England: ‘That’ Day in Brussels – 1997 – Mark’s Memories.

 

‘That’ Day in Brussels – 1997 – Mark Memories.

We fought hard for the Russian seal pups; the ‘Whitecoats’ – mere babies who should not have been murdered for a crappy fur hat.  In the end, after many years campaigning, we achieved the victory that had been fought for so many years – the Russian seal pup slaughter / hunt was stopped ! – ‘Job Done’.

The following shows a typical Russian seal farm – young seals being held until their coats are the right colour – then they are slaughtered.  Mouth bleeding is a typical sign of high stress in young seals.  This is what the campaign targeted.

Copy of Outline data

 

As part of our campaign for the baby seals we took ourselves to Brussels a few times.

After a bad time in London with the Met police (I’ve met the Met and got the bruises to prove it) at Downing Street – we decided to take the campaign to Brussels and the EU.  The Belgian police were no better – very trigger happy as you can read here.  But in the end it was all worth the fight – the baby seals were safe and we had not been shot – good all round.  Here are Mark’s memories of one eventful trip to Brussels (EU) to meet up with the Commissioner re illegal Russian seal pelts getting into the EU.

Mark (Sealer), Mark Watts MEP and Brilliant Robert – Outside Downing St. – London.

 

“And so thanks to the (London) Metropolitan police, things went a bit pear shaped (or ‘tits up’ as we say in the UK) and to a point, our presentation of the petition at the door of number 10 was dealt a blow that made it rather, or drastically less effective than it should have been. Regardless of their attempts to cause us problems, plastic bag after plastic bag of petition cards against a Russian seal pup cull, and more importantly, 10,000 signatures calling on the British government to act, were delivered unceremoniously to the door of number 10. One good thing which had been planned by us anyway, and which did happen as a result of events at Downing Street, was that the giant Easter egg was afterwards taken to one of the nearby London hospitals where it was handed over to one of the children’s wards to be used as I think, a big storage container for their toys on the ward to go into. There were no quibbles at the hospital regarding special security activities and the egg was simply accepted for what it was, which was a gift for the sick children in the hospital ward.  At least we had no problems there. Who are the real children in this case, you have to ask ! – those in Downing St. or the sick youngsters at the hospital ? – I say the formerThinking ahead, we also had plans for action in Europe.  Surely things will go better there – wont they ?

The issue of Russian seal pup skins being imported into the EU had been a major problem for many years.  We had been to London in an attempt to get PM John Major and the British government to raise the issues of Russian seal pup killing at every opportunity. He utterly failed big time.  As there was very little progress here it was now time to take up the other stage of our campaign; that being to take our issues to Europe; next stop Brussels !

Cut to October 1997. – I have taken something like a very welcome three days holiday from work and have driven down to Ramsgate harbour in Kent where I am meeting up with Robert and the others to head to Brussels, Belgium, and the European Union offices. We are all going over to Belgium by a single minibus which has been chartered especially for the trip. At Ramsgate I park my car in the long-term car park and hang around the short time until Robert and the others arrive in the minibus. There are seven of us making this trip, all friends and supporters of Robert’s efforts for the Russian seal pups. I climb on board the minibus and we go through the normal procedures in order to catch a ferry to Ostende that evening. Despite being a large vehicle, the minibus is fairly well kitted out with all the gear there we are taking with us to Brussels; things including stands, display boards, flags, the life sized seals from London and a complete Russian tundra display, which is made up of white fleece type sheeting and dustbin sack after dustbin sack full to the brim with white polystyrene chips which will be shaped on the display to represent the snowfall.

In his very supportive role, Mark Watts MEP has again offered his help, support and services during our trip to Brussels. From what I can recall the ferry which took us to Ostende was at the time, a new catamaran type vessel; and we left Ramsgate at about 6 PM in the evening. Being made by one of the new ferries operating the service, the crossing to Ostende was fairly quick, considering that the journey usually takes approximately 4 hours by normal (older type) vessel.  Once at Ostende harbour, we had no problems in clearing both customs and passport control. As anyone who is a regular to Europe will know, Ostende to Brussels is literally a simple journey of between one and two hours down the A10 and E40 motorways, almost a straight line heading in a south easterly direction.

And so by just taking our time and not rushing anything at all, we were in Brussels around about 10 PM that same evening. As we had a meeting within the EU the following morning, we just drove around for a short time that night to make sure that we were familiar with our route to the European Parliament buildings ready for the following morning. It has to be remembered that everything being done on this trip was funded solely by Robert and the rest of the crew who were supporting him. As such, we were not in any position to be able to afford good hotel rooms in central Brussels for the night; instead, for us, it was going to be a case of undergoing ‘economy measures’. Once we were happy with the route to be taken to the European Parliament buildings the following morning, we took the minibus down into what we first envisaged to be a side street, but one which turned out to be one which was still fairly busy even at 11 o’clock in the evening. From memory, the road forming this street was divided by a central tree-lined, grassed area; one side of the road heading off in one direction whilst the other side of the central reservation was for traffic going in the opposite direction. On both parts of the roads there were shops, bars and cafes. Have you ever tried sleeping in a minibus with six other adults ? – If not, then I would very much suggest that you had been doing the right thing throughout your life; or have had a lucky escape ! To say that it is a ‘challenge’ would very much be an understatement, and this scenario was something that we were all going to have to endure that night during our stay parked up in a very busy side street in Brussels. All the doors were opened on the bus, and the multitude of arms and legs of all the occupants sprawled out in just about every direction found on any compass; and as always in such situations, there was a degree of almost continual talking and giggling.

As luxury in the form of adequate sleeping quarters was not a paramount issue in the minibus, we all attempted to grab some shut eye during the time leading up to, and around midnight. I think it fair to say that virtually nobody in the crew was able to get any sleep at all seeing the conditions we were in within the minibus; and so there was a unanimous decision made around witching hour that it might be better for all of us to bail out of the bus and ‘sleep rough’, by trying to get our heads down on the grass under the trees that formed part of the central reservation between the roads. Don’t ask me how we got them or where they even came from, some of the shops I guess, but all I can recall is that we ended up with a hefty amount of large, empty cardboard boxes under the trees. Fortunately, the weather for many days before had been dry and warm, so it was a case of just selecting your cardboard box, finding somewhere to lay it, crawling in and attempting to get some sleep !.

I recall looking across out of my box at Robert; this brilliant seal campaigner guy who was scheduled to meet up with an EU Commissioner the following morning, and seeing him prising himself snugly into a large cardboard box on a side road in Brussels which had become his bed for the night.  He looked your typical street dosser type guy.  Me being me, my wicked sense of humour crept in and I was in two minds to get out of my box and go round to all the crew; dropping a pound coin into their hands and whispering “here love, go and get yourself a cup of tea”, or something similar.  I restrained !

By about 3 am I think I had probably had about ten minutes sleep, if that, during the last two or three hours.  Taxis and vans making early deliveries to the city centre and all the shops in the road were blasting up and down on each side of us; and, it was just the very last place you could, or would  choose to get your head down for anything which even resembled a good sleep.  I got talking to Audrey, one of the crew, at around 3 am; and we decided that there was little enjoyment to be had where we were, so it was a case of walking the streets for a while. We crawled out of our boxes, dusted ourselves down and set off in the direction of ….. anywhere.

We had a good walk round for a few hours, whilst witnessing the night sights and ‘offers’ of downtown Brussels and making friends with the many cats who appeared out of the darkness and came over to us for a bit of attention.  They got it; at least they had a good night.  I was a bit annoyed that I did not have anything to give them to eat; and I hope that they forgave me for not dishing up bowlfuls of food.  Audrey and I discussed anything that decided to rear its head; from “dust to the state of the nation” (Stranglers – ‘Giants’ album) and the time passed by quite quickly; it had turned 6 am before we even realised.

 

I have this real thing about nice teeth; and to me, a beautiful set of teeth on a girl are just as important as the size of any of her bits or the length of her legs.  Well I am probably exaggerating when I say that, but I do consider oral hygiene a very important thing.  So by 6 am I was rather keen for two things; a good strong cup of hundred mile coffee and then after that, a good session with the toothbrush !

 

All the crew had escaped from their cardboard boxes by the time we returned from our walking tour of the Brussels streets, and together we headed off with one thing in mind; that being to find an early morning café where we could get something to drink and eat; followed by (in my case anyway) a good teeth cleaning session.  We were lucky and found this place just along the road; and I think the guy who owned the place had thought that all his birthdays had come at once, with all these crazy Brits turning up on his door at 6-30 am and ready to drink all the coffee that he had and eat anything that could be eaten within his café.

All I can recall is after having something good to eat and drink, descending these stairs in the café; and going into a room and having a wash and very welcome and essential teeth clean.  Afterwards I wandered back upstairs to meet up with all the crew.  One by one, each person went down and had a wash and personal hygiene experience; and by 8 am or 8-30’ish, we were all tanked up with coffee and croissants; ready to go and in a dishevelled sort of way, meet up with the pristine hierarchy from the EU.

 

It was not perfect as is often the case under such circumstances; none of us had a fresh suit or anything formal to change into; I my case, we had either walked the streets of Brussels the night before, or been encased in a reject cardboard box dosing under a few trees on a busy roadway for a few hours.  Whatever, we were all rather deprived of sleep; but as the saying goes; ‘shit happens’ !- I guess that was a night of shit for me.

Robert went to a box shoved into a section at the rear of the minibus, and suddenly produced a whole bunch of fresh, new white T shirts for us all to wear.  They were great, and each had “European Animal Welfare – Very Much Alive” written across the chest, complete with an excellent picture of a baby whitecoat Russian seal pup.  It was a very welcome addition to, and diversion from the clothes which we had worn whilst travelling from Ramsgate.  We all looked the part now, and were ready to do action at the Brussels HQ of the European Union !

We wormed our way through the busy Brussels morning rush-hour by way of the route we had taken and planned the night before to the EU headquarters. I recall driving into the so-called public car park, and thinking to myself that we would probably have made faster progress if we had been provided with an Apollo moon buggy rather than a large van we had; such were the amount of potholes and ‘varying undulating terrain’ that formed this wasteland which had obviously passed EU regulations by putting ticks in boxes under the heading of ‘adequate car parking facilities’.

It did not take that long for all of us to unpack the van of all its display equipment and then to manhandle the gear across to the main reception area at the entrance to the EU Parliament building. As it was early morning, we had arranged to do a live link up with BBC Radio Kent, our home county station, but as always where the media are involved with anything relating to animal welfare issues, the actual events are very much often overplayed and given as totally different portrayal to those who listen or read.

Rather than describe our planned meeting with the EU Commissioner to discuss the situation regarding the import of seal pup skins from Russia, as organised by Mr Mark Watts MEP; BBC Radio Kent broadcast to its listeners that Animal Rights activists from Kent had stormed and taken over the EU Parliament !.

This was obviously not quite reality.  Also, why are we always called ‘animal rights’ when in fact we are dealing with animal welfare issues ? – I can only suggest that the term ‘rights activist’ immediately conjures up a harder image to the press and media who wish to make a stronger story.  Readers / listeners no doubt are lured into the view of the whole place as being taken over by balaclava clad terrorists armed with a multitude of coloured spray cans; smashing and spraying our way through corridors, turning over tables and chairs and basically, causing fear and havoc amongst all the employees at the EU.  Actually, we were people who worked and who had simply gone to the EU parliament for a day to express our concerns as EU citizens about the killing and import of Russian seal pup skins into the EU !

We ended up managing to get through to BBC Radio Kent and explain that the situation was rather different in reality to that which they were portraying to their listeners. Our visit had been arranged by Mr. Watts MEP; and the nearest we got to any table was going to be one in the restaurant or, at the meeting with the Commissioner.  I hoped they would both remain on all their legs at both venues; and as for spray cans, they were in my garage at home; to be used on car repairs !

Campaign Demo Outside the EU Offices – Brussels.

Brilliant Robert Kneeling at front holding ‘Shame’ Benner

To further what can be described as ‘glitches’ in our day; we had as a group the pleasure of experiencing at first hand the activities of the Belgian police. From what I gathered that morning, the large paved area directly in front of the entrance doors to the EU Parliament comes under the classification of being ‘EU territory’ rather than ‘Belgian’ territory. As such, the Belgian police, whilst being in existence for security reasons, do not have specific Belgian authority with regard their policing of this area. Maybe it was just me, I don’t think so, but the message had not quite gotten through to one senior Belgian police officer who was patrolling around the main doors of the Parliament entrance.

Chances are that he had not been fully briefed / informed that we were attending on that day and that we had been given permission by the EU Eurogroup for Animals to set up a media display outside at the entrance to the Parliament. Not knowing this situation, we casually walked across with all of our display directly into the entrance area, where we proceeded to start unpacking and constructing our Russian seal pup display. Witnessing this, our Belgian police officer friend did a very good portrayal of the space shuttle – he kind of went into orbit with all burners blazing !!.

All I can remember for the next few minutes was having pistols pointed at us by the Belgian police, lots of shouting and a great deal of pandemonium by many people. Fortunately for us, Mr Mark Watts MEP arrived on the scene, had a quiet discussion with Robert and then made his way over to explain and calm down the situation with the Belgian police. I can remember thinking to myself what I would have to tell my family back home if things had carried on as they initially were for those first few minutes with the Belgian police. My mum would probably have asked if I had a nice day in Brussels, to which I would’ve responded something along the lines of being shot in the legs or head by a Belgian police officer ! – Apart from that, the day would have been really good; look at the bullet removed from my head; now that’s a souvenir !

Once all the preliminary misunderstandings had calmed down and been put right by various EU parties who appeared on the scene, we continued to set up our display at the entrance to the Parliament building portraying Russian seal pup hunting. By this time we had gathered the attention of a lot of people going into the building, as well as certain representatives from various EU press who stopped, took some photos and asked a few questions about our aims and campaign.  In the end it turned out to be a very positive morning. Mr Michael Elliott from the AW Eurogroup arrived and joined up with us and with Mr Watts MEP to have some photographs taken”.

 

Here is a few bits of old data that we used in our campaigning.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT RELEVANT ANY MORE – ANY PETITIONS ETC.

Photos are of the campaign and also seal farming in Russia.

 

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