Monday, September 27, 2004

Glowing stories of good fortune…

In what seems closer to Communist-era control over media reporting, official reports on the agricultural situation in Poland spew out glowing stories of good fortune – while, according to local reports, the situation – which was already troubled - is deteriorating rapidly.

The industry has recently suffered a major blow when, on 1 September, Russia closed its borders to Polish milk and milk products after introducing new, stricter disease control measures, ostensibly aimed at reducing the risk of spreading bovine TB and brucellosis. It then required inspection certificates from the Russian Veterinary Ministry before exports could resume.

Mysteriously, however, these inspections have been postponed and fewer inspectors than anticipated will be now be sent out, prolonging the inspection process in what are regarded as stalling tactics aimed at protecting Russia's domestic dairy industry.

Meantime, Polish farmers – already wilting under the onslaught of cheaper products flooding in from their better-subsidised and more productive EU neighbours - have had a bad summer and a poor harvest, with the maize crop suffering particularly.

An early winter is now upon the country and increasingly desperate farmers have been relying on promises of relief from the EU, with early payments of the first tranche of CAP subsidies, which were not originally due until 1 December.

It appears, however, that application forms produced by the Polish government have been made deliberately complicated, in an attempt to dissuade farmers from applying for the money – which they hoped would be paid on 1 October.

Enter Andrzej Lepper, leader of the Self Defence party who, with the assistance of British consultants, ensured that the farmers were able to complete the forms. The startling and – for the government – unexpected result has been that all the forms were submitted on time. And only now is the real truth coming out: there was no money in the kitty to pay them their early subsidies.

Well away from the capital Warsaw – for the moment - and mostly confined to the southern provinces, and thus well away from the eyes of Western journalists, it appears that farmers are on the point of rioting, protesting that they were led to join the EU under false pretences.

And, as the situation continues to deteriorate, the official media spews out glowing stories of good fortune…

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