Civil Rights

“Under the Ground”: the exploitation of Serbian farmers

Under the Ground

To highlight the unjust laws and blatant property rights violations endured by Serbian farmers, the Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies engaged in a massive public education campaign, utilizing social media and earned media.

“When we started this initiative, we wanted to raise attention about the state’s generally unjust treatment of farmers as second-class citizens since the Communist Party took over in 1945,” explained CAAS President, Ratko Nikolić. The CAAS team focused on a deal that the Serbian government signed in 2008 with the Gazprom Neft (a Russian oil company) that gave the company the right to exploit oil under Serbian land. “In practice, that meant that when oil is found beneath a farmer's land, that farmer has no choice but to allow the oil company to exploit it for compensation of around 50 USD per year,” continued Nikolić. “With the oil rent at 3% (one of the lowest oil rents in the world - in comparison, in Russia where Gazprom Neft is from, it's 22%) and as cancelling the agreement from 2008 seemed improbable, we wanted to raise public awareness about this issue and thus motivate a parliamentary party to pledge to at least fight for raising the oil rent.”

CAAS produced a documentary, “Under the Ground,” that communicated the unfair laws that Serbian farmers endure through the personal perspective of three families in Vojvodina. The families had their farmland seized by the government when oil was discovered below the surface while receiving no meaningful compensation. While this has been an issue in Serbia since the agreement was signed in 2008, “Under the Ground” allowed viewers to meet the farmers who have been impacted, learn their story, and feel their pain. The documentary was aired in primetime on regional cable, as well as on social media, and has done an effective job at raising the issue to the broader public. “The public response has been overwhelmingly positive,” continued Ratko Nikolić. “Most of the comments under the documentary online are praising our initiative and criticizing the unjust treatment of farmers that we described. Airing the documentary on N1 certainly helped bring more audience to the documentary and our channel grew around 100% due to it, making us the largest pro-liberty YouTube channel in the country.”

CAAS also hosted a series of lectures on the social, economic, and political status of Serbian farmers, which garnered almost 400,000 online views. The lectures provided a historical perspective on the treatment of farmers in Serbia as a context for understanding the problems the documentary discusses. One of the lecturers, Professor Miodrag Zec, has received over 150,000 views online.

The Center for Anti-Authoritarian Studies has successfully brought this issue to the forefront of the public debate, and reform is becoming increasingly popular within the parliamentary body. In February, Serbian Minister of Mining and Energy, Zorana Mihajlović, announced her intentions to amend the Law on Mining and Geological Research and increase ore rent for farmers beginning in 2023.