Eric Cantona's call for bank protest sparks online campaign
As students and public sector workers across Europe prepare for a winter of protests, they have been offered advice from the archetypal football rebel Eric Cantona.
Cantona was once a famous exponent of direct action against adversaries on and off the pitch. In 1995 he was given a nine-month ban after launching a karate kick at a Crystal Palace fan who shouted racist abuse at the former Manchester United star after he was sent off. But while sympathising with the predicament of the protesters in France, the now retired Cantona is urging a more sophisticated approach to dissent.
The 44-year-old former footballer recommended a run on the cash reserves of the world's banks during a newspaper interview that was also filmed. The interview has become a YouTube hit and has spawned a new political movement.
The regional newspaper Presse Océan in Nantes had asked Cantona about his work with the Abbé Pierre Foundation, which campaigns for housing for the destitute and for which he produced a book of photographs last year. But the discussion soon moved on to other issues, including the demonstrations in France and elsewhere against government cutbacks in the new era of austerity.
Cantona, wearing a bright red jumper, dismissed protesters who take to the streets with placards and banners as passé. Instead, he said, they should create a social and economic revolution by taking their money out of their bank.
He said: "I don't think we can be entirely happy seeing such misery around us. Unless you live in a pod. But then there is a chance... there is something to do. Nowadays what does it mean to be on the streets? To demonstrate? You swindle yourself. Anyway, that's not the way any more.
"We don't pick up weapons to kill people to start the revolution. The revolution is really easy to do these days. What's the system? The system is built on the power of the banks. So it must be destroyed through the banks.
"This means that the three million people with their placards on the streets, they go to the bank and they withdraw their money and the banks collapse. Three million, 10 million people, and the banks collapse and there is no real threat. A real revolution.
"We must go to the bank. In this case there would be a real revolution. It's not complicated; instead of going on the streets and driving kilometres by car you simply go to the bank in your country and withdraw your money, and if there are a lot of people withdrawing their money the system collapses. No weapons, no blood, or anything like that."
He concludes: "It's not complicated and in this case they will listen to us in a different way. Trade unions? Sometimes we should propose ideas to them."
Cantona's call appeared to touch a popular chord and generated an instant response. Nearly 40,000 people have clicked on the YouTube clip, and a French-based movement – StopBanque – has taken up the campaign for a massive coordinated withdrawal of money from banks on 7 December. It is claimed that more than 14,000 people are already committed to removing deposits. The movement is also gaining increasing attention in Britain.
The trio of French Facebook users now leading the campaign have appealed to people across Europe to provoke a bank crash. "It is we who control the banks, not vice versa," they write.
In a fuller statement on the website Bankrun2010.com, the organisers write: "Our call has been more successful than we dared think. Our action is a people's movement... we're not seeking to destroy anyone in particular, it's the corrupt, criminal and moribund system that we have decided to oppose using what means we can, with determination and within the law." The statement is signed by Géraldine Feuillien, 41, a Belgian filmmaker, and Yann Sarfati, 24, an actor and director from France.
Sarfati said he and his friends had simply wanted to pass on Cantona's video clip, but had found themselves caught up in a global "citizens' movement".
"We were surprised by the interest and the buzz it created on the internet. It has really spread; there are now Facebook events in Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and even Korea," Sarfati said.
"We're not anarchists, nor linked to any political party or trade union; we're not even an organisation. We just thought this was another way of protesting."
He added: "In between doing publicity campaigns for L'Oréal, Cantona has this revolutionary side. He earns a good living, but obviously he has a social conscience and I think he is sincere."
Valérie Ohannesian, of the French Banking Federation, said she thought that the appeal was "stupid in every sense" and a charter for thieves and money-launderers.
"My first reaction is to laugh. It is totally idiotic," she told the Observer. "One of the main roles of a bank is to keep money safe. This appeal will give great pleasure to thieves, I would have thought."
She also doubted the practicalities of the suggestion. "If Mr Cantona wants to take his money out of the bank, I imagine that he'll need quite a few suitcases," she said.