What is it like to live with your family in an eco-village in Serbia?
Like most countries around the world, Serbia is emerging from an extremely tumultuous year in which COVID, climate change and a tough economy forced people to completely reassess their lifestyle.
For many, this sparked a strong desire to reconnect with nature and Serbian rural heritage. So after years of rural depopulation, village life as a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice has suddenly become more attractive than it has been for a long time.
Marija Babic says she has wanted to live close to nature for years, and finally, with her partner, three children and a dog, who bear the symbolic name of Walking By the Earth, she is moving from Belgrade to a community on the slopes of Stara Planina.
Marija is clear on what an ecological lifestyle means to her: “We are a low-waste family, composting organic waste, growing our own food and keeping the environment clean. We are activists, we don’t support not greenwashing, we don’t buy new clothes (we use second-hand clothes or get them from family and friends) … we are outdoor freaks! “
While the eco-village lifestyle is not yet widespread in Serbia, Marija hopes that soon there will be more people following in their footsteps.
“In the next two years, we will have a lot more people who would like to live in rural areas, and maybe they will join existing communities. We have an ecological uprising, people have started to wake up, to realize and to fight for their health and environment. So far we have the village of Vrmdza, for example, Fruška Gora is popular and Stara Planina, and the east and west of Serbia are at the stage of the ‘awakening.
The village of Vrmdza mentioned by Marija is often presented as a source of inspiration for rural development. Ten years ago, its population was shrinking and was a typical example of a declining Serbian village. But his fortunes were about to change.
Dragana Tomic Pilipovic, a woman who has a demanding business career behind her in Belgrade, moved there, bringing her family, friends and a vision of a new approach to village life.
Her passion is “to use urban skills to find a sustainable solution for living in rural areas, and to be more connected with nature by developing a good economy, socially responsible businesses and strong communities,” she said. , adding: “Not all of us have to be farmers!”
She founded the Center for Socially Responsible Entrepreneurship and the Rural Hub, a co-working space where villagers can connect, spark ideas and develop valuable business skills.
Today the community is thriving. The properties in the village have been reclaimed and redeveloped and there is a constant flow of city escapees drawn to the spectacular climbing and hiking trails (Mount Rtanj is nearby), homemade organic foods, beautiful surroundings and remote working possibilities.
Dragana attributes the success of Vrmdza in part to the open exchange of skills and knowledge between locals and newcomers. It paints a portrait of a community in the true sense of the word, where the skills of each person are used and respected.
“In Vrmdza, if someone wants to buy flowers, he goes to Miladinka, if someone wants to buy souvenirs, goes to Saska, for cheese, Snezana. Each person in the village has their own expertise, ability and resources to provide a service, and when visitors come to the village they know each person’s story and every penny they spend goes directly to the upkeep of that family. . “
“What happens when you arrive in a village is that you start to recognize how unconnected you were to nature in a city. It is painful.” Dragana continues.
But now, she says, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. “People can compare the benefits they get from living in a city or town, and say, ‘I’ll choose a bit of this life and a bit of this life and I’ll make the perfect mix myself.'”
Nevena Savić, from environmental NGO Zeleno Doba, agrees that change is underway in Serbia. “There is definitely an increase in newcomers to the countryside and a greater interest from people of all ages in sustainability,” she says. “We have noticed a great need from people for their piece of land and part of the sky during containment.”
The association supports people who want to live in a more sustainable way or who are returning to the countryside.
Nevena explains, “It was only a generation or two ago that people could recognize plants, work in the garden and grow food for a year. promote zero waste, urban gardening and entrepreneurship in the countryside. All of them have different stories and lifestyles. We think this is amazing – everyone is doing their best to achieve awesome long lasting results. “
“Through our activities, we hope to bring more sustainability awareness, more understanding and compassion, more positive attitudes and laughter, more health and joy and more good to this world,” she said. .