Balkan Insight: Southeast Europe plagued by catastrophic depopulation

Millions of young people are leaving the region and fertility rates have collapsed. On top of this, the societies of southeastern Europe are ageing, with far-reaching consequences, Balkan Insight said in a major article published Monday.

The publication says analysis of the region’s demographic decline, depopulation and the depletion of the labor force is harder to pin down as governments may not have the information or resources available to change things.

On current projections, by 2050, Romania will have 30.1 percent and Bulgaria will have 38.6 percent fewer people than it did in 1990. Serbia will have 23.8 percent fewer and Croatia 22.4 percent.

Moldova has already lost 33.9 percent of its population while Bosnia has a fertility rate of 1.26, one of the lowest in the world. Kosovo, where the average age is 29, is the youngest country in the region but does not escape demographic decline either.

The figures and percentages may vary but the trends are the same almost everywhere, with slight differences. The average age in Serbia is 43, older than the EU median of 42.6.

The article, written by Tim Judah of the Economist who has covered the region since 1990, calls the demographic future of the Balkans and this half of Europe, hit by millions leaving in search of better opportunities and falling birth rates “dramatic.”

The pattern in the Balkans and southeast Europe is not unique, with countries from Greece to Poland facing the same problems, he writes.

Judah who has been working on the subject if demography as a fellow of the Europe’s Futures program, of the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, reports that historically all countries of the region, and in fact most of Europe, had periods of intense emigration. 

If the Balkan countries exhibited the classic demographic and emigration characteristics of poor countries in the past, they now exhibit the symptoms of both rich and poor countries simultaneously.

People in the Balkans live long lives, shorter than people in the richer countries of Europe, but much longer than in poorer countries.

At the same time, just as in the richer countries, fertility rates have collapsed and people are having fewer children.

But while Western countries compensate for falling birth rates and emigration with immigration, relatively few people move to Balkan countries.

While Western countries compensate for falling birth rates and emigration with immigration, relatively few people immigrate to Balkan countries.

Only Poland has managed to significantly compensate large-scale emigration and low birth rates with the immigration of more than a million Ukrainians who have eased potentially critical labor shortages. 

One small plus, which has been noticed in Romania at least, is that previously marginalised Roma are getting jobs that they would have been excluded from in the past. Money from those abroad is also helping create a Roma middle class for the first time.

Cluj in Transylvania is a boom town, to which people from other parts of Romania and abroad flock to. Its success is based on the knowledge economy and IT.

There are examples in Romania where foreign investment, resulting in the building of modern factories, has arrested depopulation and even brought about some limited return.



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