Angered by American agricultural trade policies, tractor-driving French farmers blockaded the entrance to the new Euro Disneyland outside Paris on Friday, preventing several hundred families and busloads of schoolchildren from entering the park.
"Euro Disneyland is the symbol of an American culture that has invaded our country," said Daniel Deswards, one of the leaders of the protesting farmers. "Now the Americans want to do the same thing to our agriculture."
The farmers oppose new European Community rules, established under pressure from the United States, that limit the amount of subsidies farmers can receive for certain crops. Small farm holders represented by the Rural Coordination organization that staged Friday's tractor blockade contend that the new rules will drive 1 million peasants from their farm land.
Euro Disney officials tried to stay out of the fray.
"This has nothing to do with us," said Disney spokesman Nicolas De Schonen. "It is a matter between the farmers and the French government." The Disney officials declined to comment on how many visitors were kept out of the park. However, according to the news agency Agence France-Presse, at least 70 school buses containing 2,000 children were prevented from reaching the site in Marne-La-Vallee, 20 miles east of Paris.
Using phalanxes of tractors, the farmers successfully blocked vehicles from entering the park's 11,000-place parking lot. Visitors who arrived at the park by train were permitted to go inside. Police from the nearby prefecture of Melun, which has responsibility for the territory, did nothing to stop the protesters.
The protest, which concluded Friday afternoon when the farmers peacefully drove their tractors away from the gates of the Magic Kingdom, was the latest setback for the newest of four Disney theme parks. Since it opened April 12, the park has been plagued by particularly bad weather and lower-than-expected attendance.
In an era of deteriorating relations between the French and American governments, Euro Disneyland finds itself increasingly the focal point for anti-American gripes. As the farmers proved Friday--capturing the top news position on major radio and television networks--a blockade of Disneyland attracts much more attention that an old-hat demonstration outside the American Embassy.
As one farmer manning the roadblock outside the $4.4-billion Euro Disneyland told a reporter from the British news agency Reuters: "The other day we blocked a motorway, causing a 15-mile traffic jam, and the news didn't even mention us. This way, we are sure of being talked about."
But not all of the publicity is necessarily good for the protesters. One of the French networks featured an interview with a tearful child whose bus was blocked from entering the park.
"The tractors are mean!" she said.