Polish Farmers Dump Ukrainian Wheat in Protest, Underscoring Discord in Europe About … Almost Everything

What’s grain got to do with it? As Polish farmers strike to protest cheaper grain undercutting their profits, someone’s going to need a bigger broom.

AP/Czarek Sokolowski
Polish farmer drive heavy-duty tractors into the western city of Poznan as part of a nationwide farmer protest against the European Union's agrarian policy and imports of cheap Ukraine produce, February 9, 2024. AP/Czarek Sokolowski

According to long tradition, France is the European capital of contradiction — few nations elicit such equivalent emotions of sheer admiration and gentle disdain. Lately though, the axis of paradox has shifted well east of the Rhine to Poland: a country simultaneously at the forefront of Western support for Ukraine and reeling from some of the financial fallout of Russia’s unending grip on the embattled country next door.

While Poland’s economy has largely shifted to the service sector, nearly two-thirds of its land area is agricultural, and its biggest crop is wheat. That means Polish farmers lose out when competing against cheaper grain from Ukraine — and like many irate farmers in Europe right now, they are not shy about it. Some have taken to dumping Ukrainian grain from trucks onto the ground at the Jagodin-Dorohusk border crossing. 

It was on Sunday that video footage emerged that showed protesters opening the tailgates of three Ukrainian trucks, with the grain cargo spilling out on the Polish side of the border. 

On Monday the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv wrote on Telegram, “Ukrainians literally water the fields where this grain grows with their blood. Harvesting wheat in a field where a war has taken place is like the work of a sapper. Such actions are  vile and shameful.” 

They are wasteful too, but that hasn’t stopped some Polish farmers from continuing a month-long strike. 

In the meantime Ukraine’s deputy economy minister, Taras Kaschka, called the Polish actions “xenophobic” and stated that if the Polish government does not rein in the angry farmers that “political violence” along “our common border” would not be long in coming.  

French and Belgian farmers too have lashed out recently at EU agricultural policies, which they maintain do not provide adequate protection from cheap imports. Yet due to Poland’s proximity to Ukraine, the friction is generating more heat. Since Friday, farmers have been protesting across Poland. According to officials at Kyiv, Polish farmers down traffic at three border crossings on Monday. Depending on the crossing, they reportedly only let one to three cargo trucks pass an hour.

According to some Ukrainian press reports, about 1,200 trucks have been tied up on the Polish side waiting to go to Ukraine, but the protests slow everything down. Because of some Russian blockades that persist in the Black Sea, Ukraine is heavily dependent on road traffic with Poland for its imports and exports. 

Next to bigger geopolitical concerns these could be seen as fundamentally prosaic tensions, but they are real nevertheless. The other elephant in the room is immigration — another big one for Poland, which since the Russian invasion nearly two years ago has taken in more Ukrainian refugees than any other country, more than 1.6 million people, according to UN estimates. 

Those refugees are just one piece of a big puzzle that no country in Europe seems capable of solving. France is hammering out its own tough laws on immigration to bypass EU inaction, Britain is looking to Rwanda to alleviate the inflow, and now Poland is sounding the alarm. Speaking in eastern Poland on Monday, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said bluntly: “We have to wake up and understand that we have to protect our borders. If we are open to all forms of migration, our world will collapse.”

“This is a question of the survival of Western civilization,” Mr. Tusk added. The remarks came ahead of a meeting with Chancellor Scholz in Germany, which has seen the rise of a far-right party, the Alternative für Deutschland, partially in response to surging discontent with illegal migration.

This is happening ahead of European parliamentary elections a little more than three months away, when anti-immigrant sentiment is expected to help push candidates from various right-of-center parties across the finish line. That, in turn, will boost the long-term prospects of parties like the AfD in Germany and National Rally in France. Unlike their more centrist and center-left counterparts, those Eurosceptic parties typically disfavor open-ended financial support for Ukraine.

As of now, ties between Germany and Poland are not great. A point in common, though, is robust backing for Ukraine. Underscoring that commitment, Mr. Tusk  on Monday vocally pushed back against some of President Trump’s recent comments about NATO — even as top Republican leaders like Senator Graham shrugged them off. 

Yet one thing that no European lawmaker can afford to ignore — whether they sit at Warsaw, Berlin, or indeed at Kyiv — is that the costs of war ripple across virtual every sector of the economy, and people who work close to the land are historically not happy about getting hit in the pocketbook. Fractures in neighborly relations today could easily blow up into real political upheaval in Europe in the near future.

The New York Sun

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