Actor power in the restitution processes of forests in three European countries in transition

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The political and economic transformations that have taken place since the early nineties in the former socialist countries in Europe have significantly influenced reforms of their forestry institutions. As part of these reforms, restitution processes were initiated with the aim of recognising private ownership of forests and returning forests to their former owners or heirs. Using institutional and actor perspectives, this paper analyses the power relations of the key actors in the restitution processes in three European countries: the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia. The methodological approach combines multiple research methods: document analysis and a literature review to explain the restitution processes, and semi-structured in-depth interviews for analysing the actors' power in this process.

The results show that actors' power in the analysed restitution processes varied greatly between actor types and in different phases in the processes. In the initial phase, considerable power was wielded by the public, which demanded change, and by the policy makers, who enabled the necessary legislative changes. As the processes advanced, the power shifted to liable entities who administered the restitution processes. The analysed countries followed different pathways and had varying dynamics throughout their restitution processes due to their diverse historical and political legacies but the power of the respective types of responsible actors did not vary much between analysed countries. While the cases of the Czech Republic and Slovakia are relatively similar, Serbia proves to be different in terms of initial drivers as well as the phases and speed of the process. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the result of restitution has been the creation of a large number of small-scale private forest owners, while in Serbia property was given back principally to the church, a large-scale forest owner. These owner categories (small-scale private forest owners and church) were formally recognised as new in all three countries but their specific interests were not adequately translated to existing policy and management documents. The state forestry administration in each country has retained power in the field by continuing its supervisory and regulatory role in forest management. Even though the restitution processes are coming to an end in all analysed post-socialist countries, it can be noted that private forest owners are still under strong state supervision when it comes to forest management rights.

Reference: Dobsinska, Z., Živojinović. I., Nedeljkovic, J., Petrovic, N., Jarski, V., Oliva, J., Salka, J., Sarvasova, Z., Weiss, G. 2020. Actor power in the restitution processes of forests in three European countries in transition. Forest Policy and Economics 113, 102090

*This paper is co-authored by the researchers from the Forest Policy Research Network