Dan Viesnik explains why CAAT supporters dress up for the Spirit of Christmas and the message they are bringing to visitors. Photo by Ian MacKinnon.
Members of London Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), East London Against the Arms Fair (ELAAF), the London Catholic Worker and Trident Ploughshares met vistors outside the Spirit of Christmas Fair at London’s Olympia, on 7 November 2009.
This was the second year running they had descended upon this area of west London. Why? Was it to spread Christmas cheer among prospective visitors?
Hardly. Rather, they were there to alert visitors to the fact that the organisers, Clarion Events, are the owners of five international arms and security fairs, including one of the world’s biggest, the euphemistically titled Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEI), held biennially in London’s Docklands. DSEI 2009 took place in September, attracting both hordes of arms dealers and much publicity.
Campaigners dressed as Santa, pixies, and a “weapons inspector” in a white overall and gas mask. They wore various other festive hats and adornments and displayed humorous placards. They sang festive tunes with appropriately modified lyrics and handed out leaflets to visitors outside the exhibition centre. Many of the visitors, and also some exhibitors, were shocked and surprised to learn of Clarion’s involvement in the arms trade and expressed support for the action.
Clarion’s idea of the “Spirit of Christmas” seems to involve facilitating arms sales by and to repressive regimes with lousy human rights records and/or urgent development needs, including Israel, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Indonesia, Colombia and Angola – all of whom were either represented or officially invited to DSEI 2009. Earlier this year, Clarion joined the Defence Manufacturers’ Association, underlining its commitment to the arms industry.
The company has a rather diverse product portfolio: as well as arms fairs and the Spirit of Christmas Fair, they also organise The Baby Show, which UNICEF and sponsors Bounty withdrew their association from last year when alerted to Clarion’s links with the arms trade, and the International Horse Show.
In 2008 Clarion took over ownership of DSEI and a number of other international arms fairs from Reed Elsevier, who were forced to sell the events after intense pressure from campaigners, senior academics, customers and shareholders. Campaigners say they won’t give up and will continue to act to draw attention to Clarion’s involvement in the arms trade.