Danube river connecting people and cultures

Dec 23, 2020

Territorial & local development

Article by Stanka Parac

Beautiful event last night. Culture came back to life with a great spectacle! Thanks to everyone who made it possible for all of us – music and art lovers but also all the citizens. We are very happy and proud that we have this chance to host and enjoy the music of such a fantastic Orchestra and watch our favourite movies outdoor.

This is one of the comments by the audience in Novi Sad and Subotica (Serbia), Ilok and Vukovar (Croatia) after four concerts by the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra held in open air in September and October this year, taking due care of safety measures during the Covid 19 pandemics. This event was not just an ordinary concert. The musicians from both sides of the border selected a shared cultural topic: Charlie Chaplin’s films, one of the most famous and recognisable figures in movie history to celebrate his birthday. In its outdoor location, at the beautiful “Trg slobode”, FILMHarmonia delighted thousands of spectators of all ages who sat not only on chairs, but also on concrete paths, bikes, roofs of cars, or watched the programme from nearby windows.

The FILMHarmonia is an exact representation of how creative artists visualise a new cultural product that brings together not only films and music but also the music performers and the audience from two neighbouring countries with a long history of bilateral conflicts. Rita Kinka, one of the renowned pianists from Novi Sad who joined the Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra in this amazing cultural venture said after the concert: It was a great pleasure for me to incorporate the sound of the piano, under my fingers, into a joint sound. It was also a great challenge in every sense. This project is a place where ethnic and cultural borders are erased in the name of shared creation. Music is beyond all borders. Music brings people together. This project strongly confirms shared cultural values in our neighbourhood. 

Art on the River brings together the curators from eight countries of the Danube basin: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria whose main role is to select up to four artists from their countries to represent two (old and young) generations of artists: artists aged over 50 years and artists younger than 30, who grew up before and after the fall of the Berlin wall. Eight cities along the Danube river bank serve here as the main open stages and exhibition halls, while the touring exhibition “Art on the River” brings forward a continuous inter-generational dialogue. It takes place without any preconceptions or clichés not only about the artistic neighbourhoods of formerly divided countries in the Danube region, but also celebrates the existent diversities of cultural identities. The exhibition provides a deep insight into traditional and out of the box artistic expressions and positions across different generations who share the same need for crossing the boundaries in the search of beauty. This ongoing travelling exhibition will be on the move in 2020 and 2021 and will also connect the two European Capitals of Culture, Novi Sad 2022 and Timisoara 2023.

Good neighbours creating common future, development of tourism and preserving cultural and natural heritage

As early as 2007, the Hungary-Serbia border region has seen a plethora of inter-cultural exchange and cooperation projects connecting local people, local communities and a wide range of organisations and institutions located at the distance of some 8-10 km, but divided by the borderline between the EU and Serbia. In many ways, it was exactly the borderline between the two countries that inspired the people living in this neighbourhood to seek ways for cross-border communication and keep the shared cultural heritage alive as well as to promote it in order to make it better known on both sides of the border. Theatre art as a regional hub for children’s socialisation connects children’s theatres from Subotica and Szeged provides an innovative learning and exchange tool for the purpose of education, information, promotion and experience exchange in the field of theatre art for children. However, this project is about more than engaging children in artistic creative workshops on both sides of the borderline. It is also about interactive learning of Hungarian and Serbian as neighbouring but very different, not so easy to learn, languages.

Our Borderless Art Nouveau Culture project connecting the culture of twin cities Szeged and Subotica, shows how important this architectural heritage is at the border area of Hungary and Serbia (and in particular for the multicultural region of Vojvodina). The architectural style was most prominent between 1890 and 1910 during Austro-Hungarian times often inspired by natural forms such as the sinuous curves of plants and flowers. The most outstanding architects Jakab Dezso (1864–1932) and Komor Marcell (1868–1944), designed the synagogues, nursing homes, public buildings, and private villas which today are a significant part of urban architectural heritage in this region. Their major projects include the Synagogue and the City Hall of Subotica (considered as the most beautiful city administration hall in Southeast Europe), the municipality building of Tirgu Mures, Romania, and a concert hall in Bratislava. Therefore, the preservation and promotion of this distinctive cultural heritage makes the cities of Szeged in Hungary and Subotica in Serbia unique cultural tourist destinations. Art Nouveau buildings and the heritage of the two twin towns form a complementary local and regional attraction that serves also as the solid basis for a joint tourist destination in the border region of Hungary and Serbia.

Three strongly trending activities among modern holiday makers in Europe today are: visiting cultural monuments, authentic nature experience and physical activity. Therefore, it comes as no surprise, that cycling tourism has the strongest growth of all the tourism segments, thus becoming one of the priorities within a number of Interreg Cross-border cooperation programmes connecting countries in the Danube region. In many way, cycling and the cycling routes along the Danube River, across large Pannonian plains connects the desire to pursue sport activities with the discovery of natural and cultural heritage in a unique way. Veloregio or Pannonian 8 are some of the successful stories that utilise this cross-border potential, so that the natural and cultural heritage combined with cycling tourism also help increase overnight stay and enables mobility of workforce. The famous bicycle path along the Danube leads as far as from Germany through Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and northern Serbia. This is one of the illustrations how the Danube river cooperation programme connects people and cultures and helps improve the quality of life in both urban and rural communities in this large region.

The above mentioned examples of connecting people and local communities in border areas of many countries and along the Danube River are made possible owing to Interreg CBC Programmes and EU Danube Macro Regional Strategy (EUSDR). Since 2007, the majority of the countries in the Danube region are EU countries, and it was in 2011 that the EU Council recognised this potential by endorsing the Communication and the accompanying Action Plan on the EUSDR revised according to identified priorities in 2019-2020. Good neighbours creating common future, development of tourism and preserving cultural and natural heritage, cooperation beyond borders are some of the key messages conveyed across communities in respective border areas engaged in making their overall quality of life better, through people-to-people and economic cooperation, while cherishing the common identity and shared European values and by promoting the richness of cultural and historical heritage.


The article is produced within the framework of the project “Shared or contested heritage”, implemented by ALDA Skopje and Forum ZFD. The aim of the project is to improve cross-border cooperation between North Macedonia, Greece and Bulgaria. The project raises awareness of the role of contested histories and shared cultural heritage for the EU integration processes among heritage practitioners and cultural workers. The content of the interview is the sole responsibility of the interviewee and does not always reflect the views and attitudes of ALDA and Forum ZFD.