The Bourget air show is generally presented as being a fair for big kids, with aeroplanes, and parachutists performing impressive technical feats.
One leaves with the impression of having been to the circus, and of having entered the cocooned world of the arms dealers. Indeed, the positive or, at best, indifferent reaction of the public to the material exhibited at the show leaves one feeling a deep sense of irony.
Chained to the Tiger
Sunday 24 June, the last day of the exhibition and the crowd was even larger than usual. In front of hall 2b – occupied by EADS (European Aeronautics Defence and Space) – the Tiger helicopter was presented. The Tiger is made by Eurocopter, and Eurocopter is entirely owned by EADS.
At 1pm, before the air displays started, members of the collective Ventes d'arms....BASTA (stop the arms trade) found themselves in front of the barriers admiring, as best they could, the Tiger – little brother of the Cougars, used by the Turkish army against the Kurdish population. The heat is unbearable, almost as unbearable as the presence of the security guards.
In between patrolling guards, five members of the collective jumped over the barriers and three of them quickly chained themselves to the helicopter under a shower of fake Franc notes. Each note displayed a different type of armament and the number of corpses for which the weapon is responsible. At the same time two banners appeared from within the crowd, demanding an end to the arms trade. Before being stopped somewhat violently, one of the activists had time to stick posters on the helicopter, portraying an arms salesman with a bare skull, the same image that was used as the logo for the “close Eurosatory 2000” campaign. During the time it took the security guards to find a pair of boltcutters to cut the chains, a young male activist continued lancing eggs filled with ketchup against the cockpit for dramatic effect.
The collective Ventes d'arms.... BASTA – including members of French activist groups COOOA, COT, MOC Rennes, RIRE and UP – succeeded in making a dissonant voice heard at the heart of this fair, an event which had been planned to the last T to run smoothly.
Controlling witnesses and press
Once the chained activists had been released from the Tiger, and the banners lowered by force, the national police took over. Whilst they were busy dealing with the activists, a Eurocopter representative came to explain that it was futile to protest against his enterprise because the US sell twice as much military equipment! He seemed so sincere that, had the protestors not been handcuffed, they would have wiped away their tears.
More seriously, the authorities want not a trace of this protest left behind. They tried to prevent all photography and filming of the protest and arrested those responsible for recording the action with the ten activists and four unfortunate foreigners who happened to be on the scene. Their crime? Taking photos! This is how a young Rasta man from Brittany, a Belgian tourist and his son, and a journalist from Politis (just doing her job) found themselves being carted off in the back of a police van to the local police station where they would undergo four hours of “identity checks”.
Some of the people questioned at the police station were photographed and forced to give their fingerprints. This procedure was justified as being a standard part of a regional law, as Courneve (the area in which this particular police station is situated) is a volatile area. The activists were warned that force would be used if they did not comply with these procedures. Later, research revealed that neither the prefecture nor the tribunal could confirm this so-called “regional law”.
These somewhat extreme measures were surely taken in case we were planning to come back to Le Bourget for the 2003 show, unless, of course, we happen to be in the area before that. How far is Villepinte (site for Eurosatory 2002) from Courneuve?