Outraged Farmers' Tractors Invade Sofia
Tractors and heavy equipment of protesting Bulgarian farmers are heading to the Bulgarian capital Sofia Monday in sign of protest against the cabinet's policy in the sector.
About 500 machines are expected in Sofia, but the demonstrating grain producers say they will leave around 11 am and will arrive at 10 pm in order to avoid creating problems for residents in the already heavily-congested capital. They also promise to use back roads, not the highway.
Only 170 of the 500 machines will reach the city's downtown – smaller ones that will not impede traffic, while the heavy equipment will wait at the entrances on Botevgradsko and Tsarigradsko Shosse, the farmers say, vowing this will be a peaceful procession.
"Our demands are clear – adhering to the frame of the signed financial agreement and settling the issue with the excise duty on fuel," one of them is quoted saying.
The farmers further stress they are staying in Sofia Monday and Tuesday, but are prepared to remain in the city until the end of the week if needed, depending on how the cabinet will respond to their demands.
Last week, Bulgarian farmers staged nation-wide protests.
Each year farmers receive EU subsidy, which is determined by the size of their land. The amount slated for 2012 is over BGN 830 M. There are also BGN 110 M in the State budget for grain producers, BGN 71 M for animal keepers and BGN 73 M for tobacco growers.
Grain producers, however, demand another BGN 230 M in the national treasury. The discontent escalated after the passing in the Parliament, at first reading, the draft 2012 budget, where the amount was lower than what was promised by these BGN 230 M. A month before the October 23 local and presidential elections, the cabinet and the farming associations signed a financial frame, which included BGN 570 M for the farming sector.
The farmers accuse Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Simeon Djankov, of suffering from amnesia and discarding his own signature.
On Sunday, their representatives told the Bulgarian National Radio, BNR, they now knew they would not get any more money, but will keep protesting in demanding the resignations of Djankov and Agriculture Minister, Miroslav Naydenov.
In a phone interview for bTV Monday morning, Deputy Agriculture Minister, Svetlana Boyanova, said demands for resignations were unfair.
"What is fair is budget 2012 – the numbers speak for themselves – the farming sector will get next year BGN 200 M more, but these funds have been redistributed – the other agriculture sectors, which until now have not received national subsidies, will get them in 2012," Boyanova said, adding only EU subsidies, which are fixed until 2016, are certain, while national co-financing depends on the possibilities of the budget.
The outrage of grain producers flared further after comments of Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, who stressed they were the only ones to come to the cabinet before the elections "to twist the government's arms." He explained that the answer had been that farmers would get more money only if there would be such option since agriculture is a priority and this is why both Djankov, and the PM himself have signed the agreement.
Borisov underlined that the most important part of the text in the agreement was that "funding would be slated only within the frame of the possibility to secure national subsidies," and vehemently denied that the agreement was sealed before the elections with the goal of political gains.
He reiterated earlier statements that the huge share of the subsidies goes to 7-8 millionaires in the sector, who are driving Bentleys.
"What I saw on all news were protesting farmers around barbecues, eating pork chops, dancing folk dances under the sounds of orchestras – as they are celebrating something like Christmas. These 7-8 firms are sponsoring all this – they are sending the food like some social assistance, to keep up the good mood. And all this while they are getting more money than last year – the notification from Brussels came yesterday – we got the green light with BGN 70 M to give them vouchers so that they would not pay excise duty on fuels," Borisov said in a recent TV interview.
When asked to comment on the demonstrators threat they will bring their tractors to Sofia and block the capital, the PM stated that they were welcome; wished them a safe trip, but appealed to them to keep in mind that 2 million people live in the city and for this reason - arrive after 8 pm.
Farmers now say these statements have turned Bulgarians against them over being labeled millionaires.