Declaration on Milkmaids
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They sell their homemade fresh cheese and cream, and the tourists photograph them. They are one of the trademarks of our city. And yet in spite of all their hard work and the centuries they have been in the city, it is unlikely that they will survive the entry of Croatia into Europe. Europe wants refrigerated markets, and many of them will not be able to cope with the rise in price of their point of sale. Europe also makes demands about the quality of fresh milk, and outside the big farms these can only be met with great difficulty and expense. The way the big farms are developing, it could well be that in a hundred years no one is going to touch a cow or talk with it . And those who talk with the cows will gradually vanish. And perhaps those who talk with each other at the marketplaces.
Can all this progress be handled in such a way as to preserve the little things that mean a lot to many of us? Like fresh cheese and cream from hand to hand? With a word or two? How're the children? Your husband got better? Pension still not come?... and so on for years, once or twice a week. Every elderly milkmaid would tell you, she has her steady customers who have been buying from her for twenty, forty or even fifty years. Buying fresh cheese and cream in this way is a special form of life and communication. The relationship between a milkmaid and her customer has often been developed through several generations of their two families. Although fresh cheese is to be found on the menus in the neighbouring countries, consuming fresh cheese and cream in the way we do, is an autochthonous custom of northern Croatia. The milkmaids are important, and Zagreb would not be what it is without them. If Zagreb loses its milkmaids, it will be like the city of Vienna giving up its famous cafes.
The Zagreb dairywomen have been significantly reduced in number over the last twenty years. The ones that are still working keep 30% less cows than in the late 1980s. Compared to the year of 1990, they sell half as much cheese and cream. Concerning the introduction of refrigerators in the marketplaces - if the cost of their place of business increases, only 14% of them will try to continue the activity. 35% of Zagreb milkmaids are in their 60ies or older. Only 8,6% of them have a successor to continue the activity. Although the Zagreb market of fresh cheese and cream has been experiencing great difficulties , its cultural importance is now bigger than ever. In most of the developed countries milkmaids have disappeared a long time ago. In Zagreb there are still approximately 500 milkmaids coming to the town once or twice a week.
The restructuring of the Croatian economy going on since the early 1990s, as well the parallel process of adjustments to the European Union economic and legal standards, tend to raze milkmaids to the ground of our place on Earth. There is a danger that one by-product of convergence will be the disappearance of the traditional occupation of the milkmaid. As the world is entering the age of the genetically modified foods, we state that our milkmaids are no threat to any economic progress. We state that the survival of the Zagreb milkmaids has to be secured. We suggest and we demand legal protection for our milkmaids and their fresh cheese and cream, as an indigenous product and custom of ours. We demand that the administrative decision-making process exempt the dairywomen from the mainstream of adjustments to the European Union standards. We suggest that the city authorities take care to subsidize the refrigerators at the marketplaces, as well as improve the conditions at the marketplaces to the benefit of the milkmaids. We want this traditional occupation, a particular form of the cultural heritage, be preserved . It might thus be possible to make sure that the milkmaids remain in our marketplaces, making their valuable contribution to the cultural identity of the city of Zagreb.
If you feel that the secure future of both the dairywomen and the cheese and cream of this kind of quality can and should be looked after, then do sign your name in our Book of Requests for the 22nd Century, and we will send it on to those responsible.
Milkmaids for Europe! Vive le fromage au lait cru!
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