Time for a change? Finning, Upper Bavaria
I HAVE NO IDEA how many animals PETA (“People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”) has actually saved from the butcher's knife, but the group is certainly skilled at getting its message into the media and the public discussion, as they proved once more in Bavaria last week.
Founded in 1980, the Virginia-based PETA organization has been uncovering pervasive cruelty of animals and lobbying against the meat and fur industries ever since. It is most notorious for its 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” poster campaign, which compared the meat industry with the Nazi horrors of Auschwitz and Treblinka. This action really got the fur flying in Germany and Austria, where any kind of Holocaust denial or relativization is a punishable offence – “incitement of the people” is the technical term over here for displaying caged chickens along with starving Jews in a Birkenau barracks. The campaign was accordingly banned and the posters removed from public sight.
"Incitement of the people"?
Aside from the inevitable anti-fur and anti-animal experiment posters, the German branch of PETA has taken a cleverer route, demanding that towns and products change their names to reflect a more PC attitude toward the natural world. In March of this year, for example, the group lobbied the popular schnapps manufacturer Jägermeister (literally the un-PC “master hunter”) to rename its cult beverage Waldmeister (a.k.a. the natural herb woodruff), an ingredient in many herbal concoctions. The Jägermeister people, who have been in the business since 1934, politely refused.
Is this a politically incorrect beverage?
Last week, the group addressed a letter to the mayor of the Upper Bavarian town of Finning, demanding yet another PC name change. This has become something of a PETA tradition: Back in 2001 the organization petitioned Fischen (“fishing”), Bavaria to change its name to Wandern (“hiking”), and two years later the American branch asked the town council of Hamburg, NY to rename their fine city Veggieburg.
So what’s wrong with the name “Finning,” you might ask? It turns out that “finning” is an international fishing term for the cutting of shark fins. Sharks are finned alive for the Asian shark fin soup trade and the bleeding, dying animals are thrown back into the water to be torn to ribbons by larger creatures. So that is why Peta wants Finning to rename itself “StopFinning.”
So far, the locals are having none of it. For one thing, the town’s name, dating back to 818 AD, has nothing whatsoever to do with sharks (which are pretty rare in Bavaria, I might add), but instead reflects an ancient Bavarian noble family, the de Vindings, who once founded it.
In one of at least half a dozen interviews last week, Finning mayor Fritz Haaf agreed with PETA that
animal protection is a very important issue that affects us all. But renaming ourselves StopFinning is a complete non-starter. Finning has existed for over 1,200 years. And even if a tiny Upper Bavarian town of less than 1,700 would rename itself, I don’t believe that would save even a single shark on the other side of the globe.
So it looks like there won’t be a StopFinning coming to a Google Earth near you any time soon. Even so, PETA has once more gotten its message out into the world and onto thousands of blogs (including this one). Impressive.
"Weapons of mass destruction: Billions of animals are killed because people want to eat meat. Stop the slaughter."
Renaming towns to get a point across is always a clever strategy, and it’s surprising people don’t do it more often. It's not that there aren't plenty of precedents: The Canadians renamed Berlin, Ontario as “Kitchener” during the anti-German hysteria of 1916. The Russians renamed St. Petersburg (already transformed into Petrograd at the start of World War I) as Leningrad in 1924. The East Germans renamed Chemnitz as Karl Marx City in 1953, and the Vietnamese changed Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. Of course, Leningrad and Karl Marx City have reverted back to their original names, although I’m not holding my breath regarding Ho Chi Minh City and Kitchener.
But if you thought PETA’s shark trick was a pretty sharp idea, probably the cleverest such exploitation of a town’s name was an Austrian brewery’s decision two years ago to take advantage of the notoriety of the nearby village of Fucking to start producing a beer by the name of Fucking Hell (hell = lager beer), as I wrote about here. What’s more, the brewery didn’t cut the village in for even a cent of the profits. Ouch!