Out-Migration from Peripheries: How Cumulated Individual Strategies Affect Local Development Capacities
In light of the increasing polarisation affecting Central and Eastern Europe over the past two and a half decades, peripheries have been struggling with a range of economic and demographic issues, including selective out-migration. Using peripheries from Romania’s Sălaj County as a case study, the chapter draws on structured interviews with locals and public officials in order to: (1) identify how locals utilise different forms of mobility as strategies to cope with structural deficits aggravated by peripheralisation; and (2) highlight the impact of selective out-migration on the diminishing local development capacities of public officials in peripheries. Through this actor-based approach, the analysis can broadly identify the development strategies already employed in peripheries and what effect they truly have on decreasing core–periphery inequalities.
KeywordsPeripheralisation Local development Internal migration International migration Commuting Romania
Over the past two and a half decades, the EU member states from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have transitioned from state socialism to democracy, from a centralised to a market economy. At the national level, the post-socialist transition has brought economic growth to these countries. At a regional scale however, socio-economic inequalities have developed and the gap between centres and peripheries has increased (Kurkó 2010; PoSCoPP Research Group 2015; Leibert 2015). Over the years, capital cities and regional urban centres have transitioned more successfully and have found ways to integrate themselves into global production networks. As a result of higher capital investment compared to the rest of the region, these urban centres accumulate benefits in terms of job creation, higher tax revenues, more public investments in infrastructure, and higher levels of engagement in a variety of political and innovation networks (Gottdiener and Budd 2005). The peripheries however have not coped as well. More secluded rural areas, mining settlements and the former mono-structural industrial regions are facing a much slower development or even decline. Left with limited access to desirable resources (material or symbolic), and with restricted room for autonomous action (Kreckel 2004), they are experiencing increasing marginalisation and peripheralisation (Pütz 1999; Surd et al. 2011; Török 2014; Benedek 2015).
With accession to the European Union, CEE countries were incentivised to adopt neoliberal competitiveness-centred policies. And despite the European Union’s plea for balanced, integrated and inclusive development, its policies have favoured the increasing development of existing urban centres (Lang 2011; Fischer-Tahir and Naumann 2013). Thus, investment flows generated by advanced local and regional economic agents were mainly concentrated in urban centres and their metropolitan areas, and did not trickle down to peripheries, as traditional models of economic growth would suggest (Spoor 2013; Benedek and Moldovan 2015). In this context, it is particularly the rural areas of the post-socialist countries that have experienced increasing peripheralisation (Fischer-Tahir and Naumann 2013). This is not to say that rurality constitutes a periphery per se. On the contrary, through suburbanisation or by successfully marketing images of a rural idyll, some villages have seen intensive socio-economic development. Their share, however, is rather small, as specific conditions have to be met in terms of accessibility, the state of physical and service infrastructure, and attractiveness of tourist destinations (Keim 2006). More often, rural areas are struggling with economic and demographic issues brought on by market-driven devaluation of local assets (cheap labour, agricultural land, local skills and relations) (Nagy et al. 2015), and by fierce competition with international distributors of products once sourced from regional or national rural areas (such as food, lumber, yarn or leather) (Keim 2006). As a result, rural peripheries in CEE are among the poorest regions in the European Union (Leibert 2013).
Using this case study as a representation of post-socialist rural peripheries, the chapter aims to critically engage with the economic and demographic struggles that such peripheries are facing, specifically in relation to one of the main contributors to peripheralisation, selective out-migration (Kühn and Weck 2013; Kühn 2015; Leibert 2015). While previous studies on the topic have focused heavily on the structural factors that affect socio-spatial polarisation and peripheralisation, this chapter addresses a gap in the research by employing an actor-based approach (Fischer-Tahir and Naumann 2013; PoSCoPP Research Group 2015; Miggelbrink and Meyer 2015) (as further elaborated in Chapter 2). The selected empirics first illustrate how actors affected by peripheralisation utilise different forms of out-migration as strategies to improve their quality of life (in Sect. 3.1). The empirical findings secondly showcase the impact the cumulative mobility of these actors has on shaping local development potentials and strategies, as described by local public officials (in Sect. 3.2). Overall the analysis contributes to the debate on how local development is affected in times of polarisation, by revealing how the interdependency between peripheralisation and out-migration limits the decision-making capacity of local administrative leaders, and diminishes local development capacities in peripheral settlements even further (in Chapter 4).
2 Peripheralisation and Selective Out-Migration: A Deepening Vicious Circle
Recent studies examining the increasing regional polarisation in Central and Eastern Europe have focused on a more process-based and dynamic understanding of the terms “polarisation”, “centralisation” and “peripheralisation”. At the core of this conceptualisation lies the relation between the two interdependent types of spaces—centres (or cores) and peripheries—both of which are continuously being re-created in relation to each other across various scales, and cannot define themselves as one or the other without referencing their counterpart (Keim 2006; Warf 2008; Bernt and Liebmann 2013; Kühn 2015; PoSCoPP Research Group 2015). Thus, peripheralisation can be described as a process in which peripheries experience a gradual and persisting decline in socio-spatial development, as well as a long-lasting solidification of structural deficits in relation to a dominant centre, which widens the disparities between them (Keim 2006). Such peripheries are faced with relatively low income, a low level of education, low quality occupation (e.g. subsistence agriculture or low-skilled jobs) (following Kreckel 2004), demographic shrinkage, ageing, and the out-migration of young, highly-educated people (following Kühn 2015). These deficits translate into institutional thinness and a limited capacity of the peripheral space to secure a high quality of life for its population, and implicitly cause a growing dependence on the centre (Keim 2006; PoSCoPP Research Group 2015).
As a process, selective emigration is one of the main contributors to increasing peripheralisation, along with decoupling, dependency and stigmatisation (Kühn and Weck 2013, 40). On the one hand, the existence of strong emigration flows among young and skilled adults can be seen as a consequence of peripheralisation, as it indicates an existing lack of educational facilities, reduced availability for highly skilled employment, as well as an existing stigma regarding future perspectives (Bernt and Liebmann 2013; Leibert 2015). But at the same time, this brain drain (and the implicit demographic shrinkage that it accompanies) is also a cause for further peripheralisation. Not only does the decreasing share of the active population reduce the amount of local taxes and incomes, thus diminishing the ability of the local municipality to maintain or modernise social and physical infrastructures, but also the emigration of skilled professionals reduces the local capacity for innovation (Bernt and Liebmann 2013). Overall, out-migration and shrinkage negatively influence the level of sustainability for existing local economies, the prospects of new economic projects, as well as the overall quality of life. Ultimately, this encourages future waves of out-migration and leads to a vicious circle that reproduces peripherality (Massey 1990).
While much of the existing literature investigates spatial disparities and the interdependence between out-migration and peripheralisation in terms of the participating structural processes, recent scholarship is also arguing for complementing this socio-structural focus with a more actor-based approach, noting the existing gaps in research regarding both the actors causing peripheralisation and the actors affected by it (Fischer-Tahir and Naumann 2013; PoSCoPP Research Group 2015; Miggelbrink and Meyer 2015). At the structural level, peripheralisation is linked to demographic shrinkage and ageing, to selective out-migration and a lack of in-migration, and to low income and low-quality occupation (Kreckel 2004; Bernt and Liebmann 2013; Kühn 2015). But behind the major flows of migration, there is a sum of active individuals who are reacting to core-periphery relations by moving—albeit in the same direction. Or, as Bernt and Liebmann (2013, 219–20) put it, by leaving the periphery, emigrants are “voting with their feet” to express the perceived lack of perspectives for the future in their hometowns. In this sense, from an actor-centred position, migration is a way for individuals to place themselves in a preferred living environment, depending on the needs and the possibilities that they and their families have.
But what causes someone to migrate? Recent scholarship shows that the decision is never simple, nor is it taken in a completely rational and optimising way. Instead, the decision is complex, taken because of multiple reasons, in relation to a person’s social network. It is located within their individual biography, connected to all the macro-structures that have shaped their identity, as well as to personal life experiences, and entangled with their future aspirations (Boyle et al. 1998). This focus on agency shows that people engaged in migration are actively concerned with re-placing themselves in a preferred living environment, which they perceive as having a higher quality of life and greater chances for their and their families’ well-being (ibid.). As this can mean different things to different people, mobility is shown to be an extremely cultural event (Fielding 1992) that can reveal personal values and attachments, and the entire world-view of those choosing to migrate. With the cultural character of migration transpiring, it becomes an example of behaviour, rather than a simple action. It becomes part of the person’s identity, an “expression of people’s sense of being at any one point in time” (Gutting 1996, 482).
With the composition and direction of mobility flows affecting core-periphery relations at the structural level (see also Moldovan 2017), an actor-centred analysis can help identify how the interplay of core-periphery relations has triggered out-migration as a mechanism of coping with peripheralisation, while also suggesting potential strategies and policies that could combat peripheralisation. The following empirical material aims to achieve just that. Firstly, the main individual narratives and lines of reasoning behind emigrating are used to identify the most pressing structural deficits that peripheries are struggling with. Secondly, the narratives of public officials trying to increase local development reveal what strategies and policy tools peripheries are already employing and what is still lacking in order to decrease core-periphery inequalities.
3 Taking Individual Mobility Decisions from the Periphery
The number of interviews conducted in the case study area
Name of settlement
Interviews with public officialsa
Interviews with local inhabitants
Meseşenii de Jos
3.1 Local Strategies Employed by Individuals to Cope with Peripheralisation
In the case study area, agriculture is the main economic activity of the inhabitants. Even if the interviews systematically excluded individuals living on subsistence agriculture (as this is not a form of employment and also not an occupation favouring territorial mobility), most respondents revealed that besides the various jobs they held, they cultivate patches of land and rear animals, in order to produce household products for their own consumption. Respondents who were employed in the settlement of residence mostly worked as labourers in one of the smaller shops or workshops, or held positions in the public sector. Salaries were often described as modest and the lack of jobs deemed more suitable in the home village was a commonly mentioned issue. Consequently, many locals have been looking for job offers elsewhere. Following the occupational history of the respondents, the interviews with locals reveal that they engage in four types of mobility in order to improve their situation: commuting, internal migration, international migration and temporary migration abroad. Choosing one of these mobilities is deeply connected to the actors’ identity, aspirations, possibilities and attachments, and the choice reveals which structural disadvantages affect them the most. In this sense, each type of mobility represents a strategy to cope with the different effects of peripheralisation.
I cannot move to Zalău if I grew up in the village, I don’t like blocks of flats. The kids can go, if they want to, but I can’t. (interview, Male, aged 45, Bănişor, July 2017)
I gave him the space, I gave him everything, he brought the latest machinery to open a tailoring shop. He barely found two people, and even those rather wanted to stay home. And after one and a half years, one of them moved to England. The other one got married and is on maternity leave, so she benefits now from having been employed. […] So the boy moved to Cluj […]. He does well for himself. (interview, Male, aged 57, Treznea, July 2017)
The children are abroad, they are working there, have kids on their own. They want to open a business and stand on their own two feet. They want to come here and open something in agriculture, but they keep saying that they’ll stay one more year, then one more year. (interview, Male, aged 56, Bănișor, July 2017)
It doesn’t matter where I work, here, in Cluj, in Timișoara, in Spain, as long as we can get by as a family. But to be honest, if I could find a job here that is convenient with a salary of 2000-2200 RON, 6 I wouldn’t travel abroad anymore. I would stay here with my family. But for less money, I wouldn’t stay, because we have to buy food, diapers, everything is expensive. (interview, Male, aged 24, Agrij, July 2017)
In Zalău at Universal [a factory specialised in clothing manufacture] they are hiring every day. But they can look for employees all they want, if they won’t offer salaries. They pay the minimum wage, around 1200 RON I think it is. Then you pay 250 RON for the commute and are left with under 1000 RON. You can’t get by with that! […] That’s not even enough to manage on, let alone set something aside. […] When we moved here, the house was in bad shape and all [the renovations] cost money. If I hadn’t gone abroad, we wouldn’t have managed anything. Unfortunately, that’s where we have to go to be able to do something. […] Here you work for 4-5 months, there you work for one month. 7 And it’s much more difficult here. (interview, Female, aged 49, Sâg, July 2017)
I always wanted a house in the countryside, because this is where I grew up. I like it here, I like gardening. My daughter visited us earlier today and I was so happy to give her vegetables from my garden. Now nothing could make me move away. (interview, Female, aged 48, Treznea, July 2017)
The respondents don’t mention it explicitly, but it is safe to assume that this favourable perception of the rural lifestyle results largely from improved living conditions in the village. These respondents have managed to substantially improve their housing conditions, by renovating houses, equipping them with bathrooms and appliances, purchasing new agricultural technologies, and modernising their households with the higher income earned elsewhere. And the villages have also been modernised with asphalted roads, running water, television, internet or other services. In fact, improving public services and the available physical infrastructure is one of the main strategies employed by local authorities to encourage commuting over out-migration, or even to attract new inhabitants, as the following subsection will explore in more detail.
3.2 Development Strategies of Local Municipalities Against Peripheralisation
The number of pupils is decreasing yearly, decreasing strongly… from 2008 until now it decreased around 40%. There are fewer children, the birth rate is declining. […] From 2008 until now four school units have closed because there were no pupils. (interview, School secretary, Village 7, July 2017)
Some of the employees at the school come from elsewhere. Monthly we pay for the teachers’ commute 4000-4500 RON. 8 They come from Zalău, from Șimleu [Silvaniei], from neighbouring settlements and have their main work quota here. There are also some locals employed at the schools. (interview, Secretary, Village 9, July 2017)
This stems from a more general difficulty in keeping more educated locals as permanent residents, because not only teachers, but also other employees from the public sector are often not locals. More generally, this issue showcases how peripheries depend on cores in order to maintain such essential facilities as schools, day care centres or doctors’ offices, since they cannot provide the necessary specialised workforce themselves.
Enterprises… it’s difficult because with the ageing population there is no way an investor could find sufficient labour force. (interview, Mayor, Village 1, July 2017)
We had a project that was already approved for a sewage system, the money was already approved, but during the Boc government 10 they withdrew the funding. […] So we did what we could then, you know, the money is granted according to programmes. If there is a project for… people don’t understand, «why did you refurbish this community centre, we don’t need it». Well, it’s not about need, that’s how they issued funds, on refurbishing community centres. But some don’t understand, «why didn’t you use the money to implement…». You can’t! When it’s for paving, it’s for paving, you can’t move the money where you want. These are European funds, you can’t spin it the way you want. So that’s why we refurbished as much as we could, even schools, we transformed some of them in community centres. (interview, Deputy Mayor, Village 7, July 2017)
They made a big mistake in both the previous and the current National Rural Development Programme, because they should have allocated a large part of the money to enable people to open farms. At least two farms with large crop surfaces, or at least two-three farms with animal husbandry should have been created in each village, with several employees. […] Each farm would have employed 2-3-4 people to operate the necessary machinery. And the employees would have received a salary, paid taxes, and the entire standard of living could have been higher. […] The Romanian state should have developed, should have made European funds easier to access […]. The people here have tried, but they cannot meet the conditions for co-financing. It makes no sense how much money they spent on tourist centres here and we have no tourists. (interview, Mayor, Village 2, July 2017)
They [trainers on how to access European funds through APIA 11 ] came and presented here for the people. But the people don’t really dare. They face difficulties along the way… Others said too that the requirements are too high, for them to prepare you a project costs I don’t know how much… I know people who prepared projects, but didn’t follow through. They let it be. And they paid some money and were left without money. Or who wanted to have a pig farm and the poor guy bought the land and now he can’t sell it because land was very expensive at that time… and he can’t have the farm because he said there were some requirements to get the funds. (interview, Deputy Mayor, Village 7, July 2017)
What I foresee for the future, and I encourage them to relocate here: our village is not far away from Zalău […]. Many came from Zalău to settle down, building houses […]. And that makes me happy, this resettlement from the city here, even if pensioners are coming. (interview, Deputy Mayor, Village 7, July 2017)
We hope the village will develop, but we will see if any foreigners come with foreign capital… it would be good… We have many young people who have moved away from the village, because there are no jobs. Around 100-200 have left the village permanently and I think that if foreign investments would come, they would stay here. (interview, Deputy Mayor, Village 8, July 2017)
This again highlights the dependency of the case study area to external funding, as well as the limited political power that peripheries have in relation to national or European decision makers. But at the same time, it also shows how peripheries strategise local development in relation to their dominant centre. Without explicitly referring to functional urban areas, the public officials appear to argue in favour of such socio-spatial arrangements. It seems that they envision a stronger connection to a nearby urban core as a way to encourage commuting and discourage out-migration, with the implicit effects this would have on demographic shrinkage and ageing and on local budgets. Local leaders also expect that this strategy would generate additional economic spillovers, as investors would take better note of them, were there a better linkage between them and an economic centre. The fact that this strategy would also make them more dependent on that core does not seem to bother them.
4 Re-thinking the Tools for Local Development in Peripheries: Conclusions
The actor-centred approach that was employed in the present chapter focuses on how at times of polarisation, selective out-migration and local development influence each other. The decision of locals to leave peripheries because of existing structural deficits translates into a decrease of local tax income, active population, local capacity for innovation, and overall local capacities to secure a high quality of life for the inhabitants. This in turn motivates future cases of emigration and creates a vicious circle that reproduces peripherality. In the case study area analysed, locals had chosen to commute or to emigrate from peripheral villages in their pursuit for higher education, better skilled employment opportunities or higher income. Each specific strategy they employ in order to improve living conditions for themselves and their family (commuting, internal migration, international migration or temporary migration abroad) reveals different personal values and attachments, and highlights how actors are affected in different ways by the various effects of peripheralisation. But the migration trajectories also expose the different scales of core-periphery dependency. The choices of destination show how peripheral villages are affected not only by nearby cities or the county seat Zalău, but also by regional urban centres, such as Oradea and Cluj-Napoca. It also highlights the peripheral position that Romania as a country occupies at the European scale.
Not being able to compete with urban cores or international destinations in terms of educational and occupational opportunities, and available physical, social and cultural infrastructure, the peripheries analysed experience demographic shrinkage and ageing as a result of youth emigration. This affects their local budgets and their ability to maintain existing public facilities, making them increasingly dependent on external public funds, which are allocated through national or European programmes targeting specific investments, as determined by the issuing institution. However, these are not sufficient to bridge the increasing core-periphery gap. Empirical analysis has revealed that while all villages in the case study area struggle with the effects of peripheralisation, they do so in slightly varying ways and to different intensities. As a consequence, each village has specific deficits that are more urgent to address, and also different local potentials that could be developed through targeted action. Judging by the narratives of public officials, the policy tools they are utilising at the moment do not enable them to address their most pressing issues in a systematic way, but rather push all villages towards similar strategies and solutions. In this context, a settlement can only hope that their specific issues will become the subject of the next line of funding. This is the reason the current chapter argues in favour of devising and effectively communicating policy tools that would strengthen the ability of local administrations to act autonomously, which would grant them more power in actively influencing how funds allocated for stimulating local development can be spent. Empirical findings have shown that more dialogue is needed between actors from peripheries and regional and national policymakers, in which the former should be given a more active role in shaping the policies that affect them.
For a more detailed view on the methodology employed to measure regional inequalities between the settlements of the North-West Region through statistical data, see Moldovan (2017).
One of the two villages excluded from this analysis was described by public officials as having experienced a recent socio-economic increase: the population was growing, larger companies were attracting commuters themselves, some agricultural entrepreneurs had made larger investments, and migration abroad was diminishing. The other excluded village did not experience such socio-economic development. Locals there had pronounced pride in the local agricultural tradition and a strong feeling of attachment to the village, which seems to keep villagers from emigrating or commuting in larger numbers.
The fieldwork was organised in collaboration with the Faculty of Sociology from the Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Data were collected by a team of six researchers (including the author), who spoke with political leaders and administrative workers, and sixteen undergraduate students, who completed their mandatory professional practice through this fieldwork by interviewing locals. All interviews were held in Romanian, relevant quotes have been translated into English.
The position of secretary in Romanian local government refers to an official who holds responsibility for the general management of the town hall. A secretary organises and directly manages the activities of the local administration according to written provisions laid out by the mayor.
The Bacalaureat is a national exam held in Romania after the 12th grade, after graduating from high school.
At the time of the interviews (2017), 1 EUR was worth about 4.56 RON. So the amount mentioned, of 2000–2200 RON, is equivalent to 450–480 EUR, and represents about twice the minimum net wage, which at the time of the interview was set at 1065 RON.
Regarding the sums of money, the respondent is comparing how long it would take to earn about 1000 EUR: one month abroad, and 4–5 months in Sălaj. 1000 EUR seems to be the usual amount of money earned by temporary migrants, as this amount was mentioned by other respondents as well.
The amount mentioned, of 4000–4500 RON, is equivalent to 900–1000 EUR.
In fact, Sălaj County has the second smallest estimated operational budget for County Councils and County Residences, for the 2014–2023 Implementation period in the entire country (Cristea et al. 2017, 139).
Emil Boc was the prime minister of Romania during 2008–2012.
APIA stands for the Agency for Agricultural Payments and Interventions (in Romanian: Agenţia de Plăţi şi Intervenţie pentru Agricultură).
I would like to thank the monograph editors as well as the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter. I would also like to thank the entire team of researchers and students from the Faculty of Sociology at the Babeș-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca for the fruitful collaboration in preparing and conducting empirical research in the Sălaj County.
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