Novi Sad - Belgrade - Kladovo, Serbia.
Serbia between EU Aspiration and Economic Development
The program was jointly organized with GTZ head office in Belgrade, branch of the German Enterprise for Technical Cooperation supporting socioeconomic projects in Serbia
On last September 18-21 EJ hold its 46th annual Congress in Serbia, in the Danube region. Meetings, discussion ns and visits gave to the participants the opportunity to become aware of many aspects of a country aspiring to join the European Union and of the great socioeconomic potential, mainly on the field of tourism. The following is a report by our Romanian colleague Raluca Nelepcu who attended the entire program.
European journalists meet on the Danube in Serbia
By Raluca Nelepcu*
Journalists from EU and non-EU countries met in Serbia on for the occasion of the 46th congress of the “European Journalists Association-The Communication Network asbl” (EJ) and got their impressions of the Danube region and its potential for regional development on site. The program was jointly organized by EJ, the head office of GTZ/WBF program for employment and investment promotion for Serbia (GTZ = German Enterprise for Technical Cooperation, which represents the executive structure of the Federal Ministry for Development and Economic Cooperation), which sponsored the visit, and the National Tourism Organization of Serbia (NTOS). A intense series of meetings, debates and visits provided basic information and open new perspectives to the participants. Many of them encountered their first ever visit to the non-EU country of Serbia.
The trip started with a visit to the City of Novi Sad, the capital of the autonomous province known as Vojvodina (AP Vojvodiona). After a short introduction by a sightseeing tour, the journalists got the opportunity to meet with high representatives of the local Institutions at the Parliament. Sándor Egeresi, chairman of the parliament, reported about the current economic and social situation in the Vojvodina province and underlined the status quo as the most developed region of Serbia. “The AP Vojvodina is different because we accept changes and new challenges very easily”, Egeresi said. The Chairman reported about economic development during the past years and explained the multi cultural / multi ethnic aspects of the transition process on the way to the European Union: “Our image has changed. In the meantime numerous investors started activities and see a good market in our area”. The development is still suffering by the insufficient infrastructure and is slowing down the whole process – Sándor Egeresi continued. To rehabilitate the infrastructure in general is a hurdle which Serbia has to jump over as soon as possible – Egeresi continued. “With your hearts you are already arrived at the European Union”, replied Paolo Magagnotti, president of the European Journalists Association, at the end of his host speech.
The trip continued from Novi Sad to Belgrade, where the journalists met the former Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Serbia in Germany, Milovan Božinovic, who also held the chair of the Danube Commission from 2005 to 2008. Božinovic pointed out that his country is on the way to Europe and discussed the pros and cons of this transition process with the EJ journalists. There are political debates on each level and some people’s arguments are skeptical but the changes go on. For the process of European integration for Serbia promotion, partners such as EJ are needed in the future – Božinovic underlined. Currently he is deputy head of the Department for bilateral relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade and still represents the Republic of Serbia at the Danube Commission.
Undisputedly, the highlight of the journalist’s trip to Serbia was the four-hour boat trip on the Danube, where the journalists became aware of the huge potential of the “Iron Gates” region for regional development in tourism. At the beginning, the situation on the boat was a little bit bumpy because of the weather, which led to two passengers forgoing the cruise. The “courageous” ones incurred a marvelous trip on the Danube because the weather became better later on. Next, the trip led the journalists through the cauldrons “Cazanele Mari” and “Cazanele Mici” passing the Serbian village of Tekija. A fantastic panorama was presented to the participants supported by sunshine. On the right side (Serbia) steep rocks in their natural formations - to the left (Romania) lower rocks covered by forest and beautiful pastures – all together a unique scenario.
The Serbia village Bezdan and the Romania village Socol located on the Danube forms the natural border between both countries – by the way still the EU out-border.
Close to the City of Neumoldowa/Moldova Noua the river creates a gulf 7 km wide between Serbia and Romania. Nearly untouched it is an extraordinary place for any type of nautical tourism. Follow the river downstream – in the core region of the gorge – on its narrowest part the Danube is almost 150 meters deep surrounded by steep rocks on both sides. Then, the trip continued to the cauldron “Cazanele Mari” one of the most beautiful sites along the track. The “Iron Gates” area (“Portile de Fier” in Romanian language) covers a distance of some 150 kilometers and creates the biggest river gorge in all of Europe. In the past, this section was very dangerous for ship navigation and many ships crashed on several steep rocks which stuck out over the water level, especially in the narrow part. This problem was solved after the water level increased by 35 meters due to the giant accumulation lake for the biggest hydro power plant in Europe (2100 MW) – Portile de Fier. In the years 1965 – 1972 it was built in cooperation between former Yugoslavia and Romania supported by know-how from Russia. Unfortunately, at the same time many archaeological sites and the cultural heritage of the region were damaged by this huge communist project because economic aspects had first priority. For example, the Turkish island “Ada Kaleh” and its unique architecture/ culture sunk in the accumulation lake and got lost for ever.
However, a few years ago the governments of Serbia and Romania created national parks in order to protect this area and to preserve the natural assets for future generations. This transnational park area offers huge potential for regional development which is indicated by protection and improvement of environment, transnational synergies for sustainable growth and tourism.
Towards the end of the cruise, the journalists discovered the stone board which is called “Tabula Trajana”. This monument is a result of the higher water level nowadays and is close to the water, it was erected in honor of the great achievement of the famous Roman conqueror Trajan in the year 100 A.C. Under his command, the Roman legions completed the road through the rocks along the Danube and made the area accessible. Further downstream, the participants saw the biggest monument in the area these days in memory of the great Dacien King – DECEBAL. Graved in stone, you can see the face of King Decebal in a dimension of 40 meters high by 25 meters wide with the inscription: DECEBALUS REX. DRAGAN FECIT. This monument was financed by a patriot of the Iron Gates region - Iosif Constantin Dragan, who migrated during communist time to the US and made a lot of money over there. The idea seems to be adopted from the monuments in Hollywood.
Along the Serbian Danube bank, numerous sites of interest are offered to the visitor. The ruins of the Golubac fortress (english: pigeon castle, during times of the Hungarian king Sigismund delighted of Luxembourg as defense bulwark against Byzanz) in the north east part of the Serbian district Branicevo is the entrance into the “Djerdap” national park. The commune Golubac borders the city of Veliko Gradište to the west and Kucevo to the south. Another highlight of the Iron Gates area is the archaeological site of “Lepenski Vir” which dates from around 6500 B.C. and was inhabited for 2000 years. It is a unique site in Europe and probably the most important archaeological site in Serbia. The remnants of the dwellings of “Lepenski Vir” have a trapezoidal shape. The experts assume this is a copy of the peak “Cioaca Cernii” which you can see vis a vis on the other side of the Danube. Also, there are the excavated skeletons which proved the inhabitants of this settlement were up to 2.10 meters tall – probably caused by the rich nutrition of a 70% fish diet. The most unique artifacts of the site are several stone sculptures in the shape of fish heads.
Along the 2,783 kilometres of the Danube, which runs through 10 European countries from Schwarzwald (Germany) down to the Black Sea, the Iron Gates Area represents one of the most thrilling parts of the river’s course. During the boat trip on the Danube, Wolfgang Limbert coordinator of the GTZ/WBF program for employment and investment promotion in Serbia presented some of the activities/projects occurring in the field: new tourism products like the Danube bicycle track from Budapest to the Black Sea, joint fair Danube fair stand to promote Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria, new tourist maps with detailed information and several brochures and leaflets with information about accommodation, events and sights. The signposting of the Danube bicycle track is according to European standard, which is completed in Serbia and will continue in Bulgaria soon. This Danube bicycle track is connected to the European track called Euro Velo route nr. 6. The passionate cyclist can go from the Atlantic coast in France to the Black Sea in Romania/Bulgaria – in total ca. 3500 km and can enjoy the beauty of the natural assets along the river. In cooperation with the local authority and the administration of the Djerdap National Park, a tourist information center has been established in Donji Milanovac (Serbia). Brochures and leaflets provide detailed information about hotels, guest houses, and restaurants, as well as about important sights like churches, monasteries, and other historic places. For wine connoisseurs, a guide with detailed information about Serbian wines has been created. This is one example of how to attract selected target groups of visitors by customized promotion material. GTZ participates with a joint Danube fair stand (Croatia-Serbia-Romania-Bulgaria) on several European and International tourism fairs in order to promote the Danube region and provide information to tour potential tour operators and visitors. The Danube fair stand is annual and is presented at the ITB Berlin – which is the biggest travel trade show in the world.
Vesna Vandic from the local tourist organization in Majdanpek – TOOM and Daniela Schily – German Consultant at the National Tourism Organization of Serbia, reported about their activities and projects to promote the tourism potential of the region and pointed out the closed cooperation with GTZ/WBF program in Serbia for regional development issues.
From the ship, the journalists went to the city of Kladovo. There is the newly established hotel “Auquastar” – a bright example for European standard in the hotel business. At the conference hall of the hotel, the European Journalists Association held its annual General Assembly under the chair of the president – Paolo Magagnotti and discussed the perspectives of future collaboration with GTZ and other potential partners for joint action on European level in the future. During the meeting, many were expressing a constant desire to provide new information about topics related to regional development along the Danube on their website, Initiating the congress, Sabine Geller and Andrea Toll presented their new courageous project “Danube Connects”, a magazine dealing with several aspects related to the Danube. in order to find potential partners to develop it forward. GTZ, and, the European Journalist Association will support this initiative in the future to network people for joint action promoting Danube space for sustained development.
This initiative was also presented at the Conference in Brussels, "The Danube River of the European Future" on the 6 and 7 of October to lobby for the importance of Danube space on a European level.
Another important publication titled “Saint Danube” (Svbeti Dunav in Serbian) was presented by his editor Daniela Stojkovic during the boat trip. It has reached its 11th edition, deals mainly with literature and poetry related to the Danube and in the future will also have the EJ copoperation.
On the last day of the journalists stay in the Serbia, they visited the “Castrum” and the city “Viminacium” – a former Roman fortification and military camp which is also known as “Pompeji of the Balkans”. Viminacium was the capital of the Roman province “Moesia Superior” from the 1st up to the 6th century. During the excavation, which was a period of more than 25 years, the archaeologists opened approximately 10,000 graves and brought over 30,000 artifacts to light. Well conserved frescos and mosaics, a Roman road made of stone, and the remnants of the thermal spa which were discovered in Viminacium deeply impressed the journalists. After the tour, the participants enjoyed a tasty genuine Roman lunch meal: It had been prepared according to original Roman recipes.
* Editor, Allgemeine Deutsche Zeitung/Banater Zeitung