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Anti-projectile gear belongs in the European politician’s tool kit

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Flying objects at meetings are nothing new in politics, especially for the past century. The French Prime Minister Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau was taken by surprise with a tomato in 1901. When a supporter of the monarchy attacked him in this way, the cabinet chairman did not at first realize what humiliation he had just been exposed to, according to a New York Times article then.

Nowadays, throwing eggs, tomatoes and, for example, shoes is part of politics.

In contrast to strictly violent attacks, the main purpose of chucking objects is a demonstrative attack that should, above all, attract attention. For example, then British Prime Minister Tony Blair became a target of an extraordinarily spectacular attack in 2004. Supporters of fathers’ rights threw two condoms filled with purple-coloured flour at him right in the lower house during his weekly half-hour question-and-answer session. Both activists got their ammunition into the Parliament building quite easily despite strict security checks.

During public meetings, politicians react both defensively and by counterattack. In May 2001, Blair’s deputy John Prescott physically attacked a man who threw an egg at him. The temperamental minister, a former sailor, had to explain later that he was acting in self-defence. He apologized for his attack and called on everybody to refrain from violence in the next campaign.

In most countries, organizers of public gatherings are prepared for protests that involve the throwing of objects. For example in Germany, access to the places closest to the speaker’s platform is secured so that people with weapons or dangerous objects cannot get there.

At the end of last year, the arsenal of thrown objects was extended to shoes, when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoe at then US President George W. Bush in Baghdad. That inspired the opponents of the current regime in China. This year in February, a training shoe flew at Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as he spoke at Cambridge University.

Political protests have become so common that there are even people who offer paid services in this field. In France, for example, the “protest consultant” Xavier Renou offers his services and provides counseling, especially to organizers of anti-capitalistic demonstrations. Renou insists on nonviolent actions and focuses on creating attractive slogans. He also comes up with ways to lie down on a road to prevent unwanted vehicles from passing.

Political figures aren’t the only targets of various protests. This March, members of the pro-Kremlin Nashi movement (Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement “Ours!”) squirted ammonia at Boris Nemtsov, the opposition candidate for the mayor of Sochi in the south of Russia, where the Winter Olympics are to take place in 2014.

An event somewhere between purely commercial and political protest came last autumn in France, with the sale of dolls that strikingly resembled President Nicolas Sarkozy. The packaging included a set of pins and instructions on how to plant them in the doll so that the represented person would feel pain. The president decided not to use religious authorities to help resolve the issue and instead filed a lawsuit against the seller for breach of personal rights as the dolls evoked ritual voodoo practices from the Caribbean.

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