LITHUANIAN QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES
Copyright © 2014 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.
Volume 60, No.1 - Spring 2014
Editor of this issue: Rimas Uzgiris
Knudsen, Ida Harboe . New Lithuania in Old Hands.. New York: Anthem Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1783080472.
New Lithuania in Old Hands is an analysis of the transformation of the agricultural sector in Lithuania since EU accession in 2004. The result of Ida Harboe Knudsen's ethnographic doctoral dissertation, this research looks at how Lithuania's social, political, and economic structures limit EU policy and how EU legislation has affected the family dynamic in rural Lithuania. Knudsen asserts that EUropeanization (with uppercase "EU") has created a class of marginalized EU citizens, disconnected from the center and largely rejecting EU policy. The author's research revolves around case studies conducted between 2004 and 2006 in two villages in the rich agricultural region of southwestern Lithuania.
Knudsen begins her analysis by explaining the privatization process that occurred after independence was declared in 1990 and the speed with which it was conducted to prove to Western Europe that Lithuania would indeed be a democratic country with a market economy. Knudsen considers the collapse of the Soviet system and integration into the EU as one process, not two separate events. In the 1990s, the EU and the World Bank recommended the reestablishment of the family farm as the only way to create sustainable development in the countryside and the ultimate solution to the environmental pollution caused by the large Soviet collectivized and industrialized farms. However, the outcome was 300,000 small family farms, run largely by pensioners, without the specialization or equipment to efficiently compete in the EU market. Thus, prior to accession, the EU advisory board reversed their earlier recommendation and began advocating consolidation of farms, recommending they be sold or leased to younger farmers to consequently become specialized and modernized. The heart of Knudsen's research is an exploration of how the older population, skeptical of government organizations, has not fully cooperated with EU resolutions, leaving Lithuanian farms small and inefficient.
In her first analytical chapter, "Paradoxes of Aging," Knudsen looks at the tenuous relationship between the state and farmers. To highlight the marginalization felt by the rural populace, Knudsen specifically uses examples from her field research, where she witnessed the proceedings of local meetings held to inform farmers of EU regulations. She obtains testimony from farmers who feel that these regulations do not pertain to them, who believe that EU mandated contracts between neighbors are too formal, illogical, and even offensive.
The following chapters examine the response and effects of specific EU programs, namely the EU Early Retirement Program and the national milk price policy. Both were aimed at reducing the number of older farmers over the age of sixty, which as of 2004 was 50 percent. (91) However, Knudsen demonstrates that these policies have largely failed, because rural farmers, distrustful of institutions and preferring the security of maintaining their own land and livestock, have not retired in great numbers. Many continue to sell illegally (without regard to EU criteria for food safety) outside the confines of the regulated marketplace. The author asserts that the EU policy of standardization and harmonization (an expensive endeavor for poor farmers) has actually encouraged more illegal sales now than before EU accession.
Knudsen looks at the "Insiders" versus the "Outsiders" in the realm of the marketplace, i.e., those who adhere to EU regulations and sell within the confines of the market hall and those who sit outside on the curb peddling the exact same goods unregulated. Knudsen examines the Insiders resentment towards the Outsiders and the morality of selling outside EU regulations. Since independence, a greater emphasis has been placed on "home" products, and many prefer to buy dairy products from local uncertified sellers than purchase preserved, plastic-wrapped food from chain grocery stores like Maxima or RIMI. Thus, the EU unintentionally provides Outsiders with a marketing niche - that of a traditional authentic local farm product.
Knudsen devotes a considerable part of her research to investigating emigration as an unintended consequence of EUropeanization and devotes her final chapter to examining the current social dynamic on the family farm. With the lowest male life expectancy in the EU and the largest gap between male and female life expectancies (66 years for men and 78 for women), the household is typically under the supervision of older women incapable of doing much of the hard labor on their own. (137) The author illustrates the typical situation in rural Lithuania as one where the father is sick, the mother carries most of the household burden, the daughters marry and move away, and the unmarried son(s), who have chosen to work and live in the cities, return on weekends to help with hard labor on the farm. The EUropeanization of Lithuania has resulted in an "urban-rural compromise" or "circular migration," pressuring the youth with feelings of kinship obligation and parental expectation.
Knudsen has painted a thorough portrait of the consequences of EU
accession and the impact of agricultural regulations on the "average"
farmer in Lithuania. One can draw from her conclusions that EU
membership has brought no advantage to the Lithuanian farmer and, in
fact, is just another type of foreign "domination" put upon Lithuanians
and thus similar to the Soviet regime. At one point, Knudsen explains
that the ideologies of the Soviet Union and the European Union are
different, but their goals are the same: to foster large production by
fewer farms. She even refers to the time between the fall of the USSR
and EU accession as Lithuania's "independent era": "In this sense, it
was only in the period of independence that it made sense for villagers
to have 2-4 cows" [my italics]. (97) Other than a lengthy section about
the corruption and immorality of rural political parties, the work
stays on topic and is concise. Knudsen does not offer insight into any
advantages of European Union membership for the average farmer. The
notion is nowhere addressed, and a bit of balance would have been
appreciated. However, overall, New Lithuania in Old Hands is a highly
informative read, particularly of interest to readers questioning the
affects of the EU on individuals and on rural populations.