Celebrating successful cooperation for nature and people in Belasitsa/ Belles
More than 200 people in total participated in the Celebration of the Green Belt Days in Belasitsa. The event took place at three different locations, two of them in Bulgaria and one – in Greece, lasted two days involving six partners from three countries. A journalist and a photographer from Agence France-Presse attended the whole two days in order to prepare a text in French and English with images.
The cosy village on the northern slopes of Belasitsa Mountain overlooking the fertile valley of Strumeshnitsa river is the location of Belasitsa Nature Park Directorate. On 24 September 2019 at 11 am the doors of its Information Center open to host an International partner meeting. It is attended by a dozen people - representatives of organisations involved in different environmental cross-border projects some years ago: Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, Belasitsa Nature Park Directorate, Kerkini Lake National Park Management Authority (Kerkini, Greece) and Planetum Ecological Society (Strumica, North Macedonia). Some mayors of neighbouring villages are present too. Main topic of the presentations are the development of the region since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the European Green Belt Initiative, the possibilities for profitable local businesses based on biodiversity, nature tourism, preserved traditions, etc. Memories from the past, when the access to the border area was almost impossible, even for scientists, occur in the stories of Petko Tzvetkov (BBF) and Sofia Ilkova (Belasitsa NPD). The meeting ends up with a non-formal discussion during lunch in the nearby restaurant.
Gabrene lies at the most south-western corner of the country, at the foot of 1880 m high Tumba peak of Belasitsa Mountain, where the borders of Bulgaria, Greece and North Macedonia meet. Thirty years ago, barbed wire fences ran through here - the region was heavily guarded against trespassers and access for outsiders and even locals was subject to a special permission. The public celebration of the Green Belt Days in Belasitsa should start at 4 pm with a guided hike from the center of Gabrene to places close to the border where remains of the Iron Curtain can still be seen. Unfortunately the heavy rainfall stops the group from visiting them; only some adventurous journalists succeed to arrange a 4x4 vehicle and set off to see the rusty observation tower, the former control strip, etc. At 5,30 pm the guests are invited to visit the Historic ethnographic collection housed in the Community Center of the village containing documents and interesting items like former border patrol uniforms, traditional folk wear, fabrics, home furnishing, weaving loom, etc. Half an hour later an audience of around 130 people fills the hall of the Community Center of Gabrene. The Green Belt Days celebration begins with a welcome speech by Mrs. Dafina Petseva, Mayor of Gabrene, followed by a presentation about the Green Belt Initiative by Petko Tsvetkov, BBF, and a short movie about the GB in Germany. After the official part the Children groups for folk dances of Gabrene and the neighbouring villages Klyuch and Skrat dressed in colorful traditional costumes flock to the stage happy to show the diverse choreography of their pieces. The programme continues with the performance of Gabrene women vocal group presenting some specific local and regional folk songs. Then, all guests and participants move on to the most awaited part of the celebration – the degustation of local cuisine specialties in the premises of the tidy Senior Club of Gabrene. All dishes are prepared by different women from the village delighted to explain to the curious guests what is inside and happy to see the cut pieces disappear right away: banitsa with various sweet and salty fillings, sarma, river crabs with rice, baklava and many more.
At 9,30 am two busses stop in front of the building hosting Kerkini Lake National Park Management Authority and its Information Center; the first one is coming from Petrich, Bulgaria, and the other one – from Strumitsa, North Macedonia. Around 40 students of 10 to 16 years of age with interest in nature tourism and biodiversity are exploring for the first time the Greek part of Belasitsa Mountain accompanied by their teachers and representatives of BBF, Belasitsa NP Directorate and Planetum Ecological Society. Firstly they pay a visit at the Information Center; beside the exhibition with information and photos about Kerkini Lake National Park there is also a hall where the students are invited to watch an educational movie about the protected territory. Afterwards it is time for the best part – the birdwatching boat trip. The whole group consisting of more than 50 people is split over three boats that nimbly depart from the small port of Kerkini village. After a while the boats approach a flock of pink flamingos strutting through the shallow waters but soon a part of it is soaring overhead. Also a flock of Dalmatian- and Great White Pelicans is to be observed in the shallow waters of the lake. From the distance the group can see water buffalo grazing, as well as the artificial island and wooden platforms for the Dalmatian pelicans. Common tern, Great- and Pygmy cormorants, Grey heron and many other bird species are to be spotted during the trip. The stay at Kerkini Lake continues with a picnic at the port with home-made specialties prepared the day before by a skilled cook from the Bulgarian part of Belasitsa. After lunch it is time for a lecture presented by Martina Koleva and Petko Tzvetkov from BBF: What does the Iron Curtain mean, how did the dead-strip turn into a lifeline, what is the European Green Belt Initiative, why is this environmental corridor endangered and what would be the profits for entire Belasitsa region if its nature is intact. The lecture is followed by a quiz and the distribution of small presents for everybody to remind them of the living treasures the Green Belt is holding. The last stop of the excursion is the beautiful Monastery of John the Baptist (Timios Prodromos), hidden in the southern slopes of Belasitsa Mountain and overlooking the Kerkini lake. The hospitable nuns introduce the group to the history of the Monastery and invite everybody for a cup of coffee and a glass of water served with some sweets.
The activities are part of the fourth Europe-wide celebration of the European Green Belt Initiative and are supported by the German Foundation EuroNatur.