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‘Lovers of nature’ – Why French politicians are courting hunters

It's an increasingly controversial practice with concerns raised about both safety and animal welfare - but the hunting lobby is being enthusiastically courted by France's 2022 presidential hopefuls.

'Lovers of nature' - Why French politicians are courting hunters
Photo: Thibaud Moritz/AFP

There are four million card-carrying hunters in France, the largest contingent of any country in Europe – and a vital electorate for the candidates in the French presidential vote in April.

France’s love of the land runs deep, even though the number of farms has dwindled in recent years and large parts of the countryside have emptied out, often resulting in a dearth of essential services such as health care.

Yet the dream of a country vacation home has long motivated middle classes across the political spectrum, fuelled in part by pride in the country’s rural heritage – of which hunters are held up as the guardians.

READ ALSO How to get through France’s hunting season without getting shot

“Obviously we have influence, and we will sell our vision of the world for 2022,” Willy Schraen, head of the FNC national hunters’ federation, told journalists recently.

Emmanuel Macron moved quickly to curry their favour after his 2017 election, slashing the annual hunting licence fee to €200 from €400.

And in December that year, he celebrated his 40th birthday at the grandiose Chateau de Chambord, for centuries the royal hunting grounds of French kings in the Loire Valley.

Surrounded by torches and the blowing of horns, he was the first sitting president in decades to attend the venerable ritual of presenting the day’s take – though Macron himself did not take part in the hunt.

Other mainstream candidates have also played up their support for hunters, with even Communist candidate Fabien Roussel defending them recently against “condescending intellectuals”.

Valérie Pécresse, widely seen as the biggest threat to Macron’s re-election hopes, has hailed them as “lovers of nature” who are “very responsible and respectful”.

Yet opposition to hunting for sport has risen on both wildlife preservation and animal cruelty grounds, and tensions between the two sides routinely flare as elections near.

A series of fatal accidents this season – seven so far – has also revived claims that hunters put other forest users at risk.

Such arguments exasperate Thierry, a former teacher in Paris who is moving to the Morvan.

“They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends,” he said.

Critics are pushing to prohibit hunting on weekends – France is among the few EU countries to allow hunting every day during the season – and sharply curtail the number of species allowed, currently around 90.

A petition to halt hunting on Sundays and Wednesdays, a weekday when many schools are closed, has garnered 120,000 signatures.

“But I’m like everyone else, I work during the week – you go hunting on the weekend,” said Christian, another hunter in Morvan.

For Sergio dalla Bernardina, an Italian anthropologist who has studied hunting debates across Europe, the debate will have outsize sway in the French presidential fight.

“The relationship between hunting and power is quite strong in the French imagination,” he told AFP.

“Behind the stakes over hunting itself, there are questions of rural identity, the soil, authenticity, and the face off between urbanites and ‘neo-rurals’ who are often seen as modern-day colonisers,” he told AFP.

Member comments

  1. “They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends.” So why do they need guns to enjoy the countryside with friends? They seem to speak like other county dwellers, the forked toughed variety.

  2. “They give an absolutely false image of hunters as carnivores who only want to kill, kill, kill, but from what I see it’s about respect and spending the day in nature with friends,” he said.

    Typical comment, I would imagine, from the hunting fraternity. About respect? Respect for whom? Other people who wish to spend a day in nature with friends without inflicting such serious trauma to other animals so that they die presumably in pain, fear, and shock. Jolly good fun, eh?

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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