Futures Studies in the European Ex-socialist Countries


Radmila Nakarada

The Questionnaire presupposes conditions of social normality, continuity and intensive professional communications. Reality in Yugoslavia is radically different, and thus what may seem a rather simple exercise for others is a difficult task for me.

After a complete breakdown of the state and society, a terrible war that has isolated present Yugoslavia, futures research seems like a distant past. The period you are referring to from 1960 to 1999 covers the golden age of the socialist regime, its crisis, eruption of nationalism, secessionism, and its breakdown. The state that was closest to EU as the end of eighties plunged into a series of tragic wars and final breakdown. In other words, in the case of Yugoslavia the space of your research has in the meantime disintegrated. Out of one state, five states emerged.

In the present Yugoslavia the strength of the past, unresolved problems and wounds, and the weight of the present completely excluded the future as a long-term concept, as a coordinated movement with the surrounding world, as political and economic restructuring toward a higher level of development. Going through violent conflicts, sanctions, media satanization, shattering economic crisis, bombing the future was lost in widespread apathy. In other words, the sociological relations between the predicament of the society and the stance toward the future are well illustrated by the drama of Yugoslavia. In an ongoing total social crisis, the dimension of the future becomes an abstraction. Second, as far as I know, futures researchers did not anticipate the type of crisis that would evolve in a number of places after the end of Cold war.

Futures research began to develop its roots in the old Yugoslavia when the society was a dynamic entity, when a privileged place in the world community seemed secure, i.e. when there was hope, openness profound social interest in development. Technology, education (Miroslav Pecujlic ,The University of the Future, 1980, translated in English, Spanish, Italian), environment/urbanism were spheres of prime interest, although there were attempts to problematize also human needs, values. The then current streams of thought in this field were translated, reviewed, discussed. The public was well acquainted withJouvenel, Jungk, Meadows, Kahn, Richta , and in tune with the ideas that were then prevalent. (For instance,Miroslav Pecujlic , wrote a bookThe Future that Began at the same timeRichta’s Civilization on the Crossroads , was published).

Some of the Yugoslavs were involved in the very beginnings of international attempts to situate futures studies within a humanistic framework. Prof.Mihailo Markovic took part in the famous Oslo meeting withJohan Galtung andRobert Jungk , and later on was one of the founders of WFSF, and for two terms its Vice-President while I was a member of the Steering Committee. In Dubrovnik, during the seventies, at the Inter-University Post-graduate Centre for several years courses in Futures Studies were offered. However, other than public lectures, and sporadic courses at some faculties, no systematic studies of the future were established within the Yugoslav educational system.

In the mid eighties Academy of Arts and Sciences Prof.Markovic organized a Committee for FS that met on a regular basis for a while, discussing problems of development and human needs. (Mihailo Markovic ed.The needs of social development , SANU, Belgrade, 1991).

A group of engineers (Rajko Tomovic, Slobodan Radoman ) organized around their professional organization ETAN an interdisciplinary group that dealt with visions of an all encompassed strategy of development (S. Radoman, V. Stambuk , eds.Developing countries and paths of development , 1979). There were also attempts to launch futures research in Novi Sad (Prof.Stefan Han , AmbassadorLaslo Bala , Prof.Dusan Ristic ) within the Vojvodina Academy of Arts and Sciences. Later on, in the late eighties Prof.Han, Ristic, Markovic, Pecujlic andmyself established a branch of WFSF but it never got off the ground, the crisis was pressing and interest in futures research was not extensive. Yugoslavia was also a venue of a number of conferences dealing with futures studies issues. As an illustration, let me mention that one of WFSF was held in Dubrovnik during the Presidential mandate of Johan Galtung, the firstInternational Seminar on Science and Technology on the Transformation of the World, as part of the project Socio-Cultural Alternatives in Changing World (UNU and Belgrade University) was held in Belgrade, as well as regular conferencesScience and Society in Herceg Novi.

After 5th of October 2000, political change has occurred and we are now in a process of transition. It is too early to say, whether extensive and profound futures research will re-emerge. For the moment, we are living a paradox, as if the model of the desirable future is fully known, all we have to do is apply it. This is the outcome of the prevailing aim among the ex socialist countries to become part of the European integration process, Partnership for Peace, NATO, that is, the future is to become part of the developed West, globalizing world. For that reason there is not much inter/regional trade or integration in the Balkans, each country is running for itself toward the distant Europe. The historical specificities, social costs of hasty reforms are easily overlooked. This is however, a reflection of a phenomenon that is global. i.e. not many alternatives, visions exist anywhere today. Perhaps, once some firm ground is reached, the first phase of transition is accomplished, the visionary thread will emerge, and the interest for futures studies will reappear. Reforms of the educational system are now being initiated and there is reason to believe that space will be created for new contents, including futures studies. However, since the political changes have not ended some of Yugoslavia’s greatest uncertainties, the overwhelming pressure of the immediate present may still continue for some time.

As far as the Yugoslav youth is concerned their vision of the future is to become part of the western glittering, consumption society, the future is in the external world, the EU. If generalizations are allowed, youngsters here have, by and large, felt deprived of a normal life, normal communications with their counterparts in Europe, i.e. of material means and visas. Now they are, as some of my students have said, “hungry for consumption”, eager to travel and if possible find good jobs outside of Yugoslavia. Their future is related to their personal, immediate betterment. No great visions, collective concerns are attractive. However, keeping up with the high-tech developments, particularly in information sciences is important, as well as ecological concerns. Ecological concerns have grown particularly after the NATO bombing and the use of depleted uranium. It will take some dwelling in relative normal circumstances before their creative, visionary energy is rekindled.