The Battle to Save the Polish Countryside

From the Winter edition of Wise Traditions the Journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation. Pig Business is a real money maker for industrial ag corporations. Please read the whole article here. Article is by Sir Julian Rose.

Poland is a country that is accustomed to fighting rearguard actions to free itself from unwelcome invaders. Throughout what is known as “the partitions,” an 18th and 19th century period of occupation by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Poles kept in their hearts a longing for a day when they could be freed from the yoke of repression and find genuine independence. After finally succeeding, in 1918, to rid themselves of the unloved invaders, they were soon engulfed in conflict again—this time by invading Nazi Germany—and responded by courageously establishing the renowned 1939-45 resistance movement, which sprouted up in the fields, small towns and main cities, producing much heroic action. As many will know, Poles fought alongside the British throughout the Second World War—a time when Poland’s government in exile had its headquarters in London. I remember quite well, when I was a boy, a Polish exile who lived in our village (Whitchurchon- Thames) coming regularly to my family home and diligently cleaning the chimneys. He spoke little, but did a very thorough job.

THE WEAK POSITION OF FREEDOM

It was only in 1989 that Poland finally threw off the last repressive regime of occupation in their land, the Russian communists. The last nineteen years of freedom have been the longest historical period of non-occupation for a very long time.

The Nobel prize-winning writer, Thomas Mann, who fled Nazi Germany just prior to World War Two, remarked just before he died in 1969 that he feared that although the Nazis had been defeated, fascism had not. “I am concerned about the weak position of freedom in post-world war Europe and North America,” he is reported to have said.

We can surely identify with his concern. “The weak position of freedom” is insidiously manifesting itself throughout our increasingly pacified Orwellian society, and it has recently come to undermine the long-standing traditions of the Polish countryside, and particularly the independence of the peasant and family farms and the hugely biodiverse Polish countryside of which they are the prime trustees.

The communists failed to quell the small Polish peasant farmers into submission during their period of occupation, which left the country with a rich, if rather confusing, legacy of approximately one and a half million small scale family farms (average size 18 acres) dotted around the Polish Provinces, but particularly prevalant in the south and east.

When I was first invited in November of 2000 by Jadwiga Lopata, founder of The International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC), to come to Poland as a co-director of this newly established non-governmental organization, the country was preparing itself—or more correctly—was “being prepared for” entry into the European Union. Opinions were strongly divided concerning the merits of such an action and those most against included the farmers.

WARNING FROM THE WEST

One of our first tasks, as I saw it, was to warn Poles just what joining the EU would mean for the farming population, for rural communities, and for the renowned biodiversity of the countryside.

Through the auspices of a senior civil servant in Warsaw, Jadwiga and I were able to address a meeting with the Brussels-based committee responsible for negotiating Poland’s agricultural terms of entry into the EU. It proved to be an ominous foretaste of things to come.

The first thing that struck us was the fact that out of the twelve people sitting in the room at the European Commission, not one was Polish. I explained to the attendant body that in a country where 22 percent of the working population is involved in agriculture—and the majority on small farms—it would not be a good idea to follow the same regime as had been operated in the UK and other EU member countries, in which “restructuring” agriculture had involved throwing the best farmers off the land and amalgamating their farms into large scale monocultural operations designed to supply the predatory supermarket chains. You could have heard a pin drop.

After clearing her throat and leaning slowly forward, the chair-lady said, “I don’t think you understand what EU policy is. Our objective is to ensure that farmers receive the same salary parity as white collar workers in the cities. The only way to achieve this is by restructuring and modernizing old-fashioned Polish farms to enable them to compete with other countries’ agricultural economies and the global market. To do this it will be necessary to shift around one million farmers off the land and encourage them to take city and service industry jobs to improve their economic position. The remaining farms will be made competitive with their counterparts in Western Europe.”

There, in a nutshell, you have the whole tragic story of the clinically instigated demise of European farming over the past three decades. We opined that with unemployment running at 20 percent, how would one provide jobs for another million farmers dumped on the streets of Warsaw? This query was greeted with a stony silence which was eventually broken by a lady from Portugal, who rather quietly said that since Portugal had joined the European Union, sixty percent of small farmers had already left the land. She added, “The European Union is simply not interested in small farms.”

A month or so after this encounter, we were invited to the Polish parliament to address the government’s agricultural committee. I gave a speech entitled “Don’t Follow Us” in which I explicitly warned what fate was in store for the Polish countryside if she joined the EU. I gave some vivid examples of what had happened in the UK over the past two decades: the ripping up of 35,000 miles of hedge rows; the loss of 30 percent of native farmland bird species, 98 percent of species-rich hay meadows, thousands of tons of wind- and water-eroded top-soil; and the loss from the land of around fifteen thousand farmers every year, accompanied by a rapid decline in the quality of food.

That night Rzeczpospolita, a leading national broadsheet, carried a portion of this speech under the intended heading “Don’t Follow Us.” The piece appeared in exactly half the editions. In the other half was an article praising the merits of Poland joining the EU. That was in the autumn of 2001.

VICTORY OF PROPAGANDA

Poland joined the EU in 2004 after an intense publicity campaign calling upon Poles to “Say Yes to the EU!” The propaganda machine went into overdrive with brash promises of “pots of gold” to be showered on Poland, and farmers being offered generous agricultural subsidies and free advice . . . provided they played by the rules of the game.

That “game” was all too familiar to me. It meant spending hours out of your work day filling in endless forms, filing maps, and measuring every last inch of your fields, tracks and farmsteads. It meant applying for “passports” for your cattle and ear tags for your sheep and pigs, resiting the slurry pit and putting stainless steel and washable tiles on the dairy walls, becoming versed in HAASP hygiene and sanitary rules and applying them where any food processing was to take place, and living under the threat of convictions and fines should one put a finger out of place or be late in supplying some official detail.

Throughout this time, I clearly remember the sense of losing something intangible, something which was not recallable. Something more valuable than that which was gained on the eventual arrival of the subsidy cheque had been forever lost.

What we were losing was our independence and our freedom—the slow rural way of life shared by traditional farming communities throughout the world. You cannot put a price on this immeasurably important quality. It is a deep, lasting and genuinely civilized expression of life.

So now the Poles, with their two million family farms, were going to be subjected to the same fate, and Jadwiga and I felt desperate to try to avert this tragedy. An uphill struggle ensued, which involved swimming strongly against the tide and risking the wrath of the agribusiness and seed corporations who were gleefully moving in behind the mantle of EU free trade agreements while a bought-out government stood to the side.

PREDATORY CORPORATIONS

What these corporations want (I use the present tense as the position remains the same today) is to get their hands on Poland’s relatively unspoiled work force and land resources. They want to establish themselves on Polish soil, acquire their capital cheaply and flog the end products of Polish labor to the rest of the world for a big profit.

Farmers, however, stand in the way of landbased acquisitions, so they are best removed. Corporations thus join with the EU in seeing through their common goals and set about intensively lobbying national governments to get the right regulatory conditions to make their kill.

Farmers, once having fallen for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy carrot, suddenly find themselves heavily controlled by EU and national officialdom brandishing that most vicious of anti-entrepreneurial weapons, “sanitary and hygiene regulations,” as enforced by national governments at the behest of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. These are the hidden weapons of mass farmer destruction and the main tool for achieving the CAP’s aim of ridding the countryside of small and medium-sized family farms and replacing them with monocultural money-making agribusiness.

Already by 2005, 65 percent of regional milk and meat processing factories had been forced to close because they “failed” (read: couldn’t afford) to implement the prescribed sanitary standards. Some 70 percent of small slaughterhouses have also suffered the same fate. Farmers increasingly have nowhere to to go to sell their cattle, sheep, pigs and milk. Exactly as happened to UK farmers, Polish farmers are now being forced out of business by the covert and overt destruction of the infrastructure which supports their profession. The rural economy thus implodes and farming communities are scattered to the wind. All that emerges on the green fields that they have left behind them are Tesco superstores and other hypermarket clones.

The European Union CAP sanitary and hygiene weapons have already been resharpened and are currently scything their way through Romanian family farms, whose extraordinary diversity and peasant farming skills are a ready match for Poland’s. The sterile and unstoppable conglomerate no doubt now has its sights set on Turkey, too.

What is known as the “global food economy” is the instrument of a relatively small number of very wealthy transnational corporations. It is a small club, but one that harbors very big ambitions. One such corporation is Monsanto (USA), whose recent marriage with the Cargill corporation makes it the biggest seed and agrichemical merchant in the world. Poland has been in the sights of the Monsanto corporation, as well as those of fellow seed operatives Dupont, Pioneer, and Syngenta, for some time now. However, in 2004—the same year that Poland joined the EU—Monsanto started a major lobbying drive on senior figures in the Polish government.

What they wanted was a relaxation of national GMO precautionary laws and a government commitment to support the development of genetically modified organisms as a symbol of the modernization of traditional Polish farming. READ MORE

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