Get Orf Our Land!

He was lucky to find a parking space

He was lucky to find a parking space

Ah, the wise sayings of the simple peasant. So pithy, so earthy and displaying the experience of a centuries-old relationship with the land.

Red sky at night, farmers’ delight,
Red sky in the morning,
Farmers are picketing the Agriculture Ministry

Latvians are getting very good indeed at organising demonstrations.

Whereas a couple of years ago sticking a bucket on your head and hanging around, mumbling outside Saeima was considered radical action, notwithstanding the fact that having a bucket on your head made it tricky for others to decipher what was being demanded.

These days things are much more professional.

The recent rally in Doma laukums was an all-singin’, all dancin’, all riotin’ affair and today we’ve had the farmers taking an ecologically grown leaf from their French counterparts and blockading Riga with their tractors.

This is what farmers are supposed to look like

This is what farmers are supposed to look like

I went along to the farmers’ demo outside the Agriculture Ministry, where the protestors seemed markedly more organised than the paper-pushers inside. By 10am the horny handed sons of toil had already set up a crackling bonfire with their country know-how and had stalls distributing a tempting assortment of home made pasties and pastries with hot coffee – all with temperatures well below freezing.

The mood was both jovial and determined. Most of the people I spoke to were from Limbazi region, the heartland of food production.

Unless their demands for aid were met they would stay where they were – if necessary for days – they said. Normally such claims might be mere bravado, but these folk are used to getting up in the early hours to feed cattle, stoke the silage and bother sheep – or whatever else they get up to – so hanging around in relatively balmy Riga would be small beer.

To his credit, Agro Minister Martins ‘Super Mario’ Roze did come out to meet them. In office since 2002, Roze said: “You’ve driven all the way here to talk to us, so we are prepared to talk to you.”

The soon-to-be former Agriculture Minister

The soon-to-be former Agriculture Minister

“You’ve been talking for seven years!” came the quick-witted reply from the crowd, but there as no aggression directed towards Roze and many of the farmers seemed quite apologetic as they politely asked for his resignation.

Meanwhile, the mechanised divisions of the farmers’ army were bringing traffic to a standstill on the Riga ring road before an advanced guard rumbled along the cobbles of Brivibas iela en route to the city centre.

The only bum note came with a mock funeral outside the cabinet office. bearing the “coffin of Latvian agriculture” is hardly an original idea, and when the lid was lifted to reveal a freshly skinned cow’s head in all its gory glory, it was difficult not to think the farmers might be making a Mafia-style offer-you-can’t-refuse.

All those in favour, say "Oo-ar!"

All those in favour, say "Oo-ar!"

But all in all, a pretty impressive effort. Barricades were erected outside the Saeima as the carrot-crunching hordes approached the great metropolis.

Just as importantly, the farmers had concrete demands rather than vague entreaties to be shown a bit more consideration. Before long the government had miraculously found some extra cash buried at the bottom of the garden – not enough for complete satisfaction perhaps, but an increase of 5 million lats in one day, raising the aid available from 17 million to 22 million represents some sort of progress.

And as I write, it seems Martins Roze will indeed resign tonight.

Red sky at night, Roze's just resigned

Red sky at night, Roze's just resigned

All in all a pretty good day’s work from the tractor boys.

But the most important fact is that now Latvians know how easy it is to get the state on the run. A bit of imagination and a bit of action is all it takes to get the government scrabbling around like farmyard chickens – of the just-decapitated variety.


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