By Snezana Stanojevic
Novi Sad, Serbia, Jan 13 (EFE).- Known as the Serbian Athens, Novi Sad has managed to become the first city in a non-European Union country to be designated as the European Capital of Culture, thanks to its multicultural character.
Novi Sad joins Luxembourg’s Esch-sur-Alzette and Lithuania’s Kaunas in holding the prestigious title in 2022.
The Serbian city is adopting “For new bridges” as its new motto over the coming months, in reference to the 11 historical bridges used to connect the Danube river.
“All these bridges are the most wonderful reason for connection because, many times, not only in Novi Sad, there are two ‘shores’ that can be seen but essentially do not communicate,” Nemanja Milenkovic, director of Novi Sad – European Capital of Culture Foundation, tells Efe.
So the “bridges” symbolize the need to link regions and people from all over Europe with the aim to spread art and connect citizens with culture in this multiethnic and multi-denominational city, Milenkovic explains.
With 340,000 inhabitants, Novi Sad is Serbia’s second-largest city, which still has communities of Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, Gypsies and Montenegrins.
This cultural and ethnic diversity is seen, for example, as the city is the only European cultural capital that celebrates the new year twice: on December 31 and January 13, according to the old Julian calendar.
A program of cultural events to celebrate the title, with Austrian clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer, Portuguese singer Carminho, French cover band Nouvelle Vague set to perform in concerts.
“Novi Sad is the smallest city on the Danube and it has the biggest number of bridges. Eleven in total, eight under the Danube and three above it. Its history is so turbulent and dynamic,” says Milenkovic, recalling the eight bridges that were destroyed in the past 300 years.
The city entered the 21st-century without bridges, after three were destroyed amid the 1991 Nato bombings to stop the then authoritarian Serbian regime’s systematic oppression against Kosovar Albanians.
In the 19th century, during the rise of nationalism, Novi Sad became the “beacon of enlightenment” in Serbia, Milenkovic explains. It even came to be called by some local poets the “Serbian Athens.”
Novi Sad, founded by the Austrian Habsburgs, was on the border between modern Europe and the Ottoman Empire. It is home to some of Serbia’s oldest cultural institutions such as the National Theater, which was founded in 1861.
Some 4,000 local and foreign artists are to take part in the 1,500 cultural events taking place during this year, focusing on a wide array of topics such as migration and gender equality.EFE