Several hundred Polish farmers gathered to stage a demonstration in Warsaw Thursday, demanding state compensation for fallen profits in the agricultural sector. Prices of some crops have fallen up to 40% in the past year, owing largely to havoc wrought by wild boars as well as retaliatory Russian sanctions leveled against produce imported from the E.U.
The protest was one of several launched by Polish farmers this month. So far, Polish officials have announced no plans to compensate farmers for lost profits. More limited conciliatory measures — like reduced export insurance fees to offset lost markets, and a recently lifted hunting ban on the crop-gobbling boars — have yet to have a profound impact.
The Polish agricultural sector is no stranger to suffering anxiety at the hand of international politics. A decade ago, farmers were at the forefront of protests against E.U. integration, out of fear that they would be outcompeted by subsidized imports. Instead, Polish agriculture emerged as a clear winner in the aftermath of E.U. accession, and became a major produce exporter to the E.U. and elsewhere.
Now, Polish farmers find themselves seriously squeezed by the East. In a tit-for-tat response to Western sanctions against Russia’s role in sectarian violence in Ukraine, Moscow announced sanctions of its own barring produce imports from the E.U. As a result, Polish farmers have become the unfortunate victims of what many analysts believe was a calculated blow to Warsaw. Russia’s fruit and veggie bans initially struck many as laughably desperate. But a quick run-down of the numbers makes it obvious that Poland stood to lose 840 million euro out of the deal — more than any E.U. state besides Lithuania.
Even a relatively shallow analysis sheds light on the reasons why Russia may have been looking to mete out punishment to two countries historically under its purview. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March of last year, both countries have been among the most vocal supporters of Western retaliation against Putin’s expansionism. Both Lithuania and Poland have coercively come under Russian rule in the past, and have rallied support within the E.U. for a hard line against President Vladimir Putin.
Plenty of lip-service has been paid to supporting Polish agriculture to offset the pain of the sanctions. One viral campaign on Twitter involved Polish users snapping photos of themselves eating Polish apples and tweeting them at Putin, as a tongue-in-cheek way to undermine Russia’s far-fetched explanation that the produce import ban was due to health risks, not politics. The Polish government got behind its apples, by dropping a nationwide ban on televised booze adds to enable producers to hock hard cider. Poland also appealed to the U.S. to import more Polish apples.
So far, though, the limited tactics geared toward bolstering Polish farming have yet to offset the blows it has suffered. While sanctions have certainly hurt Russia more than the E.U. or U.S., many Western countries are still feeling their painful ricochet effect because of how interdependent their economies have become with Moscow. But these burdens are not shared equally among the E.U. members and Poland has been harder hit than most.
Despite its outsized economic sacrifices in the stand-off, Poland remains one of the continent’s most outspoken supporters of continued sanctions against Russia. This in itself is a testimony to Warsaw’s resolve — but that doesn’t make it any easier for the country’s farmers to keep bearing the brunt of it.