Now German farmers are revolting

Farmers brought Berlin to a standstill in a protest against an out-of-touch elite.

Kolja Zydatiss

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at work half an hour later than usual, because the buses had stopped running. The rather unusual reason? Several columns of around 15 or 20 tractors each, honking their horns and spewing their exhaust fumes, had taken over and blocked the often quite narrow streets of central Berlin. The chipboard panels on the tractors all conveyed roughly the same message: ‘Farmers feed you’, or ‘Without us, you would be hungry, naked, sober’.

This was the ‘national farmers’ protest’ – a protest against the federal government’s new agriculture package, which will further limit the use of insecticides, weed killers and other animal- and plant-protection products.

Heading towards Brandenburg Gate, to check out the main rally, I quickly got a sense of the size of the protest. Alongside tractors, there were semi-trailer trucks, livestock transporters and pickups. The organisers later said that around 40,000 farmers and 8,600 tractors had come to Berlin to take part.

A temporary stage had been erected in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The scene more closely resembled a classical political rally, or maybe a fair. People were milling around between the parked agricultural vehicles, eating bratwurst, smoking and talking. Many wore work clothes, while some had donned yellow high-visibility vests, a symbolic nod to the French gilets jaunes. Someone had piled up cartons of apples for passers-by to take, while loudspeakers broadcast the speeches from the stage. Somewhat removed stood Greenpeace under the almost conciliatory banner: ‘To protect water, climate, animals; farmers need our help’ (it rhymes in German).

Judging by their dialects, the speakers came from across Germany – Brandenburg, Bavaria, Baden, and so on. Most kept it short. One talked about ‘hasty political decisions’, taken to appease the ‘green left’. Another spoke of the extra jobs many farmers take in order to make ends meet. A third speaker talked of her bulimic daughter, who, like many children from farming families, faced bullying in school, not least because teachers and educators carried the green ideology of ‘radical NGOs’ into the classroom.

One speaker said, ‘Our ancestors survived the Thirty Years’ War, we will remain free farmers on free soil’. Another said, ‘In the land of inventors, can’t we do better than just apply bans?’. And when they spoke, they were met with a cacophony of horns.

The rally had been called by a group calling itself Land Schafft Verbindung (Countryside Creates Connection). It is also behind several smaller protests in other parts of Germany. According to a report by regional public-service broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk, LSV is a loose network of farmers, and has no desire to compete with the German Farmers’ Federation. It emerged in early October and mainly organises itself via Facebook and WhatsApp.

LSV is not alone, however. Over the past few weeks, similar tractor-protests have taken place in Ireland, France and the Netherlands, often with thousands of farmers and tractors participating. In the case of the Netherlands, there is a very specific cause. The centre-left Democrats 66 (D66) party, part of prime minister Mark Rutte’s governing coalition, wants to fight climate change by restricting livestock farming. In October, a D66 leader suggested reducing livestock in the Netherlands by around 50 per cent. This caused Dutch farmers’ anger to boil over. They have since used roadblocks several times to paralyse traffic throughout the Netherlands. In Groningen, farmers even used a tractor to break down the door to the provincial council offices.

Judging by the atmosphere and aims of the Berlin rally, such escalations are very unlikely in Germany. Nevertheless, there is something in the air. The conflicts around farming are part of a wider social conflict. On one side stands a well-off, mostly university-educated middle class, who see themselves, in the words of the German philosopher Alexander Grau, as the ‘vanguard of progress’. This does not mean technological progress or economic growth, but so-called post-material concerns, such as environmentalism, identity politics and global social justice.

And on the other side are those who find this kind of ‘progress’, and the self-righteous tone in which it is advanced, deeply unappealing. Some, such as Germany’s farmers, view it as a direct threat to their material interests. So, increasingly, they are rebelling, either at the ballot box or by joining independent protest movements.

The American geographer and writer Joel Kotkin has described how the current liberal elite tends to view itself as a highly qualified expert class, which derives its authority from ‘persuading, instructing and regulating the rest of society’. One of the most interesting things about the current farmers’ protests is how they are challenging the authority of this expert class. They are even calling into question its claim to possess expertise at all.

Indeed, the farmers have taken to the streets precisely because they believe that the political class is not really guided by expertise, but by its own ‘progressive’ worldview. ‘Facts, not ideology’, read one of the placards I saw at the rally. ‘Dear politicians, please base politics on science’, read another. Politicians will increasingly have to engage with this type of confident citizen, because people who question the prescribed narratives and scripts won’t go away. And for democracy, this can only be good news.

Kolja Zydatiss is a journalist and writer based in Berlin. A German version of this article first appeared on the weblog Die Achse des Guten.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Ven Oods

11th December 2019 at 10:07 am

“…some had donned yellow high-visibility vests, a symbolic nod to the French gilets jaunes.”

Surely, they should organise as ‘die gelben Jacken’? Or are they afraid of being blinded and having their limbs shot off by the police?

Gerard Barry

11th December 2019 at 9:57 am

Brilliant article. The thing that most shocks me about the green movement is how they literally do not give a shit about how their plans will affect other people’s livelihoods. Whether it’s farmers, carmakers, those working in the coal industry or anywhere else, they obvioulsy don’t give two hoots about other people’s economic wellbeing.

I love by the way how Spike introduces us to new writers like this guy all the time. Keep up the good work!

Alley Kat

17th December 2019 at 10:25 pm

Agree Gerrard…very good article and very good to hear what’s happening in Europe.
It mirrors what is happening here in the uk in terms of the “expert class” etc. except we gave the “vanguards of progress” a bloody nose. I hope this inspires the good people of Germany to make full use their democratic vote.

Ven Oods

11th December 2019 at 8:58 am

The farmers, who reportedly travelled considerable distances in order to protest, have no chance against the woke rentamobs which can be conjured out of any densely-populated urban area.
I’m surprised that Greta hadn’t sailed there to complain about all the agricultural diesel they had wasted in getting to Berlin.

Stephen J

11th December 2019 at 7:41 am

It seems that with every tale of horror from some traditional community or other is at the hands of green socialists, none of which can point to any situation around the planet and prove that the situation was caused by “climate change”.

It isn’t the wrong fertiliser of pesticide, it is usually the wrong method, and sitting on their shoulder are a bunch of really ignorant socialists, who know far less than the farmer, fisherman or other field expert, who use green ideology at the highest levels without the slightest proof that harm was being done…

At the same time, they are badmouthing solutions that involve a little bit of thought and perhaps a minor change in management, without taking any time to see with their own eyes just what the issue is.

All that remains is protest and eventual Venezuelan style hardship.

Ain’t lefties great?

K Tojo

11th December 2019 at 1:08 am

Angela Merkel’s government promised that the new “green economy” would provide 400,000 new “green” jobs. Contented German workers would be gainfully employed producing solar panels and other such environmentally friendly gear. Unfortunately, it proved much more cost effective to buy in the equipment from China. More green jobs for the ever lucky Chinese.

Now Corbyn’s Labour party are trying the similar promises. British workers need not worry about the loss of their jobs as one old industries are shut down to cope with the alleged climate emergency (accepted unquestioningly by our ever reliable MSM). A whole new green economy will provide plenty of good jobs for everyone and “save the planet” to boot. Jeez! Where can you find an investigative reporter these days?

Matt Ryan

11th December 2019 at 8:17 am

The problem Leftists have is they think jobs are a benefit when they are a cost. The world gets richer with division of labour and specialisation. How many authors, musicians, racing drivers etc have we (society) missed out on because they were doing some menial job instead? Opportunity lost is a cost to us all.

K Tojo

11th December 2019 at 8:39 am

Sounds a bit odd to me Mr Ryan. Are you saying that the world is losing out on the potential of hordes of wannabe creatives because they are foolishly frittering away their time trying to pay the rent?

I don’t know about racing drivers but, in London at least, there is no shortage of people with delusions of talent trying to get a place in the (very over-subscribed) creative industries. Are you perhaps suggesting that Arts Council subsidies be dramatically widened so these hopefuls don’t have to work as waiters, shelf-stackers etc?

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to comment. Log in or Register now.