Mayors from several Balkan cities send a message of peace and co-existence.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 08/01/13
Mayors from more than 10 cities in the region gathered to send a message of peace and friendship by each planting a tree in the Park of Friendship in Ohrid. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Two decades after the Balkans was torn apart by ethnic and religious fighting, the region has made headway towards reconciliation and co-operation. Nationally, the gestures are grand-scale: agreements worth millions of euros, joint military exercises comprised of thousands of soldiers.
On a smaller and possibly more meaningful scale, municipality representatives from the region have joined to foster the exchange of experiences and good practices in the field of tourism and economy.
Under the initiative, a Park of Friendship opened last month in Ohrid. Mayors from more than 10 cities in the region gathered to send a message of peace and friendship by each planting a tree in the park.
Also called Co-existence Park, the area covers 5,000 square metres. On each tree is a sign with the name of the municipality that planted it. The park will eventually include sports and recreational facilities.
"Friendship and cultural competition between the countries is the most important thing," Ohrid Mayor Aleksandar Petreski, the initiator of the idea, told SETimes.
"The message that we send from here is that this is a place for all the people who live in these areas … where we will compete in sport and culture, and not in war …," Petreski said.
"I want this park to be a symbol for further co-operation between the Balkan people. This region should be an example of tolerance and peace for the whole world," Artan Shkambi, mayor of the Albanian town of Pogradec, told SETimes.
Murat Bozadzhi, the deputy mayor of Jalova, Turkey, said that Turkey is a major supporter of all the Balkan countries. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Rajko Faj, the city councilor for Ptuj municipality in Slovenia, said it is time for changes in the Balkans.
"Goodwill will be the base for further successful co-operation and exchange of experiences. I think that the [elderly] should show the way to the youths who are the future of this region, and who had to grown up in completely different times, in divisions and wars. This is the beginning of something that will grow and develop," Fajt told SETimes.
Participants also focused on ideas to promote the region's tourist and cultural sectors.
Naum Marinoski, a professor at the Faculty of Tourism in Ohrid, said the Park of Friendship cities should be included in the tourist offering of the region.
"Tree of Friendship is a positive thing, even if it has been planted by an enemy. The Park of Friendship viewed from the perspective of tourism can have great importance, because the tourists that come here will want to see it," Marinoski told SETimes.
The group agreed to consider the possibilities for joint projects utilising Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance funds from the EU. It plans to meet annually, in an effort to foster common projects in the fields of economy, culture and sports.
"Together we are stronger, together we can do more," Damir Riljek, the mayor of the Croatian town of Trogir, told SETimes. "We are people who in the past 20 years have experienced everything. We are therefore doomed together to fight for a better future of this region."
A plaque reading "Park of Friendship" was laid during the ceremony. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
"There is no reason not to co-operate and not to deepen our communication because it is in the interest of all our citizens. This region has always been unstable, but because of that we need to look to the future and not to return to the past," Petar Filipovic the mayor of the municipality of Indjija in Serbia.
Murat Bozadzhi, deputy mayor of the Turkish city of Jalova, said that Turkey is a major supporter of all the Balkan countries, and that it is in the interest of the citizens in the region to help each other.
"Turkey works … together with the Balkan countries for the future. This is proof that Turkey is a friend of the whole region," Bozadzhi told SETimes.
Deputy Mayor of the Bulgarian town Nessebar, Viktor Borisov agreed.
"I think that in front of all of us is a process of integration into the European Union. It would be good if, as soon as possible, all the states leave divisions behind us. Then all of us will be as one people," Borisov told SETimes.
Citizens agree as well.
"This initiation for co-operation of the cities from the Balkans, we in our city accepted it with great pleasure. I think that we the people from the Balkans through joint co-operation can do a lot more for our common future," Ohrid resident Irena Marinovska, 32, told SETimes.