Farmers stage another tractor rally
Several thousand farmers from around the country gathered in Ljubljana on 25 April for their second rally in a month to protest against environmental and other restrictions to farming. Many came with their tractors, causing traffic jams in the capital.
"We've had enough," Anton Medved, head of the Trade Union of Slovenian Farmers, said in his address to the rally in the square in front of the parliament building, as tractors, including a harvester, drove past blowing their horns.
Medved estimated several thousand farmers took part in the protest and at least 1,500 tractors, which arrived at assembly points on the edges of the city from all around the country.
Unity among farmers
"We couldn't have imagined such a huge support in our dreams and we demand the government create the conditions that would allow the farmer to survive on Slovenian land," the unionist said, threatening the farmers would continue with their protests unless their demands were met.
"When a farmer protests, the country is bleeding," Medved said, recalling that the farmers' union, together with other NGOs working in the interests of agriculture, was protesting because the situation in farming was no longer bearable.
He pointed to environmental restrictions, tax burdens, unreasonable legislation "written by some extreme environmentalists, far away from farms".
Tomaž Modic, a farmer from the Ig area south of Ljubljana, pointed to the fact that there is less than 800 square metres of area under cultivation per capita in Slovenia and that a lot of farmland has been destroyed in recent years.
Another farmer, Florjan Peternelj, said that many fields had become overgrown with grass and the farmers would no longer be allowed to plough them due to environmental restrictions.
The rally is a follow-up to the 24 March protest, after which a task force was formed with the government to conduct negotiations.
The farmers walked away from the talks after only two weeks, unhappy with a lack of progress. The final straw which they said prompted them to hold a new protest was a legislative proposal filed by the ruling coalition that would allow animal rights activists to act as authorised animal protection advisers.
Long list of demands
Their main demands include adjusting new environmental rules to allow farming, re-examining and reducing Natura 2000-protected areas, no new taxes, clear and simple rules and adjusting direct payments and other funds they receive to let them cope with inflation.
They want to see a reduction in the population of carnivores and prime agricultural land being protected by law. They want livestock farming to be considered as the basis for sustainable farming, and urge scrapping the regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products at national level.
"Since our voice is not being heard, our comments and observations are not being taken into account, and the public perceives farming organisations as agreeing with many of the restrictive legislative measures, there is no other way than for us to speak up in a loud and clear manner," Medved said.
"We are here today because we want to preserve our right to farm. We demand viable working conditions and fair policies," he added, stressing that farmers were united to an extent not seen in a long time and that the government "stands warned it needs to work for the benefit of agriculture and find solutions for the farmer and the consumer".
Borut Florjančič, head of the Slovenian Association of Cooperatives, argued there would be no food security in Slovenia if farmland was not protected. He accused Slovenian officials of deciding in an opaque and autocratic manner and blindly nodding to demands coming from Brussels.
In this way, they "deprive Slovenian farmers of their place in the world, their families of the future, Slovenian nature of its guardian, and Slovenian citizens of our home-grown food".
Roman Žveglič, president of the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry (KGZS), said that both experts and farmers needed to be included in the drafting of laws. "It is true that in chess, the pawn is usually sacrificed first, but it is only the pawn that can be promoted to a queen," he noted.
Minister offers solutions
Agriculture Minister Irena Šinko said the farmers had the right to protest, but she feels it will be possible to come to an agreement in talks expected after the May Day holidays on the basis of a proposal that the ministry sent to the farmers before the talks broke down last week.
The list of the solutions includes the possibility of a voluntary implementation of protective regimes in Natura 2000 areas this year, with Šinko adding these areas presently could not be reduced. Other proposals include looser permanent grassland provisions, as well as higher quotas and looser carnivore culling regimes for the coming two years.
The minister rejected claims that the planned animal protection advisers for breeders would be visiting farmers' barns and courtyards. Instead, she said they would merely warn inspectors about specific complaints, while the inspectors would then act in line with their powers.