Fight for grain fields in Serbia – an article from a German newspaper ''AK''

In June 2011, for six days Serbian farmers have blocked the roads in Vojvodina, Serbian „wheatland“. Most of the Danube bridges have been impassable for days, while the city of Novi Sad was completely cut off. The peasants’ protest reached all the way to Pančevo, northeast of Belgrade. The conflict, berely noticed among the European public, was a reaction to reduction of already low subsidies for land cultivation in agriculture. That incident speaks not only of the situation of peasant men and women, but also of the effects of privatization and deindustrialization in Serbia.

Miroslav Grubanov in the picture

Free market destroyes Serbian agriculture
Article from German newspaper AK (, published February 17, 2012.

Agriculture and industrial branches connected to agriculture are currently in the phase of submission to the free market rule. For years now, many Serbian farmers have been working with losses, while large number of them in the meantime got bogged down in debt. A few large companies control retail trade, and by that also the prices of agricultural products. In some villages the fruit isn’t gathered at all, because farmers get only 15 dinars (1 euro = 106 dinars) per kilogram from enterpreneurs, while the price of the same fruit in supermarket stores ranges about 200 dinars per kilogram. More and more is cheap merchandise imported, so that many farmers aren’t able to sell their products and are forced to destroy them. In the last years, state subsidies for farmers have been gradually reduced; when the government in the summer of 2011 announced that in comparison with Europe already extremely low financial support of 140 euros per hectare was going to be additionally reduced, that was the drop that spilled the glass.

Sale of arable land

Although about a half of Serbian population lives in the country and a fourth of employees works in agriculture, 39 percent of village population and even 53 percent of peasants live below the existential minimum. Over-indebted peasants are often forced to sell their land to big landowners. During the process of admition to the European Union they’ll probably continue to sell it to the foreign concerns, since the legal bases for that have already been established by the agreement of association with EU.

From 1999 to 2008 amount of untilled agricultural arable land has increased from 70.000 hectares to 200.000 hectares. Besides, in Serbia, processing industry for agricultural products was ruined, primarily by privatization. In the last eight years, 69.000 workers have been fired from 253 privatized agrarian firms. That way, farmers are forced to sell raw materials on the world market, which brings much less profit than selling half-finished and finished products. Because of that, a larger part of population is abandoning agriculture as a main economic activity. Final result is a mass release of cheap work force which can do nothing but accept exploitative working conditions, with nonexistent labor rights and shamefully low wages.

Growing groceries supplements low wages

This is where the circle of privatization and deindustrialization in agriculture closes. Because a larger part of workers in Serbia after job loss comes back to village and dedicates itself to its own estate – or improves its miserable wages by growing groceries. Production as survival plays important part mainly in small towns. That is the reason for concern over agriculture.

The growing influence of big concerns on Serbian agricultural production can be illustrated on one further example; In the last years, agriculture has become important market for nonagrarian products like mineral fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, growth hormones and supplements. Concerns are persistently imposing themselves on the market, while corrupt Serbian state is by all means helping them. In spite of a ban on import of genetically modified products, thousands and thousands of tons of genetically modified soy for cattle food were imported in Serbia. Seeds have been imported illegally from neighboring states, and the lands planted by them haven’t been destroyed. It may be even expected that the government, with the excuse that it’s needed for membership in the World Trade Organization, will change the law and legalize growing of genetically modified products. Firms will additionally force a monoculture regime on farmers and make them dependent on monopolized seed merchandise. That’s how the environment and biodiversity are being destroyed.

Meanwhile, Serbia has the best preconditions for ecological agriculture – 650.000 hectares would be suitable for that. But permaculture and other biological concepts are unknown in Serbia, thinks Sunčana Pešak, from one ecological estate in the village of Vukomerić, near Zagreb.

Agricultural reform in the interest of the people must strive for sovereignty over natural resources in order to stop exploitation of the environment. That would mean to repress the influence of interest groups, firms, big landowners. One of necessary measures would be organizing farmers in economic associations and movements in order to reduce the number of mediators between producers and consumers, and by that also the costs which reflect in the prices in the stores.

Question of agriculture will, for a long time, play important part in Serbia, because privatization policy doesn’t stand still either. Serbian government would like to sell as much firms as possible in order to patch the holes in the budget. Police repression on workers of Jugoremedija from Zrenjanin (Vojvodina), pharmaceutical factory in which workers’ self-management has come to life, is increasing. They are to be forced to approve sale of the firm, and by that to renounce control of the factory. Serbian authorities are therefore trying to make an affair of successful Jugoremedija which, since the restoration of production, has been run by its employees. After a long struggle, workers have managed to prevent sale of the firm to a private owner, keeping that way their jobs and their salaries.

Pokret za slobodu (Freedom Fight movement) is establishing network of workers’ and peasants’ movements

In order to help struggles as this one, Pokret za slobodu (Freedom Fight movement) has connected strike committees from factories all around Serbia and has established Coordinating Committee of Workers Protests. The greatest successes of that committee are canceled privatizations. Networking has contributed, among other things, to the strike of Zastava Elektro, car parts producer from Rača, being ended by breaking the contract with new owner. Almost all 200 workers received severance pay and unpaid wages, and decided to leave the factory. In the meantime, factory was sold again to the South Korean firm Yura Corporation, which hired 1.600 young workers.

In order to carry out mutual workers-peasants discussion about current situation and to define possible strategy for the future, Pokret za slobodu, along with workers and peasants organizations, organized conference Social Struggles in Serbia – Future of Workers-Peasants Movement, in December 2011 in Belgrade. Miroslav Grubanov from association Paori from Crepaje, who’s also a member of Pokret za slobodu and one of the leaders of peasants protests, in that conference declared: “Participation of peasants and workers in making decisions about future of our country is the goal for which we gather numerous workers’, peasants’, and other groups around our movement. Till now, we’ve had to make authorities listen to us by organizing strikes and protests, after all previous appeals to the institutions had been discarded. We’ll try to further develop the strategy for finding a way out of this situation in which farmers are every year forced to blockade the roads in order to improve their economic condition, the situation in which everybody promises milk and honey for agriculture before the election, but forgets all about it after the election
Pokret za slobodu works on international networking too. In November 2011 it joined International Alliance against Land Grabbing, established by peasants movement Via Campesina. For june 2012 it plans a conference for networking with workers and peasants organizations from other Balkan countries.

Author of the text – Peter Haumer lives in Vienna. He’s active on international level, syndically and professionally.
Translated into English: Vladimir Bogićević (Pokret za slobodu)
Original article in German language: (here)

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