France's unlikely folk hero, the walrus-mustached sheep farmer and crusader
against globalization José Bové, was given a rapturous reception by
800 cheering supporters yesterday when he emerged from prison after 44 days behind
Bové, who was serving the remainder of a three-month sentence for wrecking
a partly built McDonald's restaurant in the south of France three years ago, denounced
the new center-right government for sending him, a trade union leader, to prison,
and said he would continue his fight against la malbouffe (lousy food), come what
Looking a lot thinner after being on hunger strike for four weeks at Villeneuve-les-Maguelone
jail near Montpellier, the leader of the radical Confédération Paysanne,
thanked the crowd for its support, which had "turned this intolerable sentence
into a resistance movement".
French farmer José Bové, center smiling, is surrounded by supporters
after he was released from prison in Villeneuve-les-Maguelone near Montpellier,
southern France, Thursday Aug. 1, 2002, after serving 40 days behind bars for
ransacking a McDonald's restautant under construction. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)
Beaming broadly, he added: "Our struggle is just starting. We must denounce
the arbitrary actions of a government that puts trade union leaders into jail.
"Prison is abominable, but I was here for all of you, so that helped me."
He said he had received about 2,000 letters a day from well-wishers during
his spell in prison: where he may well return later this year if another French
court finds him guilty of two incidents of destroying genetically modified maize.
The verdict is expected on September 16.
His attack on the McDonald's in Millau in August 1999 was prompted by America's
decision to impose punitive import tariffs on such French specialties as Dijon
mustard, foie gras and Roquefort cheese (which Mr Bové produces). Washington
was retaliating against the European Union's refusal to lift a ban on US hormone-treated
"We had no other way to denounce this scandal," he said at a huge picnic outside
the prison immediately after his release.
"The World Trade Organization had just ordered Europe to accept hormone-treated
beef. It was illegal, but when legality is illegitimate, it becomes perfectly
legitimate to move into illegality."
The once-portly campaigner, a media-savvy fixture at anti-globalization rallies
and WTO protests from Seattle to Genoa, drank only water and one glass of orange
juice a day for almost a month in prison and lost about 11kg (24Ib).
He described his time in jail as an "unbearable experience unfit for any human
being", and said he now planned to take a week's much-needed holiday on his sailing
boat with his partner, Ghislaine Ricez, to recover.
The justice minister, Dominique Perben, admitted yesterday that Bové's
growing popularity posed something of a problem to the French judicial system.
"He's an awkward customer for the jail services," he said. "But he's served
his sentence, and he's getting out. I hope he has fewer problems with the justice
system in future."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002