Baranja, 16th – 18th April 2015

Organizers: Croatian Rural Development Network – HMRR, in cooperation with the Civil Society Organization for Creative Development “Slap” from Osijek, Town of Beli Manastir and LAG Baranja

Host: Osječko-baranjska County

Sponsors: Ministry of Economy and European Economic and Social Committee

The First Croatian Rural Parliament (RP) has marked the beginning of the process of strengthening and networking of local rural communities in their joint consideration and search for solutions to the challenges of development of Croatian rural areas. Organizers wish to point out the importance of the rural area when it comes to comprehensive and sustainable development of the entire territory of Croatia.

During three content-rich days, 228 participants connected by motivation, care and responsibility for the future of rural areas of Croatia contributed to the search for an answer to the event’s key question: “Perspectives for young people in rural areas”. Representatives of local action groups, civil society organisations, towns, municipalities, counties, the private sector, the academic community, expert institutions, ministries, tourist boards, development agencies, the European Parliament, European Economic and Social Committee and other interested stakeholders exchanged opinions and knowledge, discussed their experiences, ideas and possible approaches as well as defined steps which would need to be taken until the Second Croatian Rural Parliament in 2017.

Overview of the Agenda

       Day 1 / Thursday, 16th April 2015

The Croatian RP began with rural addresses (short introductory speeches, announcements and expressions of expectations from both organizers and guests). Dane Pejnović, Professor of Rural Geography at the Faculty of Science of the University of Zagreb and Maja Štambuk, Rural Sociologist, presented the characteristics of rural Croatia – its riches and potentials, but also the consequences of the depopulation processes.

Their presentation was followed by that of five finalists of the competition for the best idea and two finalists of the competition for the best practice in the area of youth employment in rural areas. Advantage was given to work promoting innovation and creativity, approaches which can be repeatedly applied, sustainable projects and ideas which enable employment of a greater number of young people and respond to the needs of the communities. The winners are:

  • Project idea “UPS! (in English: BAS – Balanced Agricultural Systems)” of the civil society organization PLANTaža

This civil society organization will design and set up a permaculture garden in the territory of the Municipality of Erdut that will serve as an educational centre for learning about the advantages of permaculture, permaculture design, growing and use of medicinal herbs etc. It will also start a social entrepreneurship company which will enable, through its website, communication with buyers, including on-line sales, provide information and nutritionist’s advice as well as an educational game.

  • Project “Application of Knowledge in Agriculture as the Motivator of Rural Development” of the civil society organization “Srce Slavonije i Baranje”

The goal of this project is to develop and provide educational and advisory assistance and support to inhabitants in rural areas, taking into account the economic needs of the region. Education of young teams will be carried out (three teams with three team members each) in the area of legal, economic and information and communication technologies, for the purposes of agriculture and holdings, which will then transfer their knowledge to family agricultural holdings (OPGs) and small- and medium-sized entrepreneurs. Advisory services to agricultural workers will be provided in the area of dealing with legal and business issues and a “mobile service” for provision of support to local inhabitants will also be established. Total project cost is 25.000,00 kuna.

Exchange of perspectives and ideas on selected issues related to rural development took place at the rural café, in smaller groups of representatives of different social groups. In following the methodology of the world-café, the participants changed tables and topics of discussion, of which there were ten in total:

  1. What are main reasons why young people leave rural areas?
  2. How to include young people in decision-making system?
  3. What is the role of LAGs in keeping young people in rural areas?
  4. What is the role of local self governments in keeping young people in rural areas?
  5. What is the role of The State in keeping young people in rural areas?
  6. What is the role of civil society in keeping young people in rural areas?
  7. What is the role of business sector in keeping young people in rural areas?
  8. What kind of employment support system should be developed in rural areas?
  9. How to improve quality of life for young people in rural areas?
  10. Croatian Rural Parliament Declaration (role and content)

The day ended with an informal get together and in getting to know the diversity of Croatian rural area, at the Ethno – village Patria, where the members of local action groups and other interested participants presented the gastronomic, tourist and enological richness of their home areas as well as their ideas, projects and other activities.

Day 2 / Friday, 17th April 2015

On the second day, a panel discussion on the development of rural Croatia during the programming period 2014-2020 was held. The participants were the following:

  • Želimir Kramarić, Assistant to the Minister of Tourism and Dragomir Đević, Head of Service for Sustainable Development of Rural Areas at the Ministry of Agriculture
  • Marijana Petir, Jozo Radoš and Davor Škrlec, representatives of the Republic of Croatia in the European Parliament
  • Davor Majetić, Jan Olsson, Staffan Nilsson and Antonio Polica, delegates of the European Economic and Social Committee
  • Goran Šoster, representative of the organisation group of the Second European Rural Parliament.

During a moderated discussion the panellists briefly presented their viewpoints and expectations with regard to rural development, starting from their own scope of work and related roles. There were quite a few critical perspectives – the non-existence of an integrated approach and key strategic goals, the underdeveloped public dialogue and participative democracy, late adoption of the Rural Development Program, weakness of the community at local and regional level. Panellists find new development possibilities in the implementation of new programs 2014-2020, connecting various areas of economic activity at local level (touristic services, agricultural production, environmental protection and cultural heritage protection, focused development of crafts, small- and medium-sized entrepreneurship, creating local recognisability etc.), development of modern communication systems, in line with the needs of rural areas, new creative business activities, innovation and eco social entrepreneurship.

Eight thematic workshops in the filed ensued, which were held at nearby rural location and lasted for several hours each. Continuing on the results of the first day’s discussions, workshops were more directly focused on the areas in which key contributions to rural development are expected. Discussions during the workshops were led by moderators and were mostly hosted by municipalities, local producers and entrepreneurs.

   FW1 – Eco-social economy in rural areas

   FW2 – Challenges and possibilities of agricultural production

   FW3 – Sustainable tourism as a development initiator

   FW4 – Energetic efficiency and renewable energy souurces

   FW5 – Creative industries, inovations, new technologies, IT possiblities

   FW6 – Role of local community in rural development

   FW7 – Role of academic community in development of rural areas

   FW8 – Role and perspectives of rural parliaments

Day 3 / Saturday, 18th April 2015

The results of field workshops were presented, which was followed by a shorter discussion and comments on behalf of all the participants. The introductory text of the Declaration of the First Croatian Rural Parliament was presented next. The text of the Declaration was completed with summaries of conclusions of thematic groups and workshops and it represents a message which the rural development stakeholders, gathered at the First Croatian Rural Parliament convey to decision makers at European, national and regional levels. Following extensive discussion, the final text of the Declaration was adopted by the HMRR Management Board, at its 28th meeting, held on 7th July 2015. The message of rural Croatia to the Second European Rural Parliament to be held in November 2015 in Austria will be drafted separately. While expressing pleasure of being a part of rural Europe, the message will shortly point out the specificities and differences that mark this particular area.

The Meaning of the First Croatian Rural Parliament

The First Croatian Rural Parliament has proved that in all groups of stakeholders involved in rural development there is a high degree of interest for participation and a strong wish to contribute to the development of the rural area. This is confirmed by a good turnout of participants from all parts of Croatia, despite a weak response on behalf of representatives of the national government and significant cost of participation due to the lack of expected financial support. Such a complex event was only made possible due to extensive effort on behalf of the members of the Croatian Rural Development Network who participated in the preparations and took over and carried out certain organizational, expert and financial duties and activities. Along with co-organizers – Civil Society Organization for Creative Development “Slap” from Osijek, LAG Baranja and Town of Beli Manastir as well as the host, Osječko-baranjska County, the organization of CRP was also supported by Srijem, LAGs Vuka-Dunav and Karašica, along with municipalities, agricultural holdings and other organizations from the Baranja and Srijem area. The contribution of Ecovast should also be pointed out, since their representative prepared the event brochure. Preparations took place over one year, from April 2014, when the HMRR General Assembly adopted the decision to organize the Croatian RP. The First Croatian RP has surely contributed to the good reputation of HMRR and proved the capability of civil society organizations to gather stakeholders in the area of rural development from different sectors, levels and parts of rural Croatia at a national level event.

Croatian RP has marked the invitation to start a dialogue on rural development. The low participation of representatives of the national government and weak interest of the media are not surprising and remain a constant challenge that HMRR will continue to address. The interest of Croatian European Parliament MEPs is encouraging, as is the support of the delegation of the European Economic and Social Committee, in which there were also Croatian members of the Board.

As it has been already previously stated at the beginning, the First Croatian RP has marked the beginning of the process of contemplation, discussion and agreement on a joint path towards a sustainable future of rural Croatia. HMRR bears the responsibility of maintaining this process, by constantly encouraging the finding of solutions to key issues of rural development, provision of information and animation of rural communities as well as inclusion of all the other stakeholders of rural development until the Second Croatian RP and onwards. We have tested and confirmed in practice a successful model of organizing of a rural parliament. In 2017 this experience will be transferred into some other corner of rural Croatia.

See the Declaration of the First Croatian Rural Parliament here.