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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 16:33 GMT
Profile: Andrzej Lepper
Andrzej Lepper
Mr Lepper has spent time in prison for calling ministers "bandits and idiots"
The BBC's Tim Whewell profiles the politician leading opposition to EU enlargement in Poland.

Andrzej Lepper went through the last Polish election sporting an Elvis-style quiff and a sunbed tan - but don't be deceived, he used to be a boxer.

In a society in which there aren't very many real leaders, he is becoming one - he is becoming a leader of the discontented.

Krzysztof Mularczyk
Polish think tank
He doesn't hesitate to throw hecklers onto piles of manure and he blocks roads with imported grain.

He once led peasants in a raid on a big poultry producer, distributing the sausages he found in the refrigerators to the local poor.

The chorus of his party song is: This land is your land, this land is my land, we won't let anyone punch us in the face.

Poland, says Lepper - leader of the Self Defence party - has already been walloped too often. Walloped by a fist marked Brussels.


"Agricultural production in Poland is now lower than it's been in any time in the last 50 years," he says.

Workers pick carrots in Poland
The majority of Polish farms are not commercial ventures
"We now produce about 40 to 45% less of everything than we did when communism collapsed in 1989.

"The reason is that the European Union and America and other countries have turned Poland into a dumping ground for their over-production. And let me tell you, that's been with the permission of a line of Polish governments."

Centuries ago, Poland was famed for its grain exports. And even under communism its farmers were strong enough to defeat Stalin over collectivisation.

But they feel they're no match for Western rivals who have been pumped up for 50 years by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy.

Gaining ground

Poland has more than two million farms, most of which exist just to feed the family.

About half a million are commercial operations, but of those only one in five meets EU standards.

Don't believe all those clever experts who tell you that you must make profit at all cost

Andrzej Lepper
And yet according to current EU plans, Eastern European farmers will only receive full direct subsidies 10 years after their countries join the union.

Andrzej Lepper's response to that could wreck everybody's calculations.

"If we are not treated as equals, if the European Union tries to exploit us and use us as a dumping ground for its goods, we will start a propaganda war and make sure that Poles vote No in the referendum [on EU membership]."

Polls of Poles suggest that only about half of them are now in favour of joining the EU - Mr Lepper may tip the balance against.

He won 10% of the vote in the last general elections and he is expected to do even better in local ones this spring.

Lepper accuses the EU of dumping cheap meat and grain on Poland
Krzysztof Mularczyk, head of a Polish agricultural think tank, says Andrzej Lepper feeds on the discontent caused by rural poverty.

"He's not afraid to take direct action when he blocked Polish roads a few years ago. And for those reasons, he has become dangerous but in a society in which there aren't very many real leaders, he is becoming one - he is becoming a leader of the discontented.

"He doesn't really have a programme except that everyone should get more and everything should be better," says Mr Mularczyk.

Established Polish politicians think Mr Lepper has brought dirty farmyard politics to the clean corridors of Warsaw.

But Mr Lepper says they're the ones that stink - the mud on his boots is clean - and he is clever enough to know that's the message people now want to hear all over Europe.

It's not just a matter of subsidies but of returning to a simpler life.

Global vocab

Andrzej Lepper has a message for European farmers, which is that they should help themselves

"Don't believe all those clever experts who tell you that you must make profit at all cost - you've seen the results - BSE, foot-and-mouth and other diseases. I advise you, return to nature, you'll have a healthier and better life."

Andrzej Lepper is only now learning the language of anti-globalisation.

But in some ways he does represent the kind of small-scale traditional farming that we seem to be in danger of destroying in the East while at the same time we want to encourage here in the West.

Tim Whewell presents The Neighbours, on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT on Mondays

See also:

30 Nov 01 | Europe
EU fears divide Poland
27 Sep 01 | Europe
The rise of Poland's new radicals
24 Sep 01 | Europe
Left victorious in Poland
08 Mar 01 | Europe
Prodi urges Polish reforms
14 Jun 01 | Europe
The candidate countries
15 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Timeline: Poland
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