Poor and Muslim? Jewish? Soup Kitchen Is Not for You

February 28, 2006


PARIS, Feb. 27 — More than 200 political demonstrators
defied a police ban here on Thursday, scurrying across
Boulevard St.-Germain and under the sycamore trees of
Place Maubert to engage in their forbidden action:
eating "pig soup" in public.

With steaming bowls of the fragrant broth soon passing
through the crowd, Odile Bonnivard, a short-haired
secretary turned far-right firebrand, climbed atop a
dark sedan with a megaphone in hand and led the crowd
in a raucous chant: "We are all pig eaters! We are all
pig eaters!"

Identity soup, as the broth has come to be called, is
one of the stranger manifestations of a growing
grass-roots backlash against the multiculturalism that
has spread through Europe over the past 20 years.
People are increasingly challenging the care taken in
Nazi-chastened Europe, and in France in particular, to
avoid the sort of racial or religious insults that led
to widespread protests in the Muslim world this month
after wide publication of cartoons considered
offensive to the Prophet Muhammad.

The movement began in the winter of 2003 when Ms.
Bonnivard, a member of a small far-right nationalist
movement called the Identity Bloc, began serving hot
soup to the homeless. At first, she said, the group
used pork simply because it was an inexpensive
traditional ingredient for hearty French soup. But
after the political significance of serving pork
dawned on them and others, it quickly became the focus
of their work.

Made with smoked bacon, pigs' ears, pigs' feet and
pigs' tails together with assorted vegetables and
sausages, the soup is meant to make a political
statement: "Help our own before others."

The "others," Ms. Bonnivard explained, are
non-European immigrants who she and her colleagues on
the far right say are sopping up scarce resources that
ought to be used for descendants of the Continent's
original inhabitants. In other words, the soup is
meant to exclude those who do not eat pork — for the
most part, Muslims and Jews.

"Other communities don't hesitate to help their own,
so why can't we?" she asked, noting that Europe's
Islamic charities serve halal food to disadvantaged
Muslims and that its Jewish charities operate kosher
soup kitchens.

Fair enough, one might argue, but this is France,
where there is little tolerance for anything that
challenges the republic's egalitarian ideals.

The authorities initially left the pork-soup kitchen
alone, shutting it down only once to avoid an
altercation with a group of indignant French leftists.
Then came the riots that swept France in October and
November last year, waking the government to the deep
alienation felt by Muslim youth. As winter closed in
and other pork-soup kitchens run by similar-minded
groups popped up in Strasbourg and Nice — and in
Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi in Belgium —
authorities worried that they might be witnessing the
start of a dangerous racist-tinged trend.

In December, Ms. Bonnivard said, a van of plainclothes
police chased her soup-bearing car through the
streets, and several busloads of officers arrived to
stop her group from setting up at their usual spot
near the Montparnasse train station, citing "the
discriminatory nature of the soup."

She and her fellow soup servers filed an appeal. A
Paris police spokesman said the appeal was pending and
would be decided "on the basis of the current
regulations, in particular concerning risks to public
order and incitement to racial hatred."

They have been playing cat and mouse with the
authorities since then.

Ms. Bonnivard talks glowingly of the camaraderie
engendered by her group's gatherings, whose motive,
she said, is to defend European culture and identity.
"Our freedom in France is being threatened," she said.
"If we prefer European civilization and Christian
culture, that's our choice."

Even newly arrived immigrants from Eastern Europe are
more welcome than Muslims from North Africa, she said,
a sentiment shared by some of the diners.

"At least here there are people who are of the same
mind as me," said a woman named Hélène, 61, who is not
homeless but comes for soup because she has little
money left for food after paying her rent. "The
French, and the Europeans in general, roll over for
foreigners, and particularly Islam."

This being France, most soup kitchens provide the
downtrodden with a complete French dinner, including
cheese and dessert. Ms. Bonnivard's group even throws
in a glass of red wine with every meal.

"The only condition required for dining with us: eat
pork," reads the group's Web site, which bears the
image of a wanted poster for a cartoon pig in a pot
framed by the words, "Wanted, Cooked or Raw, Public
Disturbance No. 1."

The police initially granted permission for the
"European solidarity feast" that Ms. Bonnivard's and
the other right-wing soup kitchens planned last
Thursday. But the authorities called late Wednesday
evening to say the permission had been revoked.
Officers appeared at Ms. Bonnivard's apartment at 6
a.m. Thursday to deliver a written notice prohibiting
the pork-eating rally.

By evening, four police vans filled with anti-riot
police officers were waiting at the group's designated
meeting point outside a conservative Roman Catholic
church while Ms. Bonnivard and her associates huddled
in a nearby cafe, plotting diversionary tactics so
they could serve their soup before the police could

"They're more afraid of us than any march by Islamists
or Jews," Ms. Bonnivard's husband, Roger, declared as
people slurped soup around him. (In the end, despite
the official ban, the police did not intervene.)

Bruno Gollnisch, the silver-haired No. 2 in the
far-right National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, mingled
in the crowd, calling the "persecution" of the soup
kitchen a "betrayal of the French identity." Others
handed out slices of oily sausage as flags bearing the
French fleur-de-lis fluttered overhead. There wasn't a
police officer in sight.

"We're not yet living in a land of Islam," Ms.
Bonnivard bellowed from atop the sedan.


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