Five of eleven Polish farmers arrested earlier this month for joining in protests against large scale land-grabs by foreign investors are still being held in custody – sentenced to two months of provisional detention.
The remaining seven farmers have been released on bail with the financial guarantees of 30 to 60 thousand zloty (€7,100 – €14,200). If convicted they face a potential five years imprisonment.
The farmers come from Poland’s Pyrzyce (Western Pomerania) Province where 60% of farmland has already been sold off to foreign buyers. They were arrested on their own farms and handcuffed with their families watching.
Hundreds of farmers all mounted in tractors are maintaining a vigil outside the prison where the farmers are being held in Szczecin, the provincial capital, to demand their release, following an earlier protest at the prosecutor’s office.
“The farmers have been jailed for two months, to await their trial. They are being treated like the worst criminals and accused of damaging the public treasury”, said Jadwiga Lopata, co-director of International Coalition to Protect the Polish Countryside (ICPPC).
“In truth these farmers bravely defended Polish farmland against a massive buyout by foreign capital. Nevertheless, they are in danger of 5 to 10 years prison sentence.”
As one farmer on the protest commented: “Today we are arrested – tomorrow you could be.”
Blocking the “Reckless Sale of Polish Farmland”
The Szczecin prosecutor is accusing the farmers of participating in an organized group whose aim is to prevent the auctioning of tenders for the sale of Polish farmland by WRSP, the government agency responsible for state-owned land.
“They will all have to answer for impeding the tenders for the sale of land”, said the prosecutor. “The farmers are blocking a dozen tenders connected with the foreign sale of farming estates worth at least 6 billion zloty.”
The arrested farmers openly participated in protests in Szczecin and the surrounding region as well as Warsaw – and do not deny the fact.
Their aim is to introduce changes into the law applicable to farmland management and to put a stop to Polish land sale transactions to speculative foreigners and corporations, says Edward Kosmal, leader of the Western Pomerania Farmers Protesting Committee (KPRWZ):
“These changes would stop the out-of-control and reckless sale of Polish farmland which is causing economic and social degradation of the countryside and the building of colonial relations in these territories.”
Polish farmers are also campaigning against the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in order to maintain the “sovereign protection of internal food chains” from US imports containing GMO foods, and meat, dairy and poultry produce fed on growth hormones and other substances banned in the EU.
Polish Land for Polish Farmers
“In Poland, a moratorium on selling land to foreign speculators is a fiction”, said Jan Bialkowski, a farmer protesting at the farmland sell-off. “Foreign business entities who lease farmland have priority to purchase it at the price officially calculated by Agricultural Realty Agency while individual farmers must enter a bidding process.
“In this bidding process the price of farmland can soar sky-high. This is a bizarre situation, as Polish farmers can only buy a few hectares and foreign companies have been buying hundreds of hectares – on a mass scale.”
Jadwiga Lopata added: “The farmers blocked tenders connected with the sale of Polish farmland in which foreign companies participated, including Danish companies and their agents. They also sowed the land which was supposed to be grabbed by foreign capital with their own grains and kept watch on the area, thus blocking other entities from entering.”
An underlying cause of the protests is the shortage of farmland for Polish farmers, she explained. The situation is worst in the west of Poland near the border with Germany, where farmland and other property is most attractive to German and Danish buyers:
“Their protest is against the sale of Polish land into foreign hands instead of to aspiring young Polish farmers”, she said, adding that the heavy-handed arrests and quick-fire prosecutions smacked of a political mission:
“Is this an attempt to intimidate other farmers participating in protests? A revenge for fighting with companies with foreign capital that want to buy up Polish farmland?”