Accepted Paper:

The marketization of traditional agricultural commodities in Istria, Croatia's rural business sector  


Robin Smith (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Istria, Croatia’s agrotourism revival offers an opportunity to explore themes of rural identity and the marketization of traditional agricultural products in the context of EU accession. Issues including local bureaucracy, EU food legislation, and the maintenance of traditional life will be discussed.

Paper long abstract:

Croatia's coastal region Istria has experienced a revival of agrotourisms in recent years, reflecting a renewed interest in rural areas in traditional farming practices and the marketization of regional agricultural products including indigenous wine and olive oils, special liquors, cured meats, and cheeses. Though in synergy with European trends of returning to ecological, seasonal culinary practices, the motivations in Istria are very different. With high unemployment in the elderly population, subsistence farming is increasingly important. Agrotourisms offer a way to connect inland rural agricultural areas with the successful coastal tourism sector, drawing on local heritage and identity issues.

As Croatia has just joined the European Union, the country is still adjusting to legislative reforms. Rural business people are not informed on changing laws, creating fear about an unfamiliar system and questions about how to navigate a new and opaque bureaucracy. Agrotourisms inhabit a peculiar business nexus of agriculture, restaurant, alcohol, and food processing, causing ambiguity in rules governing the sector at the municipal level. This creates tensions between agrotourism owners and local government as well as within the agrotourism community, as every agrotourism has unique characteristics that they believe are essential qualities of agrotourisms in general.

This paper will unpack the tensions and contradictions emerging in Istria's agrotourism community, explore the varied motivations behind the agrotourism revival, and present the interesting bureaucratic issues that Europeanization has brought to Istria's rural businesses in general. Interactions with inspectors and implications for the illegalization of traditional rural agricultural practices will also be discussed.

Panel Rur001
Ethnography of rural spaces: between utopia and neoliberalism