The protests by German farmers in the week of 8–15 January have attracted a lot of attention – also internationally. The reason for the nationwide blockades, demonstrations and rallies was the German government’s decision at the end of December 2023 to cancel subsidies for German farmers at short notice: The previous exemption of agricultural machinery from motor vehicle tax and the exemption of diesel fuel consumption of agricultural machinery from taxation were to be discontinued. Until now, the government claimed that its decisions were the result of necessary cost-cutting measures following a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court in mid-November 2023. There are now indications that the new burdens for farmers had already been planned for a year and were motivated by reasons other than the “need to save money”.
with the protesting farmers
While the protests initially were wrongly suspected by government politicians and some private and public media of starting a right-wing extremist coup and thus were meant to be pilloried, the tide has turned over the course of the week. Even state politicians from the SPD, Greens and FDP distanced themselves from the federal government. Under pressure, the government appeared to make concessions and withdrew the exemption from vehicle tax. Many media outlets now reported more favourably on the protests, also allowing farmers’ representatives to have their say. On several occasions, Germany’s largest daily newspaper “Bild” sided with the farmers. Large sections of the population expressed their solidarity with the farmers: this ranged from catering for the demonstrators, to broad public applause as the tractors drove past, to overwhelming survey responses in support of the farmers’ concerns. Other occupational groups that have had to put up with massive losses of income in recent years or are suffering from other massive pressures joined the protests: Truck drivers, restaurant owners and other middle-class professions. This gave rise to hopes that the federal government would relent.
But only minimal concession
from the federal government
On 15 January, the protests ended (for the time being) with a rally to Berlin and a central rally with around 30,000 participants as well as a discussion with the parliamentary group leaders of the governing parties. However, there was no further concrete concession from the governing parties. The debate in the Bundestag on 18 January did not produce any concrete results for the farmers either. The provisional conclusion is that the German government has so far only made minimal concessions, “retouching” would be the right expression, to German farmers. The German Farmers’ Association has announced its intention to continue and extend the protests until all the decisions on cuts are reversed.>
However, even if both government decisions from last December were reversed, the situation of many German farmers would remain extremely precarious. The two government decisions in December were the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The burden is still too heavy.
The life of farmers
The profession requires farmers to be down-to-earth and have a strong sense of reality, an enormous willingness to work and a love of their profession that goes far beyond the average. Hard work awaits them on their farms every day. There is usually no time to demonstrate. Thus, when farmers protest, a lot must be amiss. Most farmers are straightforward in their attitude and choice of words. Extremism is not their thing.1 And a look at the speeches at the demonstrations and the statements made in interviews confirms this: These are democrats who are in a desperate situation and justifiably angry, but who are concerned with the cause, with survival in a climate where the air has become very thin for most farmers, for many even deadly.
This climate has connections and backgrounds. Very good analyses are available, also from the past few weeks. The mainstream magazine Cicero of 8 January, for example, is very concrete and descriptive.2 Alternative websites go further.3
German politics facing a shambles …
However, the broad solidarity with the farmers (a telephone survey by the ntv channel even revealed that 91 per cent of the interviewed supported the farmers’ concerns) is also an unmistakable indication that the German government’s policies are in shambles and hardly have any support in the country. Current polls in the eastern German federal states, where state elections will be held this autumn, show, for example, that the AfD, described by the mainstream as far-right, alone has more support than the SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and FDP combined. The calls for the AfD to be banned, which have become louder again in recent weeks, will not change this. On the contrary, such calls make government policy even less credible: bans instead of arguments.
… also in foreign policy
What cannot be overlooked, however, is that German politics has so far shown no sign of a fundamental change of course. Not in the medium and long-term plans for further structural change in line with the US/EU agenda and the underlying material interests and false theories and ideologies …
And certainly not a change of course in foreign policy. On 9 January, the formerly “left-wing” “Frankfurter Rundschau” headlined: “Gepard, Skynex, Skyranger: Ukraine is the laboratory situation of German arms industry”. On 8 January, the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” allowed a German lieutenant general responsible for training Ukrainian soldiers to have his say. He raved about the successes of his training courses for a murderous war and quoted a Ukrainian liaison officer with obvious pride: “After their training in Germany, my boys performed exceptionally well in combat, including in the forest and during offensive operations. Our fighters are like kings, tearing the orcs4 (meaning the Russian soldiers; ed. [of the ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’]) to pieces. The programme and the preparation were exactly right.” (emphasis km) These are just two of many examples of the downright enthusiasm for war among German “elites”.
‘Peace is not everything,
but everything is nothing
without peace’ (Willy Brandt)
That’s why I ask myself: why is the concern for peace, the efforts to make Germany capable of peace again, not receiving the same solidarity as the protests of German farmers, which are justified in every respect? Why aren’t tens of thousands of tractors, lorries and cars on their way to Berlin on a rally for peace? The question is a serious one, not a rhetorical one. And I do not think it is easy to answer. Some people will say: yes, if it’s about your own interests, then you’re prepared to stand up for them. It’s a different story when it comes to peace… However: What could be greater than the intrinsic interest in peace? Everyone knows what war means, what war means for their own country.
The German farmers have led the way: With overwhelming participation, determined, non-violent and always ready for dialogue, they have made their concerns public. And it has become clear that the farmers’ concerns are also the concerns of most citizens: Everyone must eat and drink to survive. Milk and bread, fish and meat, fruit and vegetables do not come from the shelves in the supermarkets.
Farmers’ protests show:
Germans have the potential for a change of course
And peace? A just peace? All surveys show that most Germans do not want Germany to go to war. Germans want a policy of diplomacy, negotiations, equalisation, and equality. Germany is waging war without the Germans.
The war propaganda of recent years has unsettled many citizens: Is Russia really such an “evil enemy” as it is made out to be daily? Does it really threaten everything we have built up over decades? More education is needed here. Education about how propaganda works and how it endeavours to work. Most Germans still don’t think like the headline in the “Frankfurter Rundschau” of 9 January or the German lieutenant general in the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” of 8 January.
Thus, I very much hope that the Germans will find the will, the courage, and the strength to correct the course of German politics before an even greater catastrophe occurs. The protests by German farmers and the reaction of other citizens have shown that the Germans have the potential to do so. •
1 The website of the nationally known “Bauer Willi” is a treasure trove for a good view of the events: bauerwilli.com; on the accusation of extremism, see in particular: https://www.bauerwilli.com/berliner-in-koeln-so-eine-schoene-demo/ of 8 January 2024 and https://www.bauerwilli.com/bauernproteste-die-letzten-48-stunden/ of 10 January 2024
2 ”With the rage of despair”. In: Cicero of 8 January 2024 (https://www.cicero.de/innenpolitik/bauernproteste-mit-der-wut-der-verzweiflung) and on the same day, also in Cicero magazine: “Farmers’ protest in Berlin – ‘We are honest entrepreneurs, not blind radicals’.” (https://www.cicero.de/innenpolitik/bauernprotest-in-berlin-interviews-reaktionen)
3 cf. https://www.anti-spiegel.ru/2024/warum-die-kleinen-bauernhoefe-im-westen-in-die-pleite-getrieben-werden-und-worum-es-wirklich-geht/ of 10 January 2024; https://weltexpress.info/bauernproteste-es-geht-um-blackrocks-griff-nach-dem-brot/ of 13 January 2024
4 “Orcs” are fantasy characters from Tolkien’s novel “Lord of the Rings”. They look like terrible monsters and rob and murder on behalf of Sauron, the evil one par excellence.
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