– My commitment to local democracy comes from the belief that we can prosper only if we are tightly connected with the wider community. Those are the words of Igor Marsenic who is a politician in the Šabac City Council but also an artist. Igor is the third feature within our series of personal portraits of people who are playing a significant role in the development of local democracy where they live. We call them Champions of local democracy!
This is Igor’s story:
“My childhood was a typical middle-class upbringing in the Former Yugoslavia. We had easy access to quality social services such as education and health, and the possibility of travelling abroad where we took regular summer and winter holiday trips. I was also shaped by the life under sanctions that lasted for a whole decade. We had limited access to content, limited possibility of travels – limitations of all kinds. This was happening in the period when the world was booming due to the dot com revolution; when borders were opening up, not just physically but also figuratively. This might sound superficial to some, but the wars in the Former Yugoslavia, cultural and social breakdown that we experienced drastically changed the lives of many, including that of my family.
Since my father was a painter, I grew up in an artistic environment which influenced the path I would later take in life. I graduated from the Arts Academy and for almost ten years, worked as a freelancer. I am still involved with art today, although not to the same extent and dedication as when I was an independent artist. I, however, still paint intensively as it is part of who I am.
An activity that provides relief for me when I’m not working is organic gardening. My family helps out a lot with the work in the garden and in the orchard. It is something we love bonding over, as we get to enjoy the joint fruits of our labour. I also consider it an added advantage that we know what we are eating and what has gone into growing it.
The situation in his country inspired Igor to get his hands ‘dirty’ and take part in developing his city and making life better for its residents.
I am inspired by a saying from the Dalai Lama, ‘’It is not enough to be compassionate. We must act“.
I see politics and local democracy as tools that can help us achieve self-respect and self-awareness. In Serbia, people mostly complain about the circumstances and the situation in which they live, even though looking from the outside in, you would get a completely different impression. People like to be outside, to sit at cafe and restaurant terraces where the atmosphere is relaxed. Few people want to engage in public work. They believe that such participation is “dirty” work. So, we live poorly because nobody wants to get their hands dirty.
I didn’t want to live like this and instead chose to be involved. I consider the decision to take part in politics as one of the best choices I’ve made in life. I have accepted the challenge that was presented to me and it feels liberating, especially if I compare this with the decisions many of my friends have made by rejecting the challenges and responsibilities they were presented with.
At least I can always say that I have tried.
His involvement with the ICLD began in December 2016 when he took part in the Symbio City international training program.
Considering the programme lasted for a year and a half, I could say a lot about it. However, the biggest lesson I took from the Swedes was regarding innovation and modernisation, especially in the city of Malmö. During our study of the city, we spent an entire day with former city urbanist Göran Rosberg. Thanks to him, I got a chance to hear about the fascinating transformation of Malmö, from a typical industrial town to a city of knowledge and innovation. We also visited numerous locations where I was able to see first-hand the implementation of innovative solutions, which inspired me to want to take these lessons back home to help transform Šabac into a more innovative city.
I still remember that visit and talk about it to my friends and associates as the day that I learned the most about the importance of innovation and smart solutions.
Igor has enjoyed success, but the challenges have also been numerous.
I would say that I am successful, since I have several achievements under my belt. I have participated in the launching of an IT hub and creation of an IT community. People that previously worked from their rooms and apartments, now have their own working space and the possibility to prosper together, bringing about numerous innovations in our city.
I was also a project manager involved in the venture to revitalize the old synagogue and the establishment of the Jewish Museum of Šabac as a modern and multi-functional space open for all kinds of events, for which there was neither space nor audience in Šabac until recently. It brings pleasure to see that a building that was until recently a ruin, has become a modern facility and a meeting place of the community. Presently, I am a content manager for the Jewish Museum of Šabac and by the end of this year, we want it to become a place that is open every day, year-round.
Political issues sometimes arise, which often get me thinking, “what am I doing here” and make me want to give up, but I don’t. There are also value-related challenges, but these are the kind that have helped me grow, as they push me on to conquer new spaces of freedom and defy all kinds of narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
What does Igor see in the future?
I cannot be very precise at the moment as to what the future holds, because we must first win the upcoming local elections that will take place next spring, but I hope to play a role in turning Šabac into an exciting city and a possible candidate for the European Capital of Culture.”
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