Great News: Vegan mother reunited with son
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Help Séverine Gérard (vegan mother detained in France)
The following article from the American Chronicle website (May 19th, 2009) is a disturbing account of Belgian national, Séverine Gérard, who is languishing in a psychiatric institution after being subjected to every mother’s worst nightmare – her child being snatched away from her. Please help vegan Séverine by demanding that the Belgian authorities urgently rescue her from this nightmare and reunite her with her son.
Séverine on a hunger strike in front of the courthouse in Nice, France. Her son was taken from her and she is being detained in a psychiatric institution. Please help her. Contact the Belgian authorities now. Photo : Franck Fernandes
Urgent Travel Warning : Vegans Visiting France, Beware!
As a long-term foreign resident in France, I have previously had occasion to report on and analyze French attitudes towards vegetarians and vegans. To make a long story short*, being for the most part linguistically isolated, the French believe what their media tell them. And the media everywhere (not just in France) are, sadly, beholding to the lobbies of powerful industrial interests, nowhere more so than here, in Nice, France’s fifth largest city. Besides which, almost any traveller to France can vouch for the fact that the French, for the most part, don’t like foreigners. When you have both negatively viewed qualities (foreign and vegan) in one person, the combination can, apparently, become dangerously provocative.
A young Belgian woman (29), Séverine Gérard, came to France, a few months ago, it would seem, and with her 2-year-old son, Elie. She says she has been staying with friends here. The Nice Matin, the local newspaper, reports the authorities’ contention, that Séverine is an SDF (a ‘sans domicile fixe’, or a homeless person). More recently, this accusation has been amended to one of Séverine being an ‘itinerant’, which technically all foreign visiters are. They accuse her of sleeping on the beach, although she denies it and, personally, I find this difficult to believe as Nice has had an extremely cold and wet winter and spring, so even street-hardened SDFs have not been sleeping on the beach.
Whatever the truth to this allegation, the fact is that sometime around March 23, Elie was taken away from Séverine by force by the police, apparently at one of the city’s soup kitchens, Séverine being accused of parental neglect, because she is vegan and because she does not feed Elie animal products of any kind.
In her own defense, Séverine is reported, by the Nice Matin, as saying that she had gone to the soup kitchen to meet people, since in Belgium these are places where intellectuals congregate. She is also reported to have said that she still breastfeeds Elie (hence he still has his mother’s milk… although, let us remember that some industrial lobbies have made fortunes contending that their powdered milk formulas are healthier than what Nature intended for small children). Nevertheless, the authorities here, including a judge, have alleged that Séverine is an unfit mother and they seized Elie, placed him in a foster home, and refuse to return him to Séverine.
The authorities, up to now, have not alleged that Elie is in poor health. The charge that Séverine is an unfit mother stems, apparently entirely, from the two facts mentioned: she is vegan and she has no fixed domicile in Nice (she is itinerant).
In response, Séverine began a hunger strike in front of the Nice courthouse. Her friends put together a petition asking for Elie to be returned to his mother. In fact, Séverine’s right to visit her child was, in the meantime, denied to her, because (reports the Nice Matin) ‘she refuses to facilitate the separation’.
The first Nice Matin report on Séverine’s hunger strike and the actions of the French authorities came at the end of April, when she had already been fasting for something like five weeks. Local vegans, even militant vegans, have cited the allegation that Séverine is an SDF to minimize the authorities’ attack on her refusal to eat animal products. In fact, they did not want to show solidarity with this young mother in distress. I can only explain this in the context of the deeply ingrained submissiveness of the non-elite in France’s rigid class society… In a really explosive situation, when push comes to shove, the people are scared stiff of the repressive powers of the authorities (and rightly so, since it has been shown over and over again that the rules and the laws will be bent to suit official intentions), and this fear can all too easily be bought to bear on those who would show solidarity with the targets of the authorities’ wrath…
On the first Sunday in May, in a state of distress that can easily be imagined (at least, by most mothers, vegan or not), Séverine found out where her son had been placed (in Antibes, about 30 kilometers west of Nice, along the coast). Somehow, she managed to procure an alarm gun (mostly used for noise, to scare off assailants), and went to take her son back by force. After 5 or 6 weeks of a hunger strike, one can imagine that she may not have been thinking too clearly, and that she was motivated primarily by emotion : her desire to put an end to the imposed separation from her son.
Unfortunately, Séverine fired her alarm gun.
Unfortunately, the foster father was slightly injured (a scratch on the arm, not requiring hospitalization).
Not only did Séverine not succeed in getting Elie back, but she is now interned in the Antibes hospital, in the psychiatric ward, and is denied all contact with the outside world, except for the police and her court-appointed lawyer.
Subsequent to this dramatic turn of events, local public officials have been reported in the Nice Matin (suddenly no longer sympathetic to Séverine) as congratulating the foster family on their ‘courage’. Elie, it is suddenly reported, ‘has begun gaining weight’, as if he had been underweight before, a point strangely never previously contended… In other words, Séverine’s entirely understandable (in my opinion) distress is now dismissed. The authorities point to her desperate act as proof that she is crazy, hence her son should not be returned to her. But do French authorities have the right to do this to two citizens of another country, just because they are in France?
Can a mother be treated more diabolically and cruelly?
The Belgian consulate in Nice, contacted by email from concerned Belgian citizens requesting an urgent intervention for both mother and child, has said to local vegan activists that he is negotiating the situation with the French authorities.
The solution, at this point, would appear to be to get both mother and child out of France and back to Belgium, undoubtedly more tolerant on lifestyle issues than France. But, do French authorities have the right to remove a Belgian child from his Belgian mother and detain him, just because they are on French soil and French authorities don’t like the mother’s lifestyle?
We will report again on this story, as events unfold.
In the meantime, vegan travellers to France, beware!
See : Quaint ideas on Vegetarianism and Veganism in France, http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/60261
This article was written by Guenady, a native Californian and a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, who has lived as an expat in France for over thirty years. Guenady is also a member of the French Syndicat des Journalistes et Ecrivains.
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