Ecology Practitioners in Serbia

Sergey Dmitriev
6 min readApr 19, 2022

The first review on the back-to-the-land movement in Serbia I’ve found in a EuroNews publication by Helen Elfer ‘What’s it like to live as a family in an eco-village in Serbia?’. The author quotes Marija Babić, whose family is in the process of moving from Belgrade to a community on the slopes of Stara Planina. She says:

“In the next couple of years we’ll have a lot more people who would like to live in rural areas, and maybe they will join the existing communities. We have an ecological uprising, people have started to wake up, be aware and fight for their health and environment. So far we have Vrmdza village, for example, Fruška Gora is popular and Stara Planina, and eastern and western Serbia are at the awakening stage.”

Marija and her family run a proto-ecovillage project ‘Walking by the Earth’ (Hodanje po Zemlji).

Vrmdza village by DjordjeMarkovic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The article also mentions ecological NGO Zeleno Doba. This initiative works as a centre for sustainable growth and development, it is a training ground for research, empowerment, and connecting the community through non-formal education. I’ve contacted them and have got support from two of its team members.

Katarina Knezević Nikolić has opened for me back-to-the-landers in Planinica village (eastern Serbia) — web site and Facebook. I’ve planned to join activities by Roman Tolić, a TV producer who had his career path in Austria (his IMDB profile), and his neighbour Ivana Zivković.

Planinitsa’s areas. Photo by Roman Tolić.

But as I had some formal documents to do in Russian Consulate in Belgrade I’ve decided to postpone going to go that place as logistics there are convenient with buses but not fast enough for quick rides to Serbia’s capital.

Another Zeleno Doba activist — Nevena Savić has recommended to me three families who have been building sustainable initiatives for some years and have experience with international volunteering:

  • Rtanski Vrt (web site, facebook) — a permaculture estate (about 7 hectares) on the slopes of Rtnje. They’ve got a plan for the next 1000 years.
  • Zelenazija (web site, facebook) — a family moved to eastern Serbia in 2016. They built a house out of straw, planted a forest garden, and set up a solar system, and a rainwater collection and filtration system. Jet another output of this experience is the book ‘Život U Prirodi’ (Life in Nature) written by Aleksandar Janković. The story is quite common for modern back-to-the-landers:

After working in tourism and traveling in Europe, South and North America, Alesksandar decided to return to Serbia and take root with his partner Maria in the wild hills of eastern Serbia

  • Šumska 1 (web site, facebook). Intergenerational and international family homestead and initiative, initiated by the elders Goran and Goga and supported by families of their children. Their land is close to Fruška Gora nature park, while the city of Novi Sad is just 30 minutes away by bus.

I was so interested in their strong connection between generations so I asked to come just to have an interview in person (and occasionally stayed for two nights). Findings of this visit require a dedicated report, while here I’ll just add that their approach to attracting volunteers from workaway and wwoofing works perfectly due to clear and exact communication (thanks to Goran’s and Goga’s daughter Iva), and for projects that require advanced skills, they get together both professionals/masters who able to teach and volunteers. It in turn pays back with high-quality results and great satisfaction for all the people involved.

Organic farming and permaculture contacts I’ve been given thanks to the Global Ecovillage Network Europe.

Organic farming and permaculture contacts I’ve been given thanks to the Global Ecovillage Network Europe.

One of its active members Nara Petrovich from Slovenia recommended that I contact Katarina Milenković — a coordinator for WWOOF Serbia.

Višnja in her garden. Photo by ???

With Katarina’s support, I’ve found Višnja and Griša organic orchards in the outskirt of Beočin (as Šumska 1 their place is also quite close to Fruška Gora nature park). Where I was helping plant potatoes and prepare orchards for a new season. Usually, people come to the organic way after a non-common experience. Višnja went to a high school in the US and spent about 1,5 years in India, while Griša studied agriculture and philosophy. But in their case, they choose to live and do gardening close to places where they were born and where their parents are.

Beyond the countryside, Serbia has town-based ecology centers. While staying in Sremski Karlovci, I’ve dropped in Eco Center Radulovački’ to talk to Vladimir Budalić, its trainer and project manager. Radulovački is a training center primarily used for the education of youth and holds CoE quality label — European Youth Center. International cooperation is one of the key drivers there.

Eco Center Radulovački’ new building.

Two buildings — the first one is historical heritage, the second — built from scratch with a geothermal heating system, energy-effective windows, elevator that ???, solar panels, and ….

EKOcentar in Belgrade is one of the oldest civil society organisations in Serbia and was founded in the late 1980s by a group of professors and students from the Faculty of Political Sciences. From the beginning, its focus was on the social aspects of sustainable development. The Eco Center deals with various activities, from scientific, to educational to public campaigns and actions.

There are also NGOs that are not focused on ecology and sustainability, but they organize a lot of related projects. I’ve been lucky to participate in Summer school on environmental activism and climate change hosted by Volonterski Centar Vojvodine (VCV) located in Novi Sad within a 3-party international partnership that includes BiH branch of IPSIA and GAIA Kosovo funded by WBF (Western Balkans Fund) and co-funded by the European Union.

Yet another countrywide organization is Ama Center — Center for the Care of People and Nature. Founded in 2013, now its main activities:

  • coordinating the volunteering network on organic farms in Serbia — WWOOF Serbia (Katarina Milenković who manages it, is also a President of Ama centre)
  • running the first active community garden in Serbia — Bastaliste
  • running the school garden program in Serbia — Bastaonica
  • supporting the youth and women to develop self-sustainability through entrepreneurship in food production.

The intro into agro-startups I’ve got from Impact Hub Belgrade. Look here, all the right words)):

the Walnut Fund is a cloud-based walnut farming platform, run by people that are passionate about agriculture and especially walnut trees!

The founders started with trees in 2016, ‘baked’ the fund in 2020 and moved headquarters to Zagreb to be in the EU.