The wrath of grapes

France is facing a strange terrorist threat as disgruntled wine farmers decide to get heavy.

The wine farmers have organised themselves into a group known as the Crav with the express purpose of forcing newly-elected French president Nicholas Sarkozy to raise the price of wine. They claim the current cost of wine is too low to live on. One wine producer from the Languedoc region–where the group is based–said plummeting prices have resulted in a 40-50 per cent decrease in income. It has been recorded that a number of wine farmers have been forced to rely on social security for their livelihood, with some even being said to have committed suicide.

Because of a lack of attention this issue has received through normal political processes, the Crav have sent an ultimatum to the president threatening violent action if a solution is not rapidly enacted. These are not idle threats, either: the group has already used small explosive devices against supermarkets selling foreign wine, vandalised a number of other supermarkets, and even highjacked a truck transporting imported wine. So far, they have not been responsible for any harm to a person, but have threatened that if the government fails to raise prices, “blood will flow.”

The farmers do have a valid contention with the government. It is unreasonable for the government to sit idly by while the wine farmers are forced to suffer through a period which, judging by what the farmers in the region are saying, is effectively crippling their livelihood. It is negligent for the government to fail to act on an issue of such importance to a segment of its citizenry.

Having said that, it is impossible to support the particularly craven method the Crav has adopted to solve the problem. Is it even possible that they think this is a good idea? It was already bad enough when they were damaging property to try and make their point, but sending the president a video message expressing an ultimatum that he fix the problem or people will be hurt, perhaps killed, is utterly preposterous. They have backed the government into a corner and made it impossible for Sarkozy, even if he wanted to, to comply with their demands. If he did so, he would be expressing to everyone in France who has some gripe with the government that the best way to get what they want is to engage in acts of terror. Of course he won’t do this.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the whole ordeal is the timing. The Crav has issued their ultimatum to coincide with the hundred-year anniversary of the last wine farmer uprising, which resulted in six wine farmers being shot. Sarkozy was only elected to the presidency in May and the parliamentary elections were held even more recently. As such, the Crav did not allow any time for the government to act on the issue before issuing its threat. They should have tried to deal with the government through legitimate channels before resorting to this obviously ill-advised and desperate ploy.

Instead, having acted rashly they have put themselves and the French government into an uncomfortable situation which it will be impossible to amicably resolve.

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