Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries


Stefan Zajac

  1. Futures studies before 1989

Futures studies in Slovakia[^21] , as a part of the former Czechoslovakia, from its very beginning, were linked with economic planning. The term used in Czechoslovakia, was “prognostics”, which considered futures studies as the crucial process preceding the formation of a long-term socio-economic outlook. The foundations of socio-economic planning were laid according to the regularities of the advanced scientific-technological progress. Of course, forecasting and planning differed in levels of objectivity and complexity but they were necessarily tied. According to a dialectic-materialist outlook, the future was, in principle, stochastic and not simply a projection of the past. Therefore, planners and researchers in Czechoslovakia were concentrated on the analysis of scientific and technological processes and on their societal consequences (societal progress). This view of the role and objectives of forecasting was shared by the authorities responsible for planning until the end of the socialist regime in Slovakia, although for many years works on global social-economic forecasting were carried on in different research institutes, especially in the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

In the midst of the 1960s, another type of futures studies was launched by the team led by Radovan Richta from the Institute of Philosophy of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. Their investigation resulted in the famous book “Civilisation on the Crossroads”, which characterised the post-second war period as the advent age of a scientific and technological revolution, generating a new technical and economic paradigms, as well as a new way of life. The analysis was so convincing that the idea of the scientific and technological revolution, of the transformation of science into a productive factor was generally accepted and even incorporated in official political speeches, and the acceleration of science and technology activities was considered as one of the priority tasks under socialism.

A new phase in the evolution of the futures studies in Slovakia began in the early eighties, namely in 1983, when the government decided to carry out a global social and economic forecast of Czechoslovakia, including Slovakia, up to the year 2010. In Slovakia, it was the SAS, specifically the Institute of Economics as co-ordinator, which was appointed to realise the project. The decision to entrust this task to an academic body followed from the idea of achieving a very global view of the possible ways of development of the socialist society in a longer period of time, where economic indicators and tendencies would be one of the development parameters, themselves influenced by the changing of many social, cultural and demographic factors. But also some political and governmental bodies were designed to be the major consultants, and receptors of the final and partial results of the projects, and were to be regularly informed on the course of investigations. This new type of forecasting, was considered to be part of the planning process as a whole.

The global social and economic forecast of Slovakia was published as a book in 1991 (Markus, J. et al.). Most important conclusions were subsumed under following six points (pp. 162 - 170):

  1. At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, Slovakia again stands at a historical crossroads. Due to internal and external factors and contingencies, further progress forward is not possible without a deep social breakthrough, without a radical restructuring of the society, without its overall qualitative change or transformation. The essential trait not only of the day but of the entire decade and perhaps of decades is not continuity, but discontinuity. This involves a disruption of the evolutionary progression which began dangerously and irreversibly to increase downwards, towards stagnation and decline. In this situation, long-term prognosis has for task to outline the course of two qualitatively divergent developmental roads; they simultaneously form the framework, the boundaries of Slovakia’s possible future development.

To these two roads there correspond two scenarios of a comprehensive prognosis of the Slovakian Republic: their common feature is that both are in a certain sense discontinuous. They can be succinctly characterised as leading upwards and downwards; as a dynamism of ascent, naturally painful, complex, full of problems and antagonism, and as an apparently less risky tactic of small changes; this, however, will lead to an impossibility of maintaining what we may still assume to possess - a relative welfare and an appurtenance to advanced, or relatively advanced countries of the world. These were scenario of the desirable development and warning scenario.

  1. One must realise that every change in the developmental line, enforced in the present revolutionary situation by objective circumstances, represents the exacting task of abandoning deeply rooted structures, mechanisms and methods of the so-called extensive stage of industrial development.

In this connection, it may concisely be formulated the “sum” total of the necessity of overcoming of industrialism, its motile logic, and the mechanism of its application in Slovak society. In case of Slovakia’s adherence to this logic, it is threatened with the same “fateful” lagging behind that had been characteristic of non-industrialised countries at the time of the first industrial revolution. At the same time, there is no doubt that this lagging, being newly formed, cannot be overcome in the same manner as had been the case with industrialisation (although this overcoming, in terms of its significance, is equivalent to industrialisation as regards the entire society). This mode of overcoming has one unpleasant trait at the present time, viz. that it conserves and deepens backwardness and logging behind.

  1. New methods for resolving social problems, new modes and means of satisfying social needs will in their entirety create a new quality of the social reproduction process; with a certain measure simplification, this quality may be characterised as informatisation, intellectualisation and individualisation of that process under conditions of a growing internalisation (this last aspect will be dealt with presently).

  2. In the future, all major global problems of the present and future world will incontestably find their reflection also in our national environment and will demand and initiative response outwards (e.g. in issues of war and peace, but also in the struggle with famine and other problems of the third world), and inwards. When speaking of global problems, mention in made - as being their fountainhead - of a crisis of culture and ethics, of a sensible weakening of the regulatory strength of universal values and norms, but also of an indispensable renewal of a “rule” of cultural, humane, ethical values - if we care that our world as such is to survive.

  3. It must be stressed that the only way internal problems, particularly scientific-technical, economic, but also cultural ones, Slovakia can be resolved in future, is through a greater opening to the outside world. Every attempt to circumvent this mode of solving our developmental problems will - according to our prospective development until 2010 - lead to an overall dramatic loss of our - even now not too prominent - positions in the world, to a considerable relative lagging on an international scale. The need of internationalisation of our social reproduction process and our whole life emerges again, and in a new way at that, a need to learn to live in international and internationalising conditions and connections of development. A successful entry into these connections and conditions is possible uniquely in virtue of our own “face”, national identity, utilisation of our national temperament and national culture. Uniquely thus shall we succeed not to enter the international contest and collaboration empty-handed, or with cheap imitations: uniquely on the basic of our own originality, creative searching and finding (including also the element of a ready exploitation of what others have already found) we shall be interesting to the rest of the world, only thus we shall be able to combine within ourselves ability to compete and readiness to co-operate, willingness to give and to receive values. This penetration outward presupposes a struggle against our inner vices and pseudo-values.

  4. What will be Slovakia’s further road through history? It may be said, speaking with a little modesty, that our searching and our contribution must start from our knowledge of the historical lane, often no more than a narrow path of our Slovakia through the complexness of the great world. We might speak here of our internal history, of history imprinted in us as of the foundation of our progress into the future and of the source of our contribution enriching others. We did not pass through history lightly or easily, we are not here chance, and our stay must not be in vain: we have our obligations towards ourselves and towards the world. This presumes broad and deep social activities for the protection and renewal of positive values, which we carry along from history, and a struggle for domesticating within the Slovak society of a readiness inwardly to change in the exacting contest and collaboration with the outside world.

As far as science in Slovakia is concerned, results were published as a book in 1990 (Gál, F. et al.). Forecasting activities in science were organised according to principle so called problem situation in science (opportunities and threats). This situation was understood in the scope of discrepancy among actual, anticipated and desirable state of some subject (e.g. scientific discipline, development process, quantity etc.), including conditions and ways of its solutions. Within the problem situation, panel experts (several hundreds of experts) were participating in seeking for scientific potential (personnel, funding, endowment, institution and so on) by means of which such a problem situation could be solved.

  1. Futures studies in the 1990s

The 1989 changes interrupted temporarily the long-term forecasting exercises. New development issues arose. The problems of transition from one system to another drove into the background traditional forecasting concepts and forecasting activities themselves. A great number of specialists in this field, among the most competent, entered politics others found better remunerated jobs in private companies. The total number of active forecasters declined rapidly, along with interest in forecasting itself.

An interest in forecasting led in 1990 to the foundation of the Slovak Civic Society for Futurology, promoting the popularisation of main trends of futurologist thought in the world, but also of the results of forecast research in Slovakia. The Association is in contact with the World Federation for Futures Studies and with the Slovak Association of the Club of Rome and the Society for Sustainable Life. Its members take part in the world futurological project, The Millennium Project. Several papers presented at seminars were published in weeklies of large diffusion and in their own publications.

After a short period of time, at the beginning of the 1990s, the need for a long-term strategic view in the frame of which restructuring programs and economic policy could find a sounder base for strategic decision generated a revival of forecasting activities. In 1992, a project entitled “Slovakia - Steps towards European Community - Scenarios of Socio-Political Development, Economic Strategy and the Development of Higher Education and Technology up to the Year 2005”. The project was carried out within the framework of a larger international project: “Central and Eastern Europe up to the year 2000”. The project was supported by the DG XII of the European Commission, in co-operation with the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna and Euroreg (Warsaw University) Warsaw, and co-ordinated (in Slovakia) by the Institute of Sociology of the SAS. The results of forecasting exercises were published in 1994 (Faltan, Ľ. et al., 1994), and in the European Union in 1995, respectively (Eastern, 1995).

It may be of great importance to note that the Slovak parliament approved an amendment of the so-called “Competence Act” in March 1995. According to this amendment the “Office for Strategy of Development of the Society, Science and Technology” was established. This office is the central body of the state administration for the “programming of strategy of development of the society, science and technology and for regional development”. This Office had prepared “Vision of the Slovak Republic development up to 2020” (see, R. Tóth, 1998) but it was not accepted by scientific community, at all. In 1999, the Office was abolished.

Against this background, in 1997, an important step was made when the Institute for Forecasting of the SAS succeeded in obtaining a three years grant for the construction of a global socio-economic forecast of Slovakia up to the year 2015. Project was entitled as “Structural Changes in the Decisive Spheres of Slovak Society in Long-term Perspective”. During three years of research, a very realistic view of the major tendencies generated by the transition process and the changes of the international context, was achieved and published in theoretical reviews, or submitted to official institutions (Economic Council of the Slovak Government).

On September 2000, Economic Council discussed a new proposal prepared by the Institute for Forecasting. This proposal was aimed at the vision of Slovakia up to 2015. However, Economic Council recommended, due to public procurement rules, that the Slovak government would advertise a call concerning project proposal for such a vision. This year, preparatory activities are underway.

Project scope and its methodology were inspired by foresight exercises carried out in the Czech Republic and Hungary (namely, Hungarian Academy of Sciences). Vision of Slovakia 2015 is understood as a two-dimensional development. On the one hand, there is an international context and its impacts for Slovakia, on the other hand, there are driving forces and outcomes of domestic context. Latest analyses suggest that major problems of Slovakia have emerged in the following fields:

  1. Geopolitical situation of Slovakia,

  2. National identity, traditions and societal changes,

  3. Institutional system and the rule of law,

  4. Socio-demographic structure and quality of life,

  5. Development of education and knowledge-base,

  6. Information technologies and competitiveness of economy,

  7. Employment and structural changes in economy,

  8. Environment,

  9. Regional development.

The general aim of the project is to understand how recent and prospective changes have and will impact on different fields of the Slovak society. In particular, project has aim:

to assess the extent to which there has been shift in individual fields (mentioned above) during the transition process;

to identify key issues for Slovakia in respect of how it develops its policies for catching-up with the European Union;

to produce two scenarios of likely future changes in consequence of the future Slovakia accession.

One way how to disseminate the results and to include the user perspective already during the project will be the installation of a Steering Group consisting first of all of the representatives of the academic sector, government, non-governmental organisations, business interest groups, trade unions etc. This group should meet several times during the term of project. Furthermore, the vision results will be presented at national scientific conferences and in national (may be international) scientific journals. Main findings and conclusions of interim reports as well as that of the final report will be published in press articles.

  1. Conference at Smolenice 1998

In late 1997, the Institute for Forecasting of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and its Scientific Council began to assess the past and the future of the Institute's scientific activities. The idea was to carry this out in the form of an international conference on “Forecasting in the Transition Society”. This conference was held at Smolenice castle (belonging to the Slovak Academy of Sciences), from November 20 - 21, 1998, with the participation of six experts from six countries in Central and Western Europe and nine participants from Slovakia.

The conference was to provide an international forum for the presentation and debate of current research and scholarship on the methodology of forecasting and practical knowledge of forecasting development in the transition society. The conference aimed at the current problems of forecasting methodology and the questions for the future in societies in transition (first of all, prospects for the catching-up of these societies with the EU nations), as seen by Slovak and foreign scientists and experts. Thus, providing a forum for presentation and debates, surveying research agenda and exchanging experiences in this field were of topical interest in various respects.

Bearing this in mind, and in order to capture the most salient approaches and analyses offered to explain the processes of transition, the conference was organised around four broad issues:

importance of forecasting for the process of transition,

forecasting of economic development,

forecasting of social development,

forecasting of regional development.

Participation at the conference was decidedly multi-disciplinary, encompassing the viewpoints of academics, policy-makers and bankers. Such multi-disciplinarity favoured the examination and broad discussion of the issues from a variety angles. Were the problems resolved or at least explained? The answer would probably be no. This could not really be expected considering the variety and complexity of conditions and circumstances involved.

On the other side, scientific results of the conference may be attributed to the following favourable circumstances:

the support the conference was provided by the Institute for Forecasting and its Scientific Council, under whose auspices it was conducted,

the extraordinarily quick and efficient financial support given the conference by the British Council in Bratislava, and

last, but not least, the interest and involvement shown by researchers, who participated not only in completing their contributions in a very short time, but also by the programme of the conference, which was very instructive, stimulating and interesting for all involved, both in their presentation and remarks and questions to the discussion.


The futures studies in Slovakia during the 1990s could be characterised as follows:

forecasting activities in Slovakia have not been regularly organised due to missing competencies,

however, experience with these activities suggests that government, universities, research institutes (first of all, those from the SAS) and scientific communities should all be encouraged to undertake, or to be involved in, forecasting activities,

such activities could develop a transparent process for decision-making on society, economy, environment allowing to shape the future of Slovakia.


Eastern and Central Europe, 2000. Final Report. Studies 2. June 1994. European Commission, Luxembourg, 1995

Faltan, Ľ. et al.: Slovakia and its transformation in the early 1990s. Society - Economy - Science and Technology (in Slovak). Bratislava, Institute of Sociology, SAS, 1994

Forecasting in the Transition Society. International Conference Smolenice Castle November 20-21, 1998. Edited by Štefan Zajac. Bratislava, Institute for Forecasting SAS, 1998

Gál, F. et al.: Forecasting the Scientific Advancement (in Slovak). Bratislava, Veda, 1990

Markus, J. et al.: Slovakia at the turn of the third millennium (in Slovak). Bratislava, Veda, 1991

Sarmir, E.: Forecasting in Slovakia: Past and Prospects. In: [3]

Tóth, R.:Vision of the Slovak Republic development up to 2020 (in Slovak). Opening address at the conference “Stála Konferencia Slovenskej Inteligence Slovakia Plus”, held at Bratislava, June 25, 1998

Zajac, S. et al.: The long-term tendencies in selected areas of the Slovak society up to 2015 (in Slovak). Series: Forecasts 1. Bratislava, Institute for Forecasting, June 2000