against these murderers, these terrorists who have no empathy for man or animal.

“The worst of all is that despite their courage, despite the incredible risks they took, the militants could not save the six calves who were tortured to death before the eyes of people who take perverse pleasure in seeing such suffering.

“Sir, look at this video, you owe it to these brave citizens! What  you see there is not the “cultural heritage” of our country, shame, shame!

“You must reverse this unworthy listing and help eradicate this barbarism from France. Your uncle (former Socialist President François Mitterrand) abolished the death penalty in France, 30 years ago, now it is high time to abolish animal torture.

“On October 22, the Bullfighting Foundation will be meeting  in Bayonne, we will be there too to remind them that torture has no place in our culture.

“Minister, I ask you to support me in the call that I am making because the terrorists are not those who defend animals but those who take pleasure in torturing them to death. I count on you.

Brigitte Bardot.”

Meanwhile, their blood clearly up, the Bardot Foundation and allied anti bullfight groups  are planning plenty of noise in Bayonne on October 22.

This follows a move in September by Bayonne mayor Jean Grenet who announced he would  convene a meeting of bullfight leaders from the main centres: Béziers, Nîmes, Arles, Vic-Fezensac, Bayonne, Dax, Mont-de-Marsan to discuss issues facing the spectacle. “We need to discuss the future of bullfighting, establish common rules and settle some of the issues surrounding fees and revenues” he said at the time.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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