The Deszczno Cows or how the Commission is losing a public debate in Poland

The European Commission is proud of solving problems. Real problems. And often, rightly so. Yet every now and then it creates a new reason of disbelief and mistrust. How? Here’s a story.

“Cows of Deszczno” is the Internet sensation. It is the story people are interested in. Google it, you will see yourself. Why?

The Cows of Deszczno

Deszczno, Western Poland, about 2009. A local farmer is probably tired of cows. He has too many of them and decides to set the herd free. The animals run wild into the forests and grasslands and procreate.

Fast forward to 2019. There are 179 wild cows today, unless another calve came to the world last night. Cows are not registered or supervised by a vet. The owner declines to cooperate (to register, to have them tested). Once, in October 2018 he even is ordered to take care of the situation by the court ruling. There are so many of the cows now they started to create problems on other farms and even on roads.

Kill them all!

After years of trying to force the owner into compliance, the situation becomes dire. The cows do constitute a threat, remember the ASF? If not them, hundreds of other cows could be endangered. So, what to do with the cows? The Lubuskie regional governor Władysław Dajczak says in early May that untested cows are an epidemiological threat to other animals and public safety. The court verdict is: to kill all of the cows. The procedure is to be executed by the local vet, the finances for it are provided by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The animal welfare defenders

“No!” shout the animal welfare defenders. “It is a feral herd, beautiful and apparently happy, cows are related and calves are with their mothers. Before being transported to the slaughterhouse they will be transported by trucks, which means separation of mothers from calves”, points out Andrzej Elżanowski in an article.

There are two ways of dealing with the problem, say the animal welfare defenders, nicknamed Animalsi in Poland. First is the court way and the way of the local government representative: to kill the herd. The second option is to test them, register them, and let them live some place. The Animalsi point out that the second option was never considered by the officials.

There is a date of execution is kept in secret. The animal welfare activists speculate it is at the end of May. The Animalsi are successful in delaying the execution by 7 days. They hope to work out a solution. Also, the mainstream media caught up on the issue. The Polish authorities are interested.

Is EU to be blamed?

President Andrzej Duda just finished his EP campaign, in which he praised the EU. On 29 May he tweets “Minister Krzysztof Ardanowski [of agriculture] and Main Vet Bogdan Konopka have informed me that they ar looking for a happy ending for the Deszczno herd. I am sure they will find one despite the fact that the EU laws order to kill the animals. A Pole can do! We keep our fingers crossed for the Deszczno herd”.

Before the president of the Republic, also the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński intervened by a parliamentary question to the ministry. Mr Jarosław Kaczyński is well known for his soft spot: the animal welfare.

It will be alright

The political issue becomes manageable, there is good will with the key decision makers. The Animalsi found enough space in various farms throughout the country, the Agriculture Ministry contributed resources and more space where the cows can be tested and kept. All seems to be fine. There is a happy ending. Yes, a Pole can do, Mr President! Another reason to celebrate, following the massive win of the ruling party in the European elections.

Et alors? is not a niche media, but it is also not a mass media. It is hardly read by the millions of animal welfare-concerned or farmers. The liberal urban elites will know that Mr President lied. The countryside voter will not. The main argument, confirmed by legal experts: EU does not make Poland kill the happy cows. A short information about president tweet spreading misinformation was also aired on TVN24.

The Internet is full of stories of the Deszczno cows. Even Politico writes about it and Mr Duda involvement. So the foreigners already know.

Actually it all worked out. The cows will be fine. Until they are turned into hamburgers, that is, but that’s life, one can argue. At least a slaughterhouse kill has a logic in it and serves a purpose. A kill to burn meat because it has never been tested – it’s a waste, too. Dracarys far too often is pointless.

The European Commission response comes from its spokesperson. Politico reports the quote: “While there is comprehensive EU legislation in place, the authorities need to ensure the protection of public and animal health.”

Doesn’t the EC see the problem? President Duda can travel the country and spread his version of reality on the Internet, say things about bulbs and tweet about the EU’s mass cow killing, and the communication response from the EC is to fact check. Great, we have it settled. Who shall respond politically to the head of the Polish state? I would expect the EU Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis, who speaks Polish, to publicly take on the Polish President. Or maybe the Commission President Juncker?

Lies cannot be left to rot. Lies need to be burnt out! Dracarys the lies! If not they are softly decomposing into the soil and become a part of the reality we are living in and a part of air we breathe. By the time we notice someone shouting “EU is the bad guy!”, you might ask “why” and they would not know. Because it is a thousand of little stories, a thousand of little twisted informations, a thousand of drops forming the rock bit by bit.

It takes an ageing President of Austria (75 years old) to defend the sanity in Austria. Do we remember he narrowly won against a FPO candidate in 2017? The same FPO, whose leader just resigned due to a single Ibiza conversation.

The President of Poland is young and vibrant (47 years old) and he recently said he keeps on learning new things. I hope he learns Europe for what it is: his imperfect home, not his enemy.

Who will defend the sanity in Europe, if the Europe’s top representatives fail to do the job? The missing link in the European construction: the link between the European citizen and the European executive.

Here’s a fact check: EU is not perfect and makes mistakes. For it is made of humans and humans are imperfect. To say, or to imply, it is a pure good or an evil, is a mistake. But to let the VIP like the head of state with a lie like that? If I was a Commissioner, I would go to Deszczno and give a response to the Polish President lie that it is not the EU law and forces the Polish state to kill the herd, but the Polish state institutions have interpreted the law this way, because they are free to do it their way. To change it – it’s the state law. To accuse the EU – it’s plain wrong.

I can anticipate the Commission’s response: but we cannot be everywhere! There are limits to the time and space. Mr Andriukaitis deals with plenty other cases and situations elsewhere. I know. But I won’t agree with that.

Mr President Duda, please apologise for misinforming the same general public you shall be asking in a year to re-elect you.

The worse we can do is to move on and forget. The cows are fine. The politics is not.

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