Initiative in Indjija

Life in a local community can be much better if it fosters a collective spirit and turns criticism into action, as eight students from Indjija demonstrated by founding the Association Indjijativa. For a year and a half, they roused dormant citizens and municipal authorities and solved more than 100 problems in their city. The spirit of their activism is now slowly spreading across Serbia

Photo: Indjijativa

We  would  all  like  to  have  a  healthier  and  better-arranged  environment,  yet  again  there  are  very  few  situations  in  which  we  are  ready  to  do  something  about  it  jointly.  When  they  realised  that want to change many things that bother them in their  city  and  that  criticism  and  complaints  will  not  improve  anything, eight students from Indjija spontaneously came up with the idea to do something and move from words to deeds. That is how the Indjijativa, an association of volunteers  and  activists,  was  created  with  the  aim  of  working  together  with  citizens  and  authorities  on  identifying  and  solving various problems in their local community.

With  their  activity,  the  members  of  Indjijativa  have  awakened  their  fellow  citizens  and  authorities  of  municipal  government,  although  reactions  to  their  work  have  been  divided  from  the  very  beginning.  “There  were  both  positive  and  negative  reactions.  Citizens  initially  obser-ved  us  with  a  great  deal  of  suspicion,  seeking  to  fathom  the  motives  of  our  work  which  they  thought  were  hidden  and  driven  by  personal  interest.  On  the  other  hand,  the  municipal authorities had a very positive attitude towards us  since  they  liked  the  zest  and  enthusiasm  we  radiated.  Things changed, over time. Citizens have come to love us, due to the work and act that stood behind us, and we were not afraid to praise the municipal government when there were reasons for it, but also to criticise when criticism was more than necessary. With such an attitude, however, the doors of the municipality were left ajar to us,” says Mladen Rajic, one of the activists of the association, which now has seven experts of different professions, united in their desire to encourage positive changes in the society.

The fellow-citizens regularly contact them via email or social networks with the request of solving a problem, and the members of Indjijativa ask them to describe the issue in detail and to send them a picture or a video. Very often, they conduct site visits and talk to citizens about the problems  that  bother  them.  Then  they  contact  the  relevant  services through the System 48 – a platform implemented in the municipality to report utility problems. If there is a different  type  of  problem,  they  address  the  institutions  in  written or oral form, using all the means and tools secured by legal regulations and according to the rules of democratic society operation – they write petitions, requests for the information  of  public  importance,  petitions,  etc.  “What  is  perhaps  our  mark  is  that  we  give  a  media  character to everything which brings the problems closer to the whole community. That creates public focus and achieves a certain  amount  of  pressure  that  encourages  decision-makers to come up with a solution,” Mladen points out.

Photo: Indjijativa

Much of their credibility has been built through the portal  and  social  networks,  which  helped  them to become more visible not only locally but also across the country. Thus, the residents of Indjija, as well as the who-le of Serbia, can see that this association has been able to initiate and help to solve more than 1000 problems in the-ir  municipality  over  the  past  year.  They  are  proud  of  each  of  those  actions,  but  they  set  aside  a  charity  picnic  at  the  Koki Zoo, where they organised series of workshops and an auction of paintings, and the money they raised was given for  the  treatment  of  two  little  fellow  citizens.  Action-reaction  attracted  significant  attention,  when  the  members  followed  up  illegal  cut  down  of  two  linden  trees  in  the  centre  of  the  city  and  asked  the  authorities  to  punish  the  perpetrator  and  plant  new  trees.  The  last  action  they  are  particularly  proud  of  is  launching  a  campaign  #prO2disi  that  encourages  fellow  citizens  to  plant  trees  and  reduce  the use of plastic bags.

Based  on  the  previous  experience,  the  members  of  Indjijativa  noticed  that  the  citizens  are  most  sensitive  to  problems  for  which  it  is  clear  that  the  money  from  the  budget  was  poorly  used  or  misspent.  “Those  problems  directly affect the majority of the citizens, and they activate around them more,” says Mladen, adding that on the other hand, the municipal authorities are most firm on the issues that directly  indicate  the  irresponsibility  of  the  authorities.  “Usually,  these  are  the  things  that  should  have  been  resolved by a project or allocated funds from a budget, but they haven’t. Here we come upon a conflict that escalates with any criticism that is publicly addressed to those who we find guilty. Certainly, it is complicated to solve problems that require a strategic and long run of dealing with them, since the perspective of those responsible for dealing with the problem usually extends over a four-year period – which is a length of their term.”

There are also situations in which a problem cannot be solved  persistently,  but  the  members  of  Indjijativa  do  not  surrender.  One  such  an  example  is  the  problem  of  a  curb  located at the pedestrian crossing that is unsuitable for people with walking difficulties or moving in wheelchairs, as well as mothers who often pass there with strollers since it is  at  the  beginning  of  the  pedestrian  zone  in  the  city  centre. “We have been waiting for the solution of the problem, precisely for the curb to be removed, for almost a year. We got promises from the competent authorities that the problem would be solved within a few days, another one when the construction season begins, etc. The reasons why this has  not  been  resolved  yet  are  now  clear  to  us,  and  for  the  anniversary  of  not  solving  the  problem,  we  are  preparing  a performance which will, as we hope, draw attention and resonate beyond Indjija and provoke a reaction. The point is not to give up on any problem,” Mladen points out.

One  of  the  goals  of  the  association  is  to  make  Indjija,  as  one  of  the  least  green  municipalities  in  VojvodinaEuropean Green Capital.  Since  Vojvodina  is  generally  poorly  afforested region, and Indjija is one of the most developed municipalities,   the   members   of   Indjijativa   believe   that   it  should  take  the  lead  in  reversing  this  trend.  Indjijativa  members did not only awake Indjija, but they have also motivated many local communities across the country.

At  the  end  of  the  year,  Indjijativa  members  are  slowly  finishing  the  existing  actions,  such  as  planting  trees,  and  they  are  preparing  for  the  new  ones.  Soon  they  will  set  “kind-hearted” racks, on which citizens can put away their unnecessary clothes so that the ones who need it can take it.  At  the  same  time,  they  are  working  on  a  project  for  revitalisation  of  children’s  playgrounds  and  sports  fields  in  the municipality with an emphasis on increasing the green areas. The project should start at the beginning of the next construction season if everything goes as planned.

When asked how much Indjija changed in the last year and  a  half,  Mladen  Rajic  proudly  points  out  that  despite  pollution,  their  activism  is  being  spread  in  the  air,  and  it  provokes positive reactions among citizens. They are now motivated to step out of their comfort zone, speak out loud about  their  problems,  and  start  looking  for  a  way  to  solve  them themselves. The members of this association are encouraged  by  the  fact  that  they  realise  they  are  not  alone  and that they have the support and help.

Prepared by: Gordana Knezevic

This article was published in the new issue of the Energy portal Magazine  GRINNOVATIONS, December 2019 – February 2020.