Local government administrators expect a revival of city-to-city relations will promote commercial and cultural ties.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times from Skopje -- 20/12/13
Ohrid and Sarajevo's Stari Grad representatives sign an agreement to establish twin-municipality relations. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]
Balkan cities are increasingly expanding co-operation and are promoting joint, mutually beneficial projects in areas of common interest.
Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris visited Skopje in mid-December to promote his city's business, cultural and tourist opportunities that could improve Greek-Macedonian relations.
Boutaris urged Skopje residents to visit Thessaloniki and for citizens of his city to visit Skopje.
"Neighbouring states should live together. Problems always existed and will exist, but if there is a goodwill to solve them, they will be solved. The meeting with the Skopje mayor [Koce Trajanovski] is to put a bit of water in the wine because it cannot be drunk as is. The role of mayors is to establish good relations," Boutaris said.
Boutaris' visit came on the heels of a local government representatives' gathering from 11 regional cities in Ohrid to discuss future joint activities and invite other interested cities to join. City administrators recognise that wider economic and cultural co-operation brings new opportunities, said Gordana Konjanovska, head of Ohrid municipality.
"Our efforts to establish sister-city relations in the Balkans aim to bring forth mutually beneficial joint projects, especially those cities with a potential to develop tourism, but also other areas," Konjanovska told SETimes.
Mayors want to take advantage of the increased communications and open markets, said Miran Misko, city advisor to Ptuj municipality in Slovenia.
"Co-operation thus far was concentrated in the field of culture, but we want to expand it to the economy, agriculture and municipal administration. Our common goal, even on the city level, is for all of us all to be in the EU," Misko told SETimes.
"European funds are available and we can use them but need partners," Mladen Karlic, mayor of Vinkovci in Croatia, told SETimes.
Karlic explained Vinkovci has had a positive experience with Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as well as with other cities.
"We are working jointly with Srebrenica and a city in Hungary on water conservation projects, and have become a positive example for the rest of the region," he said.
Cities seek common areas of interest and for Kragujevac and Ohrid that is the automobile industry, said Zoran Jovanovic, member of the Kraguevac city council in Serbia.
Automobile manufacturer Fiat has had a presence in Serbia since 2008 and has a manufacturing plant in Kraguevac.
"We will try to connect Ohrid with the people in Fiat in order to reach some form of co-operation. We did this for Bar in Montenegro. Bar then established relations with Fiat and 100,000 cars have passed through Bar since. We have done this for other cities in the Balkans," Jovanovic told SETimes.
Turkish mayors pay great attention to the Balkans, said Pashala Erdogan, an advisor to Yalova municipality in Turkey.
"We want to continue to promote good relations in the Balkans, including among the cities. We can share our experience regarding tourism and how to attract investments in this sector," Erdogan told SETimes.
Things are going in the right direction, said Gradimir Gojer, assistant mayor of Sarajevo and advisor of Sarajevo's Stari Grad municipality with which Ohrid recently established twin-municipality relations.
"Budva and Ohrid agreed with Sarajevo and Stari Grad to work jointly on a big cultural event. ... We also agreed that the Ohrid theatre will participate in the Sarajevo Winter Festival as well as to co-operate in matters of local administration," Gojer told SETimes.
How can cities in the Balkans promote co-operation? Share your opinion in the comments space.