Plowing contest digs up controversy

  • 2007-09-19
  • By Kimberly Kweder

COMPETITION: Farmers from 29 countries participated in thecontest, but protests over land ownership won the spotlight.

VILNIUS - The 54th annual World Plowing Contest, which took place in Kaunas Sept. 14 - 15, was marred when about 30 picketers disrupted the event, calling for the government to re-privatize fields that are now occupied by the Lithuanian University of Agriculture (LZUU) and return to the land to its original owners.
"The land you will be plowing costs only 390 euros per hectare," read one of the picketer's signs, according to an eyewitness. Another, addressed to the government, sarcastically read, "Thanks for all the good you've done for us."

The Lithuanian Agriculture Ministry, the World Plowing Organization, the Lithuanian Plowing Organization and the LZUU organized the event, which brought in participants from 29 countries. European Commis-sioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel, Parliamentary speaker Viktoras Muntianas and Agriculture Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene also attended.
The protesters claim that, as pre-war owners, they have  the land being used for the event should be returned to them by the state, since they are pre-war owners.

Mindaugas Kuklierius, Deputy Chairman of the Lithuanian Landowners' Union, told The Baltic Times the controversy is reaching a head now because this is the last year owners can receive land restitution rights.
"I can understand the people protesting because they have been waiting for more than 10 years," said the deputy chairman. "Of course they are angry as they see different events being organized there [at the LZUU]."
Under normal circumstances, the landowners would be able to claim restitution, however this particular case is exceptional. The "Law on the Restoration of the Right of Ownership of Citizens to the Existing Real Property" states that land used by institutions for research and studies cannot be given back to private owners. Therefore the Lithuanian University of Agriculture's continued ownership of the land is protected by law.
In cases like this, the government offers compensation in the sum of money, land of equal value or stocks, said Ausra Rackauskaite, deputy chief of the National Land Survey of Lithuania. 

However, local media has reported the protesters want their land, not compensation.
"About 50 percent in the city of Kaunas is not restituted,"  Kuklierius said. "We have 60 percent of the forests owned by state, so it wouldn't decrease too much if we used this as an alternative [to fulfill ownership]."
A second controversy has arisen at the World Plowing Contest, this one regarding the program's expenses.
Lithuania's national television reports that 15 million litas (4.3 million euros) was spent during the two-year preparation for the event in Kaunas.

The World Plowing Organi-zation was unavailable for comment before press time. 
Audrone Arnasiute, manager of information at the Lithuanian University of Agriculture, said most of the budget was spent on living and meal arrangements for 250 people at the university's hotels.
The World Plowing Contest's organizers estimated that 50,000 attended the event.