"In April 2003 a study of economists funded by the Austrian furrier association was published in an Austrian economy magazine. It spoke about the chances and dangers of the fur trade in Austria. Since the ban of fur farming in 1998 in Austria, the fur trade, now depending exclusively on imports of products, which it is illegal to produce in this country, has gone down steadily.
So, among other suggestions, the economy expert praised the fact that all fur is only imported from Scandinavia, which is supposedly known for its high standards of animal welfare, and hence the fur farms they supposedly have very good conditions for the animals, in complete contrast to fur farms in Eastern Europe, Russia, China and elsewhere. The suggestions to the furrier association was to promote the fact they only import fur from Scandinavian fur farms, make sure they strictly stick to this claim and hope that no-one can prove that Scandinavian fur farms are not so good after all. Among the list of dangers for the Austrian fur trade, this was the biggest item: no negative press about Scandinavian fur farms.
Hence, I had this idea that we should try exactly that: negative press for Scandinavian fur farms. So, I went to Scandinavia in October 2003 and visited Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland to investigate the fur farms there and bring back as much fotographic and video footage as possible.
The fur farms, it revealed, indeed looked everywhere the same as those I had already filmed in Eastern Europe 4 years earlier. Maybe some of them were kept more hygenic, but the conditions for the animals were identical and the farms were generally a lot bigger.
But altogether it seemed to me to be reasonably easy to film, also inside farms. Most farms had no fence or security whatsoever. In one farm I lost my tripod, as I had suddenly to flee.
In Sweden I filmed 15
farms in northern South-Sweden and a further 30 at the Southern tip in an
area with 70 farms near together. All those farms were mink farms. Almost
all these farms had fences around them, but still it was not too difficult
to approach, especially in the South, as most were surrounded by forest. The
Southern farms are all very large, further North though is the largest farm
with 100.000 mink, where I could nicely get good footage. I filled 3 video
tapes and 5 times 36
In Norway, I found it most difficult to find farms. Maybe in other areas than I was, there would have been more. I filmed only in 5 farms, all but 1 were fox farms. I have 2 video tapes and 2 fotografic films. Only one of the farms had a fence, none had security. Especially the farms higher up on the mountains could easily be accessed through forest. Also, all those farms were in tourist areas, where driving with foreign cars is normal, as is hiking with backbags.
In Denmark I visited only 1 mink farm, but I was invited into this farm by the farmer. I filmed 40 minutes and took many pictures. The farm had 150.000 mink. I was also shown the food factory. The farmer explained all farming details to me with patience. He thought I was a journalist reporting on the high quality of Scandinavian fur farming. The security on this farm seemd to me to be non existent.
So, altogether I visited 76 fur farms, produced 9 video tapes and 17 times 36 fotos, and drove 8905 km in 118 hours driving time. Thanks again to everybody who helped me. It transpired how much we are a truely international movement. Without your help it would have been totally impossible.
Now, in Finland I had taken some video and foto footage and sent it back to Austria by post - a grave mistake as it turned out. The police confiscated the material, without notifying me of that fact and without giving any reasons. One could speculate why they were aware of me sending it, and there are two theories. One is that the post office worker alerted the police because she thought there was a dodgy foreign character sending himself videos and foto films, although he was going home soon himself. The other is that since a finnish activist signed the parcel as the sender, who is, as it turned out, a very interesting subject for the police, they might have some scheme where every post with his name as sender or receiver is being forwarded to police. Now, with what I have seen, I would not be surprised if that was so. I had just asked this activist to give his name as he happened to be there and it sounded like a good idea to have a sender address in Finland where the parcel would go back to if for some reason it could not be delivered to me in Austria.
From the rest of Scandinavia I managed to bring all the good footage back home. Only Finland was missing to complete my report. But a Scandinavian fur farm report without Finland just isn't a Scandinavian fur farm report.
So I came back to Finland Sunday 9th November 2003 by airoplane. Since I had gone with my foreign car in October, which had been spotted, chased by fur farmers and surely reported to police, I wanted to hire a car locally this time round. Also, as not to involve Finnish activists and get them into trouble with police, there were 2 activists from Austria accompanying me this time. I knew many fur farms in Finnland from my last visit, and how to approach them, so I had enough to do for the 3 days we had reserved for the filming without needing maps or Finnish contacts.
I was very aware that police will arrest me if they recognized me by name anywhere in Finnland, even on Helsinki airport. But I did not think that to be such a bad thing. I guessed that they would keep me just long enough at the police station that I could not film anymore due to time shortage, but then send me back with my return flight as I was of no big interest to them. I was not wrong there. The positive side of such an arrest would be the chance to retrieve my film and foto footage from my visit before. If I was just "wanted" and never turned up, they would have a reason to keep the stuff as "evidence" forever. If I came, faced a charge and gone through with it, they could not give any reasons anymore of that kind. Also, my footage contained 2 videos and 1 foto CD from Sweden, 3 music CDs by Finnish AR people and much stuff filmed in Finnland from the road, all of which could not possibly be connected to anything illegal in Finland. So I thought, either I manage to film and get footage, or I sit in a cell and get likely some footage and possibly all footage back. I was not too wrong there either.
There was no arrest at the airport, the police had no idea I was coming. So we started filming and all went extremely well for a while. Then, in broad daylight on a farm, me alone in the farm compound and the others further away, one in the car supposedly far away from the place, while filming I suddenly heard a car noise and ran off: indeed, a farmer drove into the farm and came out and looked uncomfortably near to the spot I had been. Time for a swift retreat. I moved in a very large circle for 2 hours through the woods, always very aware where I was, and ended up on a large road 5 km North of the farm, in the bushes. There I phoned the other activist in the car to be fetched.
However, the car driver had driven out of the immediate area, but then stopped, albeit on a big road, and smoked. The problem was, there was another fur farm nearby. Indeed, anywhere for 100 km were fur farms nearby, so the only safe option would have been driving purposefully one way all the time or, indeed, drive away for 100 km and more before stopping and waiting. So, a fur farmer turned up and rudely approached the activist and blocked his car. Soon more farmers arrived in cars and the situation became threatening. But the farmers had apparently also called police, who turned up and questioned the activist. He could convince them of his innocence and was allowed to leave. But then, and that was a mistake, he turned round far too soon and drove back to the place he had been confronted and smoked a cigarette on the car park of a big petrol service station with a canteen. Indeed, not knowing such tight nit fur farming communities, you just don't believe how much you stick out. So, soon the farmers turned up in numbers again. Apparently, the first farmer who had confronted him, had followed him and saw him turn around. The activist locked himself inside his car, the farmers were hitting the car and screaming around. One produced a gun and threatened the activist through the window. Now the activist called the police, and also alerted me with a phone message. The police searched the car this time and soon guessed that more people must have been involved. The second activist came to the car and both, unbeknown to me, were arrested for breach of the peace and brought to Kokkola police station.
I, sitting in the forest, in the meantime it had gone dark, received the phone message of the harrassment by farmers and that police was there with the activists at the petrol station. I did not know of the arrest. However, I saw many fur farmers driving up and down, sometimes coming out of their cars together with searchlights and screaming around and then driving off again, apparently looking for more activists. I stayed put for many hours and burried the video tape I had filmed in the forest. Then I went to the petrol station through the forest and found nobody there anymore. It then dawned on me that police must have arrested the activists. It was now pretty late in the night, me alone with too few clothes for the long Finnish mid-November nights that high up north, in the middle of enemy territory, with search bands of nutcases looking for me. In short, it just did not look good. I was torn between sticking it out through the night or just going to the Police, as I really had not committed any offence. Walking all the time in one direction through the forest away from the place was not an option, as I had no maps and there were fur farms everywhere - I had to bump into one. Obviously, I could have contacted Finnish activists. I did leave that option open, but I did not want to get them into danger or draw police attention to anyone, as phones might be tapped. So, I walked through the forest into a little city called Evijärvi, which was nearby. I hoped to buy food there - I had not eaten since breakfast - and maybe there was a hotel I could take, or a bus or train I could fetch. Wrong I was. Evijärvi, as far as I could see, consisted of a brightly lit centre with some shop fronts and a supermarket, and nobody in the streets. No good place to be. So, I went quickly into the supermarket, which had open till late. It was a big supermarket, with nobody in it, apart from one old lady at the cash desk.
Suddenly two men came into the supermarket, and when they saw me they immediately recognized me as strange. They stared at me with so much anger and hatred that it was obvious that they had recognized me as out of place and foreign and an enemy. They took out their mobiles and phoned. I went up to the cash desk and they clearly watched me. I quickly left the supermarket looking for my only friend there, the dark large nothern forest. But it was too far away. Jogging down a road between houses, a car pulled up beside me with 2 guys in it, shouting something in Finnish. I ignored them. Again they shouted and again. Eventually, I said "sorry?". One said "You are in deep trouble!" and the car sped off, met another down the road and turned and both cars, now with 5 men, tried to corner me. I ran away, back towards the supermarket. There were more men coming from the other side, waving sticks and clubs. I ran into the supermarket, some straight behind me, down the ailes, into the ware house, which was totally devoid of any people, and over some food heaps into a toilet. I locked the outside and inside door and waited.
The farmers screamed, started banging on the door and trying to wedge it open. At that time I saw no other option than calling the police. The officer said he did not believe me that I was in danger and I should call again in 5 minutes. 3 minutes later I called again, and was told that police would be coming - in 30 minutes. I said that in 30 minutes I most likely would be dead.
If you haven't felt it, you don't know how this boundless fear takes hold of you in such a situation. 30 madmen outside with weapons, you cornered in a tiny toilet, you their deadly enemy, you with nobody supporting or even understanding your position anywhere nearby, you the outsider, outcast, the threat to communal life there. In this frame of mind, I don't think I would have even raised my arms to defend myself, had they broken through both doors and started clubbing me to death. I phoned my girlfriend in Austria.
What a weird scenario. I am talking with the person closest to me, but physically 3000 km away, she at home, me in what was the absolute opposite. She could not help me, or comfort me. It was a nightmare. And then I had to put the phone down. I needed to save battery - maybe there is life after death. The phone was my only lifeline, I did not want to loose it too, under any circumstances.
The voices in front of the door had camled down. What were they doing? Did they get heavy mashinery to smash through the doors? Exactly 21 minutes after me phoning police, there was a knock on the door and someone said "police, open the door". Nice trick, I thought, but not with me. I answered that I did not believe it. Why did they come sooner than 30 minutes? They were local police, I was told, who would be handing me over to police from Kokkola, who were the ones needing 30 minutes. Then I asked for them to put their ID underneath the door to prove that they were police. And they did and were. I opened the door.
They took me through the crowd of about 30 fur farmers with their weapons out of the toilet through the middle of this large warehouse and the supermarket into the waiting police van. During the drive I spoke onto the answer machine of a Finnish lawyer that I was brought to Kokkola police station and I informed activists in Vienna. Soon I was at the station, and everything was taken away from me. I was stripped totally naked and searched. Then I was put in the cell. For the first time in my life the prison cell had something comforting with it, although it was a bare room like in every police station, without a window and nothing interesting to look at. The heavy steel door kept most sounds out. Even the very strong and bright light, that was always kept on for the next 3 days, did not stop me from falling asleep soon.
Next time someone opened the door was about 14 hours later. The lawyer was on the phone for me. He said I was suspected of having committed the Kokkola fur farm raid on 21st September. He also told me that I was arrested for breach of the peace and that I would have to be put in front of a court latest at the 4th day in the cell. I gave him addresses of people who would give him an alibi for me for the time of the raid, and indeed on the same evening 8 Austrian witness statements of people who had seen me at the time in question in Austria were handed in, already translated. However, I was never to speak to that or any other lawyer ever again during my stay at the police station. Indeed, I was kept in complete isolation for the whole time. Never did the guards ever answer my ring, not even ask what I wanted. And, I was given no food.
I spent the first day without any food. On the second, I was given 2 tiny plastic cups with green salad, nothing else. And on the third day, 2 hours before my release in the night, which I did not know then, I was given food for the second time: 3 boiled potatoes, a tiny cup with salad and 2 mashed potatoes. For all 3 days that was all I ever got. Actually, I lost 7 kg in this time and never needed to go to the toilet for 4 days solid. Since I had not eaten anything for some 14 hours before my arrest, being deprived of food for a further 3 days added the toll to 4.
I know now that the lawyer, the embassy and the Austrian AR people phoned the police station to speak with me, but contact was denied. I could not even get a guard to the door to ask him to phone. They never answered any bell calls. I realized, I was still in the middle of the fur farming community.
The whole situation reminded me somewhat of the stories I read on how it was in the 1960ies in the Southern USA, and how "nigger lovers" from the North were considered an enemy by the whole white community, if they dared to come South. I wouldn't have been too surprised had the doors flung open suddenly, and an angry crowd of fur farmers were running in to attack me. But that never happend, of all my complaints, to be threatened of physical violence by police ever is not one of them. A guard pushing me into the cell after an interview was the only physical contact since the strip search.
The other two Austrian activists, who were unbeknown to me at the same police station but on another wing, were given ok food 3 times a day and were treated reasonably well.
I had two interviews, where I was asked nothing else but who I met, whether I know this or that Fin, and where I stayed and what I did in every minute I ever spent in Finland. They even asked whether I stayed a night with a Finnish woman somewhere. Also, they claimed that witnesses had seen a Finnish woman in the car with us 3 Austrians just before the arrests, and she supposedly had stripped her clothes off, presumably for changing them into "raid gear". In any case, this Fin was only the imagination of fur farmers running wild.
The interviews were with a woman translating German to Finnish and back. Hence, I cannot 100% say what was actually litterally written down as my statement. Only during my interviews could I ask for something, so I did, in front of the translator. I asked for a phone call to my solicitor and for food and was told that I certainly will get it. Then I was put into the cell and 20 hours later taken out for the next interview, still without food. After 3 days without any food in the cell, without anymore contacts to the solicitor or anybody from the outside world, only interrupted by 2 interviews and once fingerprinting and foto taking, I was suddenly and unexpectedly released. Only then did I find that ar people had tried to bring me food, clothes and games and greetings, but none of that ever came through to me. Also, the police had thoroughly searched our car, opened everything and found the films we had taken so far, also one inside a fruit juice bottle, were it was hidden. All films were gone apart from the one buried in the woods near the fur farm.
So, the 3 of us were suddenly dumped into the road in the middle of the night, in the heart of the fur farming territory. We first went to a hotel, as not to hang out in the open, since our car registration and everything was known to farmers, and since we had learned that apparently in the newspapers there was talk of those 3 Austrian terrorists attacking fur farms. But the hotel person showed all signs of recognizing us and hence we rather left and drove around aimlessly, until ar people took us on.
However, the flight was leaving next day, and I was determined to get the video footage I had buried. As the other two activists would rather not endanger themselves that much again, and it was my project and hence my responsibility after all, I had to get there by myself, which I did. After driving through tiny country roads and dirt tracks, past fur farms, which eerily were hovering by in the dark, I came around 5 am near to the place I had buried the tape. I ran into the wood, crossed 3 rivers and rushed through dark dense forest, necessarily without any lights, and soon found the tape, before any fur farmer had found my car, and off I was back into the night, soon on major roads, back to the others. We did safety copies of the tape, which should be in Finland now. Then we left down to Helsinki airport. I still had no time to sleep, though, as firstly we sent a press release out to the Austrian media, who had followed the case closely, and the press agency actually printed that almost literally. The major newspapers ran the story in a rather positive light. It was said that animal activists from Austria, who had just filmed fur farms in Finland by day, were attacked by farmers and then arrested by police for breach of the peace. It was also mentioned, though, that we were suspected of attacks on fur farms and that we had climbed a fence before filming. During the drive to the airport, I gave altogether 15 interviews to Austrian journalists on the phone, once 20 minutes live on the animal rights radio that was at that time broadcasting in Vienna. Many journalists asked whether I had managed to secure footage from Finland's fur farms and made it dependent on that, whether they would make a bigger story. I did hint I had, but still had the airport to pass through. Also, a number of journalists were interested to do a bigger story on it all in the next week, with focus on fur farming in Scandinavia.
At the airport the next shock: our tickets had been cancelled. We were not let in. Nobody could tell us who cancelled them and why and with what authority. We alerted people in Vienna, who contacted the airline and made a fuss. The three of us split up and the important video tape was hidden as well as possible. Eventually, just minutes before departure, we suddenly could enter the plane and indeed left for home. Although all our luggage had "searched for safety reasons" labels on them upon arrival, the tape was still in our hands. Now we have a complete set of most recent fur farm footage throughout Scandinavia. I intend to make a 20 minutes movie about it, and translate it to english, as some people outside Austria have expressed interest.
At the airport, some 20 activists welcomed us and threw a party with lots of vegan goodies the same evening. Home at last. However, my stomach had really shrunk so much it was hard to eat any amount of food.
The police in Finland have said that my case will go to court in 1-2 months. I am charged with breach of the peace. They will apply to court to be allowed to destroy my films and fotos. I shall be represented by a lawyer and try to stop the destruction of my property and instead get it handed back.
I want to thank especially
all those anonymous Finnish activists who helped me so selflessly and to quite
a risk to their own personal safety. Obviously, I cannot say who you are and
how you helped, but you know it yourself. Thank you very much, also for the
prison support, which the authorities so callously cut off, before it could
reach us. I did know though, all the while in prison, that there were some
people out there on my side, whether I am foreign or not. When it comes down
to it, those fur farmers are the odd ones out. "