Study/Research Group on Western Balkans

Convenor: Majda Černič Istenič University of Ljubljana majda.cernic.istenic@bf.uni-lj.si

The Western Balkans encompass a group of sovereign countries with a diverse historical and socio-cultural backgrounds as well as varied natural features and geographical landscapes. Though, after the II World War this group of countries shared a significant part of their common history – the era of socialism that in a certain sense with its legacy still influences their present socio-economic settings and developments. At the beginning of the 1990s a considerable part of the Western Balkans experienced a break-down through disintegration that severely however differently affected the individual countries in this region, their populations and their economies. Some of them ‘escaped’ the civil war while the others were badly affected and still did not recover fully until now.

There is already a bulk of literature from social sciences and humanities addressing more or less general political, social and economic transformations of this region mostly from international scientific community. However, from ‘domestic’ scholars the scope of the contributions is significantly smaller. This holds true also for agricultural and rural issues where contributions of domestic sociological community are scarce. For example, there is no any systematic comparative study dealing with various experiences of those involved and affected by the processes of transformation and integration that would consider abovementioned diverse positions referring to the EU membership. Such a study would particularly be interesting from the perspective of farmers, their associations and organisations but also other actors involved in food production chain. In this line, a particular research attention should be given to incentives and obstacles that farmers from different parts of the region were/are facing in their path to ‘become the European farmers’ and the practices of various actors (academic, extension, state and local administrative bodies) that accompany them in this process. Additionally, related to this central topic the relevant research themes in the frame of proposed Study Group might also cover e.g. the collective memories of the past among the farm and rural populations, the barriers and incentives of farmers’ integration and collaboration in professional associations and cooperatives, increased rural exodus and its demographic consequences for remaining populations, increased agricultural land abandonment and afforestation on the one hand and land grabbing on the other hand, the impact of recent recession and climate changes on quality of life of farmers and rural population, rural/farm labour, and gender issues.

As outlined it seems that the Western Balkan states due to their concurrent similarities and varieties in the transformation process represents a unique case study area in the field of agriculture and rural studies that so far has not yet been fully exploited. Proposed study/research group could represent from comparative perspective of various disciplines a valuable site of knowledge production on responses of smaller regions, as the Western Balkans is, to the broader global challenges that can encourage collaboration of researchers from the region and abroad.