Farmers protest in Prague
By Peter Annear
PRAGUE — In the first big display of social resistance to the harsh effects of the government's economic reform program, about 25,000 Czech farmers demonstrated in Wenceslas Square in the heart of Prague on October 24. "Perhaps the government knows who feeds the whole nation" was their succinct message. A day earlier in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, up to 20,000 farmers also demonstrated.
Farmers have been among the hardest hit by reforms. Since price deregulation in January and the removal of subsidies, prices paid to farmers have fallen while wholesale and retail prices for farm goods have ballooned. Rising shop prices have depressed demand. So farmers are now selling less at lower prices, and they are hurting.
The polite demonstration which was organised by leaders of the farm cooperative enterprises — nearly all of agriculture in Czechoslovakia is cooperative or state owned, and is relatively efficient — demanded that the government take seriously their plea for a better deal.
Federal Premier Marian Calfa was presented with demands including lower interest rates, tax relief, debt reduction and minimum prices. The Labour Union of Food and Agricultural Workers president, Vaclav Gutenberg, called for speeding up privatisation and breaking up the large food processing monopolies.
"I assured the farmers' representative the government will discuss their problems as economic ones ... using economic instruments", Calfa told the government news agency CSTK. The government has tried, but so far failed, to privatise agriculture, and there is little demand for private ownership in the countryside. If their demands are not met, the farmers say they will bring herds of cattle to the next protest. n