When the foreign experts in social cohesion, regional promotion and combating marginalization, the ones perhaps holding masters from prestigious universities, want to understand how to work in Serbia to achieve tangible results and international recognition for a community, a place and its products, there is one thing they must do. They must go back and learn from the activities promoted, organized, supported and conceived over the last 30 years by Goran Puaca, president of the “Futoski Kupus” (Futog Cabbage) association, who passed away yesterday at the age of 58.
In the United States, Goran would have been defined a “community organizer,” a role so respected that it was the first step along Barack Obama’s career path. A person who works every day within a community to build, rebuild and strengthen its social bonds through events and public initiatives, fighting for its rights and an awareness of its identity and its own specific qualities, working to direct the energies and expectations of its youngest members towards concrete initiatives, not mere protests, and spreading enthusiasm and activism to combat fatalism and make people feel worthy and proud of their rural origins.
Among his many initiatives, the “Original Srbija” association gathered together products with a protected geographical indication from around the country. Thanks to Goran’s dedication, the Kupusijada Futog (Futog Cabbage Festival) grew from a local fair to an event famous in all of Serbia and the Balkans for the promotion of food and local identity, an opportunity for cultural debate on the potential of agriculture in Serbia and for producers, academics, journalists and activists to come together. Most of all, it became a big party, where a community could proudly present the fruits of work that now guarantees to many not just an income, but a profound sense of belonging as well.
Goran Puaca was one of the first people in Serbia to have faith in an Italian who was trying to promote the concept of Slow Food in his country. He recognized the sincerity of my intentions and the potential that the Slow Food network and concept could have to further grow his community. The Slow Food Futog Convivium is still Serbia’s best example of a food community, somewhere where Carlo Petrini’s concepts are turned into reality not thanks to the commitment of a group of enthusiasts and individual quality food producers but by an entire village. If today Slow Food has eight convivia in Serbia it is thanks in part to the positive example and constant promotion that the friends of Futog, and in particular Goran, have offered over these years.
Goran’s many achievements will, as always happens, only be fully appreciated after his death. They came about thanks to his wonderfully open, dynamic and enthusiastic personality and his ability to communicate an immediate trust and rapport.
We will be saying a last goodbye to Goran on Friday February 3 at 12.30 at the Futog cemetery. It will then be up to those who knew and admired him to ensure that the legacy of initiatives and credibility accumulated by this good and generous man and made available to his community is not lost.