9 Feb

Geographical Review Preview: Croatian Rural Futures in 2030: Four Alternative Scenarios for Post-socialist Countryside in the Newest EU Member State

By: Aleksandar Lukić, Petra Radeljak Kaufmann, Luka Valožić, Ivan Zupanc, Marin Cvitanović, Dane Pejnović, Ivan Žilić

What is the main purpose of your study? 
Let’s start with what is certainly not the main purpose of our study: the creation of a crystal ball to forecast the future of rural areas in Croatia in 2030. Academic scenario studies such as ours are primarily designed to encourage informed and evidence-based public and/or political debate. We never claim that our study predicts the future. The main purpose is to provide a set of well-documented and reasonable assumptions that help to reflect on the possible future development of Croatia’s rural areas and support the design of policies that could lead to the most desirable development path into the future.

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study? 
Our study envisioned four different scenarios for rural areas in Croatia in 2030: Rural Renaissance, Shift, Road to Nowhere, and Growth without Development. Each of them describes in detail what could happen to demography, economy, local community, politics, culture, and environment in different types of rural areas. By observing what is happening in relation to these aspects of development and comparing it with different scenarios, local residents, decision-makers, scientists, and others may be able to better understand possible outcomes of current trends. This could hopefully lead to the development of a more successful rural development policy in Croatia.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Similar scenario exercises have been prepared for many European countries and the EU. There are also many studies that examine the diversity of rural areas. However, the integration of scenario studies with different types of rural areas from the very beginning of the research process is not so common. We felt that this is a very important part of the research, so we have tried to develop the methodological framework to make this possible. Therefore, our study is more sensitive to the impact of different scenarios with regard to territorial differences between rural areas than others.


What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study? 
Our study suggests that even in the most optimistic scenario Rural Renaissance the share of territory and population in rural areas with critical demographic characteristics and economic limitations in development will increase by 2030. Although this may sound very discouraging both for the local population and for policymakers, especially as there are high expectations that the EU Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy would solve all problems in lagging rural areas, it reveals that a long-standing development problem cannot disappear overnight (in our case in a decade). This is particularly true of the current negative demographic trends. However, we have also identified the main steps that should be taken as soon as possible to steer the ship in a more promising direction. For example, support for diversified economic development through synergetic and innovative approaches to make the best possible use of local, endogenous development resources is vital. A shared vision of the local population and the strengthening of community activities in the form of associations, cooperatives, clusters are also recognized as important factors for a positive turnaround.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study? 
Currently, rural development is mainly theorized by two dominant paradigms: the modernization paradigm and the new rural development paradigm. Some of the main differences between the two are inward investment vs. endogenous development; paternalistic, centralized state vs. multi-level governance; exploitation and control of nature vs. sustainable development; sectoral dependency vs. multisectoral economy etc. We would argue that the alternative scenarios developed for rural Croatia in 2030 consist of components of both. Interestingly, Rural Renaissance as the most positive picture of Croatian rural areas in 2030 reflects elements of the new rural development paradigm, while the most pessimistic scenario called Road to Nowhere is clearly linked to the unsuccessful application of the modernization paradigm. Finally, two other scenarios are arguably much more mixed in terms of their components in relation to the rural development paradigms. In summary, our study indicates that both paradigms still influence rural development in Croatia and will continue to do so in the future.

How does your research help us think about Geography? 
Our research points out the importance of territorial differences in the discussion about possible development paths of rural areas. By arguing that there are many types of rural areas, we stimulate reflection on the reasons behind diversity and how geography contributes to better understanding of rural present and future.

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