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Public enemy number 3
by Pihla Tiihonen
"Fox girls" was the name given to a number of 19-year-old women who let farmed foxes out of their cages ten years ago. "Fur terrorism" was widely discussed in the media at the time.
Mia Salli and Minna Salonen were constantly in the public eye, trying to talk to journalists about the living conditions of fur animals. However, the journalists seemed to be more interested in the patterns on the dresses that they wore.
This article was supposed to be about them. However, the two Helsinki women do not want to have anything to do with the media any more. The interviews that were published back then were followed by death threats.
There was also a third "fox girl": Kirsi Kultalahti, who was least in the public eye at the time. Now she is willing to talk about the impact that the fur issue had on her life, noting that "you canít run away from your past".
Kultalahti has not tried to do that. She now lives in Pietarsaari, a city on the Finnish west coast with 20,000 inhabitants, in the middle of fur-raising country. It is just about 20 kilometres from Nykarleby, and about 60 kilometres to Evijärvi. The women visited four fur farms in these communities on two nights in May 1995.
But letís go back to the beginning. Why did the daughter of an Ostrobothnian working-class family open the doors of the fox cages? Animal welfare activists are often dismissed as urban kids, a "Disney generation" alienated from real life.
However, Kultalahti was certainly familiar with real animals - not just the big-eyed Bambi. Her childhood included the pigs, cows, and horses of her grandmotherís farm, and those of her friendsí families. As a teenage punk rock enthusiast, Kultalahti even dated the son of a fur farmer.
The former animal rights activist can hardly be called stupid, judging from her excellent grades in her matriculation exams, even though she was more interested in improving the lives of animals and people than in her homework.
Her animal welfare activism began when she was eight years old. Kultalahti ordered an information package about animal testing that she had read about in a magazine. It had pictures of red-eyed rabbits who were suffering.
That was the beginning of many years of solitary campaigning on behalf of animal rights. Kultalahtiís school presentations focused on vegetarianism and animal testing. She wrote on the subject in readers' letters columns of newspapers, and collected names on petitions to pressure companies to stop animal testing. As a teenager, she began going to Helsinki to take part in demonstrations, which is where she finally met other like-minded young people.
"I was frustrated that no improvements took place. Gradually I grew into the idea that I could do something more radical than block buses taking buyers to fur auctions. I was determined, and unyielding, as young people generally are", the 29-year-old Kultalahti recalls.
Kultalahti planned the raids in advance with Mia Salli. They had learned to know each other as schoolgirls through a pen pal ad in a punk-minded subculture publication. The friends had arranged other stunts together as well - for instance, a march against racism at the Provinssirock rock festival one summer drew hundreds of participants.
"We agreed that Mia should come with a friend to see me, and we would go and look at the farms together. I will always remember how it felt to arrive at the first farm. We walked around in a state of shock, and felt that the animals must be helped."
Kultalahti has been angered by speculation that there must have been someone else lurking in the background who had actually planned the raids, and who had manipulated the young women to do the work. There was even talk of international terrorism.
"They made us out to be puppets incapable of thinking for ourselves; surely, those girls must have had some kind of an older and smarter man behind them! The idea was our own, and we were truly not directed by anyone."
The targets were picked at random, when the women drove around the area looking for farms with the shortest possible distance to the getaway car.
They were surprised at how easy it was to free the foxes. They were able to get at the cages with no problem, and open the doors with their bare hands. They did not even need the tools they brought with them.
"It was claimed in many magazine articles that we had pulled the animals out of the cages, but we never touched them. I wouldnít even have dared put my hand in a cage. Foxes are wild animals and they act in a threatening manner and make a lot of noise when intruders enter the farm."
The goals that had been set for the raid failed one after another. Kultalahtiís main objective was to help the individual foxes live the life of a real wild animal.
"Only very few ran straight into the forest, and appeared to enjoy the idea of freedom. My thoughts had been much more romantic. I was quite shocked that fox cubs died. Being accused of animal cruelty was the worst."
They also hoped to spark debate over fur farming.
"But the media focused on irrelevancies, such as our flowered dresses and Miaís wig, instead of pondering the fur farming issue."
Kultalahti concedes openly that she also wanted to cause as much material damage as possible to the fur farmers, so that they would be compelled to give up the profession.
"I never imagined that the farmers would be insured."
Kultalahti was given a nine-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay compensatory damages of about half a million markka to the fur farmers, the insurance companies, and the state.
The sum has not been paid, and has doubled, thanks to penalty interest.
"Iím afraid that I will not shake off my debts ever. I donít know if Mia and Minna will be able to pay anything, or if they even want to."
The former animal rights activist has been a housewife ever since her first child was born. She plans to apply for work as soon as her young sons are a bit older. When this happens, one third of her income will be seized to pay the damages, and a large part of the rest will go to pay for day care.
"Iím not one to spend the rest of my life at home, even though my going to work would not improve our economic situation."
Everyday life focuses on the careful planning of menus, and buying clothing from flea markets. The family of five - their cat is included in the number - live on the income of her partner, a painter. They live in a house owned by him, and he is still paying off the mortgage.
"At 19, I never imagined what consequences there would be from opening those cages. I was ready to go to jail for the animals, and I would have preferred some prison time to spending the rest of my life in debt. I do feel some regret."
The atmosphere in Pietarsaari was tense after a local girl was caught for the fur farm raid.
Even Kultalahtiís lawyer Christer Eriksson was plagued by abusive telephone calls late at night. Half a year after the raids he said in an interview with the newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that the city "would never get back to what it was".
However, a quick informal street poll in the centre of Pietarsaari reveals that the fur raids have been buried in people's minds beneath thick layers of other news items, scandals, and celebrity gossip.
When Kultalahtiís name came out in public, people started shouting abuse at her on the street, and her parents received threatening phone calls. The harassers were mainly older men who spoke Swedish with a rustic accent. Kultalahti believes that some of them could well have been fur farmers. Her few admirers were mainly young girls.
"I got fan mail a couple of times from people saying that itís great that you did what you did."
The most memorable incident was a group brawl, which even made it into the news.
"I was in a restaurant with my friends when a couple of men poured beer over us, shoving us and shouting because of the fur raid. They were waiting outside when we left the restaurant. Others on the square gathered around, until there were more than 100 people there."
Kultalahti was taken home by police.
"I was told to stay at home because people were provoked by my mere presence."
Relations with her relatives and with many local friends were tense after the attacks. Relations with the animal rights activists in Helsinki also broke off; Kultalahti was seen as a traitor in the movement, someone who talked too much during police interrogations. Also, during the trial Kultalahtiís defence claimed that she was only a driver during the raid.
"At first I panicked and let my lawyer do whatever he wanted. I have regretted it later. Nevertheless, I said in the Court of Appeal hearing that I had opened doors of fox cages just like all the others, because I felt that it would have been unfair to do otherwise."
During the fox affair, Kultalahti learned to be very cautious with new people.
"I started to feel that I was a worse person than other people, and I wanted to spare others the burden of becoming acquainted with me. At times I was quite alone. It felt like I did not have the right to live."
Kultalahti suffered from depression, anxiety, and social fear. She tried therapy for a year and took mood-enhancing prescription drugs.
"My couple relationship helped very much. It got me to think that I cannot be a completely useless person, now that someone loves me."
Kultalahti has been with her partner for about six years. This summer they will be married. He has not taken up her past with his friends or parents.
"I donít know if they know about it", he says.
"Kirsiís fox thing has not mattered to me. Sure, it was bad for the farmer, because it was their livelihood, but I feel that fur farming could be banned by law", he ponders.
How much of the old Kultalahti is there in the new version?
"I have changed totally. During the time of the raids I was still searching for my identity. Now I am more balanced. I am a mother and a spouse: quite an ordinary woman."
At the age of 19, Kultalahti saw fur farmers as sadistic murderers. Now, at 29, she sees them as ordinary people whose career choice she disapproves of.
At 19 she was a vegan; at 29 she mainly eats vegetarian food, but will also eat fish along with the rest of the family.
At 19 she wanted to crush the degenerate social order; at 29 she is interested in politics, and feels that Finland is one of the best countries in the world. Her bookshelf has the works of Väinö Linna and Pink Floyd CDs side by side.
"I want to raise my children to respect animals, people, and nature. If they become interested in the animal rights movement as adults, or become vegans, I will be happy, but I would not want them to go on a fur farm raid."