In addition to developing existing economic capacities, we are working on attracting new investments. Apatin has an excellent location, is near the two EU borders (Croatia and Hungary) and has direct exit to the Danube.
“In the coming years, I would like to focus more on the education system. We have drafted a project for the renovation of the elementary school, which will become one of the most modern educational institutions in Serbia once the project is implemented. We are working on specialization in the Technical School for Education in Shipbuilding, as well as on introducing innovative directions in the Apatin Gymnasium.”
You have been elected municipal president, you are also the first woman to head the municipality of Apatin, and one of the youngest mayors in Serbia. How many challenges and responsibilities does your position entail?
Managing local government carries a great deal of responsibility regardless of age or gender. However, when you are a young woman in this position, logically, there are higher expectations, and therefore incentives to prove yourself and work harder. I am lucky to have managed to gather a good team of young and educated people, with whom I can share challenges. By the way, most institutions and public companies in the municipality of Apatin are run by women, and I must say that that has been working out great. In my experience, women bring strong communication and negotiation skills to politics, as well as excellent organizational skills.
However, I got the impression that the citizens evaluate us primarily based on the achieved results, and not according to personal characteristics. Such an approach suits me perfectly. It gives me an incentive to fight for the interests of all citizens of Apatin in the next four years.
Last year, we received an award under the auspices of the project implemented by the Swiss government as one of the best municipalities in the tax administration reform.
What challenges is the municipality of Apatin facing today and what will be the priorities and the most urgent projects on your agenda?
The pandemic is the most urgent challenge we all face, not only in Serbia but all over the planet. Our main task is to enable the good functioning of the local health system, that the school year runs smoothly, and that, once the epidemiological situation allows, we slowly return the municipality to the normal course of social activities.
More broadly, the focus of my tenure will be on economic development and the potential of the Danube River. In the previous term, during which I performed the function of the deputy mayor, we have already had numerous changes in those segments. After decades of being inactive, the Apatin Shipyard, once the largest river shipyard in the former Yugoslavia, began to stand on its own two feet. In recent years, several production plants have been opened in the footwear and clothing production segment. In these sectors, Apatin already had an inherited industrial base and trained workforce. Lidl also arrived here. Furthermore, we have devised support programmes for small businesses to encourage the development of entrepreneurship.
The Danube is an important topic for us. Apatin is located right in the middle of the Danube‘s waterway and it is our greatest tourist and economic potential. We are already using it in part, through the construction of cruise docks, one of the most modern marinas for boats and yachts in Serbia, and taking care of our beaches and other facilities that put Apatin on the tourist map of Serbia. Special nature reserve Gornje Podunavlje area (Upper Danube area) has great potential, due to its incredible biodiversity, which we will promote more in the coming period. I believe that we must re-direct the entire town towards the Danube – both infrastructure-, transport- and economy-wise.
Thanks to your initiative and commitment, a Swiss company that produces bioethanol and electricity from bioethanol is coming to Apatin. What will this investment mean for the town and its citizens?
After establishing initial contact, the company is now going through the first phase of the investment, i.e. building a bioethanol factory. This industry is very innovative and has the potential to grow, and in addition to creating new jobs, it will grow over time into electricity production and could, in the medium term, provide, provide district heating for our town.
It is important that the investor has bought land in our Free Zone. Buying land means that the investor trusts us to be an efficient local government unit and that they intend to stay here and expand their business.
In the previous tenure, you initiated several important endeavours, such as the renovation and construction of nurseries, health centres, etc. What support do you have for future projects and what is the most important thing to do now?
Two years ago, as the deputy mayor, I launched a large-scale project called “Apatin – a municipality for all of us”. The goal is to improve the quality of life in our municipality and to provide citizens with top-quality public services. In a short period, we have achieved enviable results. We built the first day nursery for toddlers, which now takes over 80 children. We have renovated two kindergartens, and the work on the third will begin soon, with the goal of creating top conditions for our children to live, play and learn. We are reconstructing the Apatin Health Centre in stages while transforming it into a modern health institution, not only in terms of equipment but also in terms of the general patient experience. We have launched projects to support pregnant women and mothers. We have just finished the construction of a sensory room and a speech therapy/special education office for children with disabilities.
We have been investing a lot in the utility infrastructure, first and foremost, in the traffic infrastructure, followed by the sewage and water supply grid in rural areas. I know it sounds ridiculous that we have to solve such a rudimentary problem in the 21st century, but unfortunately, these are some remnants that we have been dealing with for decades and that have to be resolved at a certain point to move forward and fully focus on development projects.
Speaking of which, we are currently participating in two European IPA projects: one focused on employment and the other on tourism development. We see tourism as our great opportunity, considering the potential we have, such as the special nature reserve in the Gornje Podunavlje (Upper Danube area), the Junaković Spa and our municipality’s incredible multicultural historical heritage. That is why the local self-government has launched a large-scale project of opening a city museum. We bought an old villa for that purpose which we will preserve and breathe new life into it in this way.
In December, the municipality approved of a programme relating to the development of IT education, which means that the municipality will practically create its own IT accelerator. How important is this project for high school students and what makes it so unique?
Thanks to the IT sector development strategy we have identified market needs, but also the interests of our schoolchildren, who are massively attracted towards that industry. The demand for this kind of education overwhelmingly exceeds the supply, and the school system cannot keep up with that. We, in the West Bačka District which has the population of 200,000, have only 3 or 4 IT courses in our high schools. Hence, we decided to take matters into our own hands.
The plan is to create a facility for informal, i.e. parallel IT education for high school students, similar to the IT incubator model, which would start in September. Here, students would get 2 years of training, followed by 2 years of internships on projects, through launching startups or working for companies involved with the programme. Our municipality currently has several smaller IT companies, but we intend to network numerous stakeholders in this endeavour – people who originate from Apatin but are working in the IT sector throughout Serbia and Europe, universities, IT companies from the region, professional associations, etc.
With this project, we want to plant the seed of an IT ecosystem in our municipality and to slowly create and build up that community. Creative industries are catalysts for local development: they attract investments, talents and jobs, but also change the local culture. We are now at the very beginning of that development.
What are the other plans for the municipality’s development in terms of the economy, and what kind of potential can you offer to investors in 2021?
In addition to developing existing economic capacities, we are working on attracting new investments. Apatin has an excellent location, near the two EU borders (Croatia and Hungary), as well as a direct exit to the Danube River. For us, the beginning of the implementation of the state project which entails building the Sombor – Kikinda road, which was initiated by President Vučić, will be of great importance.
The free zone in our municipality has two locations spanning a total of 90 hectares – one is intended for large production plants, and the other for small businesses. They are completely divided into land plots and have utilities, including access roads, water supply, sewerage, electricity and gas infrastructure. There are already several production plants there. Investors in the Free Zone are offered a number of fiscal and customs benefits, from VAT exemptions to simplified custom clearance procedures. They also have at their disposal a one-stop-shop that covers the entire administration, as well as logistics services at discounted prices.
Our local self-government is efficient and responsible. Last year, we received an award under the auspices of the project implemented by the Swiss government as one of the best municipalities in the tax administration reform. We offer numerous investment opportunities, both in terms of classic segments where we have an excellent industrial base, through to new industries and all the way to tourism and hospitality. When the pandemic subsides, we expect more focus in this area, through the construction of a wellness centre in the Junaković Spa and hotel facilities on the Danube.
I would like to invite potential investors to visit us, get to know us and the opportunities we offer and write this success story together with us.