BBC News, Jan. 25, 2006
Charity groups with far-right links serving pork soup to homeless people face a crackdown by French officials.
Protesters have accused the groups of deliberate discrimination against Jews and Muslims, who do not eat the meat.
Strasbourg officials have banned the hand-outs and police in Paris have closed soup kitchens in an effort to avert racial tension.
The charities have defended offering what they call traditional cuisine to French and European homeless people.
The groups, operating in cities across France and neighbouring Belgium, are not formally linked but are associated with a small far-right organisation called Bloc Identitaire.
Identity Soup, as it has been dubbed by its chefs, was banned in Strasbourg this month after officials ruled it could lead to public disorder.
“Schemes with racial subtexts must be denounced,” Strasbourg’s mayor Fabienne Keller said.
Although no ban exists in Paris, police have closed soup kitchens in the capital’s Montparnasse and Gare de l’Est train stations on administrative grounds.
Volunteers were ordered to re-seal soup containers on the basis they did not have the necessary permits to distribute food.
A leading French anti-racism movement has urged Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy to ban pork soup give-aways throughout the country.
Bernadette Hatier, vice president of the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, said the scheme was a ploy to drum up far-right votes ahead of 2007 presidential elections.
Many local authorities have said they are powerless to intervene as the groups are not breaking the law.
National Front spokesman Bruno Gollinisch said that people had the right to be charitable to whomever they want.
He described moves to ban the pork soup kitchens as “revelatory of authorities’ alienation from the French people”.
Dominique Lescure, head of the Nice-based group Soulidarieta, said pork was a traditional part of French cuisine.
But he admitted wanting to serve the soup to what he called his “compatriots and European homeless people”.
France’s Muslim population is the largest in western Europe and is estimated at five million.
Far-right groups in France are distributing ham sandwiches and pork soup to homeless people in an attempt to discriminate against Muslims and Jews, forbidden to eat pork products.
Food hand-outs, which have already taken place in Paris, Nice and Nantes, and in Brussels and Charleroi in Belgium, have now spread to the eastern French city of Strasboug.
At the weekend, Strasbourg’s prefect banned the extreme right association Solidarité Alsacienne from distributing its soupe au cochon (pig soup) to poor and homeless people in the city centre.
On Saturday, police intervened to close the soup kitchen after Solidarité Alsacienne defied the ban and began distributing food in one of Strasbourg’s main squares.
Chantal Spieler, Solidarité Alsacienne’s president, was escorted to police headquarters and given a formal warning before being joined by her husband, Robert Spieler, a former MP for Jean-Marie Le Pen’s far-right National Front party.
Mr Spieler denounced “a totalitarian regime” where soon “they’ll be banning salami”.
He said: “Pork is a European symbol, whether we like it or not. The day when there are laws forbidding the distribution of pork in Alsace I believe there will be a lot of us who will leave France and take refuge in a country where there is still a certain culinary freedom.” His wife said she would appeal against the prefect’s decision.
“Pork is part of our culinary culture and we are offering the soup to everyone, so there is nothing discriminatory about it,” she said.
However, few accept Solidarité Alsacienne’s protests that it is a victim of the infringement of civil liberties. The association is close to Le Bloc Identitaire, an extreme-right umbrella group led by Fabrice Robert, a former leader of Unité Radicale, a neo-Nazi cell which broke up in 2002 after one its members attempted to assassinate the president, Jacques Chirac.
Soulidarieta, an extreme-right group based in Nice, which is also a Bloc Identitaire member, provoked outrage over Christmas when it began distributing soup made with pork once a week to homeless and poor people in the south-eastern city’s port area.
Its operation drew as many protesters as homeless people. They accused the group of blatant discrimination by offering pork soup only, deliberately to exclude poor Muslims.
With protesters denouncing the practice as racist, the local town hall and the prefect’s office in Nice claimed they were powerless to intervene as the group had done nothing illegal.
The group’s head, Dominique Lescure, said pork was a traditional part of French cuisine. He did admit, however, wanting to serve the soup to his “compatriots and European homeless people”.
The philosophy behind Soulidarieta, which means solidarity in the local dialect, is made clear in the association’s literature, in which it claims: “Our people face being submerged by a rising black demographic tide,” and announces “the launch of a voluntary social and political action in favour of our most deprived blood brothers”.
The group’s slogans call for “solidarity with our European brothers”, and “Our own kind first before others”.
Pierre Levy of the Council Representing Jewish Institutions in France, who attended the first distribution of pork soup last month, denounced Bloc Identitaire’s operations as “using human misery to establish ethnic separation”.