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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Nationalism fails to light election fires
View of Millau
Roquefort country: Anti-globalisation, but not anti-US
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Sheila Barter
By BBC News Online's Sheila Barter
In Millau

The town of Millau is all red roofs, mountain views and people stopping in the narrow streets to discuss the weather and Voltaire.

McDonalds flags in Millau
The conqueror's standards flutter above the town
It is, as one woman from another region told me with admiration in her voice, "La France profonde" - deepest France - in the southern reaches of the Massif Central mountain range.

This is Roquefort country, where the humble sheep has been crowned queen, revered for its milk and then turned into gloves and slippers.

But on a hillside overlooking the town, the flags of McDonalds flutter in the mountain breeze like the standards of a conquering army.

It is the symbolic front line in the battle against globalisation.

No hero

It was here that local cheese farmer Jose Bove and a group of supporters arrived in their tractors in August 1999 and flattened the McDonalds while it was still being built.

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His action catapulted him to fame and made him a figurehead for the anti-globalisation activists worldwide.

Now, Mr Bove is just about the only prominent man in France not running for president, but the debate he entered so dramatically on this hillside is playing its part in the campaign.

"I think anti-globalisation is a campaign issue," says local mother Monique Fabre. "Neither Jospin nor Chirac has much to say on the matter, but in the second round, they will both be after extra votes."

Mrs Fabre is a rare find - a Bove supporter who, against all her principles, is at McDonalds for only the third time in her life.

"I hate McDonalds, but my son is getting a reward for a good school report," she says, as six-year-old Florian munches on his Happy Meal.

"I think Mr Bove is quite courageous - he did something very dramatic, and now he uses his fame to draw attention to other issues."

Jose Bove
Bove: Uses his fame to raise issues of concern
There is a queue of people waiting to be served, and manager Cedric Pourcel says he loses little sleep over Jose Bove.

"I don't worry that people have not accepted us," he says.

"We have plenty of customers - most of them young, but in the afternoons the old people come and we serve them tea."

Mr Bove's attack itself was a protest against punitive tax on cheese imposed by the US, but it became a sort of generic statement of France fighting back against corporate giants, dominant US culture and a perceived weakening in its international political and military influence.

But while his anti-globalisation beliefs have struck a chord here, Mr Bove himself is not a local hero - even in the specialist shop which sells his cheese.

There are lots of people we don't like... The Americans don't even come into it.

Millau resident
"He is not particularly supported here in Millau," says shopkeeper Jacqueline Delon. "People don't really talk that much about him."

Also completely missing from Millau is any sense of France's alleged anti-Americanism.

Some commentators have made a lot of this, especially after a strong showing for nationalist left-winger Jean-Pierre Chevenement early in the campaign, though Mr Chirac has said it is only Paris's Left Bank intellectuals that have a problem with the USA.

"We are against globalisation, not against the Americans," one local woman tells me.

"There are lots of people we don't like - the Spanish for producing cheaper wine, the British for buying out best houses, the Belgians, the Germans. The Americans don't even come into it."


A stronger France is important, another woman tells me, but only for economic reasons.

Others laugh at the very idea that national identity is a key election issue.

Videos available for rent
Most videos for rent in Millau are US films
"Tax cuts - that's what we need," says Jacqueline Delon.

Her customers say they don't think much of Mr Chevenement's nationalistic ideas, given his resignation from the government in protest against the Gulf War.

Here in the depth of the French countryside, the US influence is obvious.

Only two out of eight films at the local cinema are French. The proportion at the local video shop is even lower. American R&B and Elvis are playing in the bars.

But there is no siege mentality, no sense of national insecurity.

The ordinary French, both here and elsewhere, seem to have the self-confidence to enjoy what is on offer without seeing it as a threat to their way of life.

BBC News Online's Sheila Barter is travelling across France to gauge the mood ahead of the forthcoming presidential election - this is the sixth of her reports.

See also:

05 Apr 02 | Europe
Record slate for French election
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
10 Oct 01 | Europe
Q & A: Chirac's corruption battle
04 Sep 01 | Europe
Chirac corruption inquiry halted
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