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Community Participation and Empowerment in Sustainable Rural Development in Poland
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1  Assistant Professor, University of North Texas

Abstract: Abstract Sustainable rural environments in transitioning societies have been recently one of the key concerns of policy makers in Central and Eastern Europe. The opening of Polish public to the western influences followed by the subsequent reforms caused a socio-economic crisis in majority of rural areas. Accession to the EU structures had further impacts on how rural development is understood and implemented (McDonald et al., 2003; Smith & Hall, 2006). For example, introduction of the LEADER approach to rural development and the growing interest in nature-based tourism in Poland has provided a unique opportunity for rural community stakeholders to diversify income through tourism services (Marciszewska, 2006). Also, the beginnings of the NATURA 2000 reflected the ever changing approach to the structure and functioning of valuable rural landscapes in the Member States of the EU (Grodzińska-Jurczak et al., 2012). On the other hand, the increasing focus on biodiversity and nature while implementing the new conservation policy- NATURA 2000 program have led to conflicts and misunderstandings about the distribution of responsibilities and compensation for loss of economic benefits from other forms of rural development (Henle et al., 2008; Alphandéry, 2011). The reality of changes in Poland requires policy-makers to make a step forward, toward a more inclusive planning process. The proposed article seeks to identify the current features of decision-making in Poland as well as the quality of community empowerment in the EU context based on the example of the LEADER development framework and the NATURA 2000 program. In the case of both programs a more sustainable development of local socio-ecological systems could be realized through promoting community and meaningful participation in decision-making. The effective sustainability approach needs to facilitate community empowerment (Strzelecka & Wicks, 2010; Grodzińska-Jurczak & Cent, 2011; Grodzińska-Jurczak, et al., 2012). The discussion about the character of community participation and community empowerment is framed within the model of stakeholders\' participation proposed by Arnstein (1969). This model identifies different stages of citizens\' participation linked to their real impact on decision-making. At the bottom of the ladder are manipulation and therapy, which describe levels of "non-participation" which to external actors may appear as genuine participation. The real objective of these \'non-participatory\' forms of decision-making would be to enable power-holders to "educate" participants. Higher levels of involvement (informing, consultation, placation) are defined as "tokenism" as they allow participants to be informed and to have a voice. However also under current conditions in Poland participants lack the power to ensure that the dominant leaders value their views. There is no assurance of changing the status quo. References Alphandéry, P. (2011). Fortier A. Can a Territorial Policy be Based on Science Alone? The System for Creating the Natura 2000 Network in France. Sociologia Ruralis 41(3), 311-328. Arnstein, S.R. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. JAIP 35, 216–224. McDonald, M., & Contributors (2003). European community tourism law and policy. Dublin: Blackhall Publishing. Marciszewska, B. (2006). Cultural tourism and socioeconomic development in Poland. In Smith, M., & Robinson, M. (Eds). Cultural tourism in a changing world: politics, participation and (Re)presentation. Channel View Publications, Clevedon. Grodzińska-Jurczak, M., Strzelecka, M., Kamal, S. & Gutowska, J. (2012). Effectiveness of Nature Conservation – a case of Natura 2000 sites in Poland. In: Protected Area Management. Red. Barbara Sladonja. InTech, Rijeka, 183-202, ISBN 980-953-307-448-6. Grodzińska-Jurczak M., Cent J. Expansion of Nature Conservation Areas: Problems with Natura 2000 Implementation in Poland? 2011. Environmental Management 47, 11-27. Grodzińska-Jurczak M., Cent J. 2011, Udział społeczny szansą dla realizacji programu Natura 2000 w Polsce. Public participatory approach- a Chance for Natura 2000 implementation in Poland. Chrońmy Przyrodę Ojczystą 66(5), 341-352. Henle K., Didier A.D., Clitherow J., Cobb P., Firbank L., Kull T., McCracken D., Moritz R.F.A., Niemela J., Rebane M., Wascher D., Watt A., Young J. 2008. Identifying and managing the conflicts between agriculture and biodiversity conservation in Europe–A review. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment,124 60–71. Strzelecka, M. & Wicks, B. (2010). Engaging residents in planning for sustainable rural-nature tourism in post-communist Polamd. Community Development 41 (3), 370-384 Smith, M., & Hall, D. (2006). Enlargement Implications for European Tourism. In Hall, D., Smith, M., & Marciszewska, B. (Eds), Tourism in the New Europe. The challenges and opportunities of EU enlargement (pp. 32-43). CAB International, Wallingford.
Keywords: community empowerment, public participation, sustainable rural development