While even today things that separate are often put in the foreground on the Balkans, people in Serbian Sombor take another path: in the village of Bezdan Serbs, Hungarians and Croats looked for things they have in common and built a bridge of friendship last weekend. In Bezdan, which is part of the municipality of Sombor, this is already a tradition as the village is situated exactly in the tri-border area.
Besides love, the way to understanding among nations is also through the stomach: an ox is roasted on a spit, lángos sizzle in hot fat, Serbian bean soup „pasulj” and Hungarian goulash wait for customers next to each other and Croatian wines invite to savour. In Bezdan nobody stays hungry while getting closer. Given the caloric delicacies, I still have to decide…
„That is the 11th time we are doing this”, István Fejes from the organising team explains. The local association „Puls” backs the event. The title of the gathering is „Trojni susret”, which literally means trilateral meeting.
In the past, when goods and people had been mainly transported over the Danube, Bezdan was the port of Sombor. Danube cargo vessels landed here, goods to Sombor were transferred and brought to the city via the Great Bačka Canal (Veliki bački kanal). Bezdan is one of the oldest settlements of Vojvodina and is also called „water town” because of its many streams. Today the town with its about 5000 inhabitants is 6 km away from the Croatian and 10 km away from the Hungarian border. After the last census, about 60 per cent of the inhabitants were Hungarians, followed by Serbs and Croats.
The celebration on the waterfront of the Bačka Canal is not only idyllically located under the high willows, but also radiates harmony itself. It is not artificially enforced upon, but lives from the lovingly prepared details and the modest size of the event. And especially because nobody is distinguishing himself or his nationality, ethnicity or religion, but participates without standing out. No Serbian, Croatian or Hungarian flag catches my eye. Instead you can hear all languages.
A lot of crafts come from the region, like handmade decoration from „Brigita” from Sombor or pottery from „Emi Art” from Bezdan. In the kettles, pots and pans regional food is also cooked and fried. In the middle of the place a hand-operated carousel for children made of linen baskets spins around at human speed. Regional fruits and vegetables are lovingly decorated like at Thanksgiving.
Everybody who walks the path of market stalls, automatically walks over the bridge of friendship (Most prijateljstva). The wooden bridge goes over a little, symbolic stream that symbolises the Danube. Left and right of it the countries Serbia, Hungary and Croatia are represented with letters made of polystyrene. In Bezdan they look for things that connect them, not those that separate them.
„Here everything is about learning to know people and cultures in order to strengthen mutual tolerance”, István tells me. After all, the tri-border area and also Bezdan is a highly mixed region. „Political or religious aspects are not important at our celebration”, he emphasises. And he really is right: Parties and religions already have to look for things that separate and isolate them to legitimatize themselves. The recent past clearly showed that on the Balkans and elsewhere.
While lunchtime is clearly characterized by eating, drinking and shopping, there are folklore performances, sports competitions like handball, dragon boating and chess in the afternoon. In the evening, it’s all pop and rock on stage.
„We are thinking about extending the celebration to two or three days on the weekend – after all, the program is very tight for one day. I hope our sponsors go along with it and we can also gain some more”, István says with his daughter in his arm.
Altogether, this trilateral meeting is a very authentic and harmonious celebration that I would really like to visit again next year – and that I also like to recommend to you. However, already while taking the first walking tour this year, I had the feeling that something is kind of out of place here and steps out of this harmony – visually and atmospherically. You can quickly localise it when looked at more closely: the Liberland booth.
The activists, who want to establish an own state on the Croatian side of the Danube bank, rented a house in Bezdan as a base and were represented at the celebration with a pavilion. However, instead of fitting in with the society harmonically, they bothered the visitors with political flyers and decorated their tent with a flood of Liberland flags (photo here). The appearance: American, loud.
On their Facebook pages they celebrated the campaign as „Promotion Days”. They also thought they were at the Danube, although they stood at the bank of the Bačka Canal.
„We don’t like it so much with all the flags. We also tried to talk to them – but, well, we are tolerant”, István says diplomatically.
I don’t know if the Liberland activists found new friends in Bezdan. But you surely can’t walk over the bridge of friendship in the tri-border area with a flag in front of you and propaganda material in your bag.
You can find more (German) articles about Liberland on this blog.
Update Sunday, 9 August:
I don’t know if the Liberland activists accepted my criticism. However, those days they were on a goodwill tour through Bezdan. The news portal SOinfo.org reports, they have collected refuse from the streets and paths for several hours.
„It was really nice to see the happiness on the faces of the passengers, and I think this is a good way to show the locals and the inhabitants from Serbia that we are good people and that we will do everything in our power to help”, said a spokesman of the team according to SOinfo.org.
Nevertheless, not every reader of the article on SOinfo.org approves the move.
A reader comments: „At least they do something useful instead of only talking nonsense.” In sum, he further writes that it is generally not a good idea to try to establish a new state in the region between Serbia and Croatia – „they don’t know the laws and don’t respect the territorial borders.”
Another commentator asks sardonically, if there were no municipal workers in Bezdan who would take care of the cleanliness. It does not speak in favour of Bezdan if foreigners had to come in order to collect refuse from the streets.
Boom, that hit home. I have the feeling that the Liberland activists still haven’t found the right way how to appear in Bezdan – or what do you think?
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Translation: Aleksandra Davidović, Belgrade