Experts warn that continuing massive population shifts from the countryside to the cities may cause the downfall of both.
By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 31/07/12
A tenth of Macedonia's villages are abandoned and another tenth have fewer than 20 inhabitants. [Klaudija Lutovska/SETimes]
Massive migration from rural to urban areas in the Balkans is causing tremendous socio-economic problems, and experts said regional governments should be more assertive to stem the tide.
"In an agricultural country like Serbia, two-thirds of the population should live in rural areas but less than 45% do so," Vladimir Nikitovic of the Centre for Demographic Research told SETimes.
About 25% of Serbia's 4,600 villages are on the verge of being extinct, and Serbian demographers project another third will disappear in the next 15 years. More than two-thirds of rural households in Serbia do not have an owner or a farmer who actively works the land.
Similarly, only 20% of the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) lives in rural areas now, about half that in 1990, and the trend holds for the rest of the region.
"Mostly the elderly live in villages now. If the trend continues, we will become a country of old people," Nada Teshanovic, minister for family, youth and sports of BiH, told SETimes.
"Rural-to-urban migration dates from the 1950s when the industrial development of the cities began," Nevenka Marolova, a geographer in Skopje, told SETimes.
Marolova explained the trend is a result of poor overall living conditions and infrastructure, not readily available healthcare services and a glorified modern urban lifestyle.
"There is an ever-increasing gap between city and village though it is clear the former cannot survive without the latter, which feeds and provides for it," Amer Canovic, of the Institute for Urbanism in Tuzla, told SETimes.
Consequently, agricultural and livestock production have fallen by up to 25% in various countries in the past five years.
"The trend is overwhelming the economy, quality of life and even the functioning of the state," Nikola Panov, professor at Macedonia's Institute for Geography in Skopje, told SETimes.
"Cities have no more physical space to meet citizens' needs, which sustain a quality lifestyle," Blagoja Markovski, a researcher at the Institute of Geography in Skopje, told SETimes.
The consequences are visible daily as city residents face growing employment competition in a time of prolonged crisis.
Demographers have cautioned that the low number of those who want to return to the villages reinforces the negative effects of the migration trend.
"It is often not advisable to advertise that my family lives in a village and works the land, because it is viewed as something lesser," Avdija Hasic, a student of veterinary science in Sarajevo, told SETimes.
In Montenegro, the situation is alarming since the majority of the rural population has migrated to towns in the past five years.
Plevlja resident Eldin Konarevic, 25, came to Podgorica four years ago to study law and said he intends to stay. "[Otherwise] there is no chance for me to find a job after graduation," Konarevic told SETimes.
Working to encourage self-employment in the villages, regional governments are taking actions including agricultural subsidies and purchasing agricultural products.
"We continually invest in the development of villages within our capabilities. We improve the road infrastructure, water and sewage network, and have also enabled mobile medical care," Milena Ristova-Mihajlovska, spokeswoman for the mayor of the Macedonian town of Shtip, told SETimes.
SETimes correspondents Biljana Pekusic in Belgrade, Bedrana Kaletovic in Tuzla and Drazen Remikovic in Podgorica contributed to this article.