HomeWorld NewsBerlin farmer protest gains wide support amid nation’s winter of discontent

Berlin farmer protest gains wide support amid nation’s winter of discontent

BERLIN — Thousands of demonstrators descended on the German capital Monday as a week-long protest over subsidy cuts in the agriculture sector reached a climax at the city’s famed Brandenburg Gate. Behind the crowd, tractors, which last week blocked highways across the country lined the avenue cutting through Berlin’s Tiergarten park.

Following protests in December, the government reversed a decision on axing a tax discount for agricultural vehicles, and announced that a diesel subsidy would be phased out over three years rather than being cut immediately. But the farmers association said the concessions didn’t go far enough.

“Without stability in the countryside, without agriculture our country has no future,” Farmers’ Union president Joachim Rukwied said from the stage. “That’s why we are prepared to take to the streets.”

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While the protest was prompted by concerns in the agriculture sector, Monday’s demonstration was also an outlet for general dissatisfaction with the government, adding to the mounting pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz as he scrambles to fix a billion-euro budget blunder, which led to the subsidy cuts.

Eric Krems, 36, traveled four hours with other farmers from the Oberlausitz region, southeast of the capital.

“Originally we had hoped that the cuts to the agriculture subsidies would be overturned,” said the animal and produce farmer. “But in the meantime, I think it’s clear that at this protest is about a lot more. Not only us farmers are unhappy, but other areas, too. Because what’s coming out of Berlin is damaging our county — especially the economy.”

Above the crowd, regional flags fluttered in the bitter January air alongside the black, red and gold of the national standard. One slogan in particular was repeated on placards: “The traffic light must go!” — a reference to the governing coalition of the Social Democrats, the Free Democrats and Greens, whose party colors evoke those of a traffic light.

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner, meanwhile, was booed down by protesters as he took to the stage. “Get lost! Get lost!” chanted the crowd.

Ahead of the demonstration, Scholz said in a video podcast Saturday that his government had listened to the farmers’ concerns.

“We’ve taken the farmers’ arguments to heart and revised our proposals. A good compromise,” Scholz said.

The general discontent with the German government at the farmers’ protests has been an opportunity for far-right extremists.

Known far-right groups including Free Saxons, the Third Way and Homeland have also mobilized on social media in recent weeks, fueling talk of uprisings to “dismantle” the government, which Scholz described Saturday as “nonsense.”

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