Being a Farmer in Karelia Is Not Easy

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Karelian Farmer Mikhail Zenzin. His placard reads, “For the government’s rotten work a rotten harvest from a grateful farmer.” Photo courtesy of Gleb Yarovoi/7X7

Farmer Brings Rotten Berries to Picket Outside Karelia’s Government House
Gleb Yarovoi
7X7
September 6, 2017

On September 6, Mikhail Zenzin, a farmer from Karelia’s Onega District, held a solo picket outside the Karelian government house in Petrozavodsk, the republic’s capital. The man arrived at the building carrying a box of rotten berries and a placard that read, “For the government’s rotten work a rotten harvest from a grateful farmer,” our correspondent reported from the site of the picket.

Several minutes later, a young woman emerged from government house to talk to Zenzin. She invited him to the reception room of the region’s head, where he was able to make an appointment to meet with the head in October 2017. Officials did not accept Zenzin’s gift of berries, and the farmer was forced to discard them.

According to Zenzin, being a farmer in Karelia is no easy task. He says he sees only interference from the state, but would like to receive help. Since spring 2017, he has tried on several occasions to obtain a permit to sell his produce in Petrozavodsk, but so far he has been unsuccessful.

“Karelia needs a farmer’s market. The one held in October is trivial. People grow a lot of produce, but we cannot sell it outside, since the issue of street trading has not been settled yet. There was a decree in April of this year that allocated three plots in Petrozavodsk for the sale of produce, but they had to be purchased through an auction. All over the world, farmers transport their produce to town and sell it freely. In May, I wrote to Artur Parfenchikov, acting head of Karelia, and asked him how farmers were supposed to sell their produce, but I got no reply from him. Instead, I got the run-around from the Agriculture Ministry, who wrote to me that I should contact the retail chains and ask to sell my produce on their premises. I tried to meet with Parfenchikov during office hours. I called his reception office, where I was told the head received the general public once a quarter, and so I was turned down. If I had known he would refuse to debate the issue, I would have brought my berries to Petrozavodsk long ago and dumped them on the steps of government house,” said Zenzin.

This was not Zenzin’s first protest. For several years, he held similar pickets outside Karelian government house and the Karelian Nature Ministry. In the spring of 2013, he held a picket outside the Karelian Natural Resources and Environment Ministry because Ladva Forest Holding, Ltd., had begun clear-cutting a thirteen-acre land plot that had been transferred to the farmer in perpetuity.

In 2014, Zenzin held a solo picket outside government house and went on a hunger strike. As the farmer told the Forest Website, for several years he had been unable  to farm and develop nature tourism in the vicinity of the village of Ladva-Vetka, because the tenant of the area’s forest reserves, Ladva Forest Holding, Ltd., had damaged the road by which Zenzin reached his own plot.

Zenzin doused himself with water in sub-zero temperatures outside the Karelian Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, thus symbolizing how the republic had put small business on ice. A month later, Zenzin, who lives in Ladva-Vetka, was once again outside government house, but this time he had a noose around his neck and a placard that read, “With a man like this running the republic, Karelian small business can only put its head in a noose.” In 2015, Zenzin stood in the way of logging equipment and prevented loggers from cutting down the forest.

According to Zenzin, the issue was resolved in 2016 after Oleg Telnov, ex-deputy head of Karelia, personally intervened.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for the heads-up

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