Marija Borko: In Đakovo, we showed how to create traditional culture into an attractive Croatian tourist brand

A successful symbiosis between the organizer and expert, ethnologist Marija Gačić

21. June 2024.

By approaching the organization of the traditional event, the people of Đakovo showed that traditional culture TOP Croatian tourist product which has the power to become a TOP event. In Đakovo, they have successfully integrated tradition into the modern tourist market, creating an authentic and strong destination brand.

The occasion for a conversation with the director of the Tourist Board of Đakovo Marija Borko and ethnologist Marijo Gačić, is an upcoming event, 58. Đakovo embroidery. With such a long tradition, "Đakovo embroideries" are a symbol not only of Đakovo, but also of the whole of Slavonia, but also of the traditional culture of Croatia in general. 

Slavonia is known as an area that has preserved its traditional culture, and on top of that, has adapted it to modern trends. Traditional culture is lived in everyday life in Slavonia, but it has also become an almost separate form of tourist offer, a tourism product of Slavonia. The transformation of traditional manifestations into events that win tourist titles "TOP events" which is awarded by the Croatian Tourist Board, and which for the past year, 2023, are the proud owners of "Đakovo embankments", are a reason for congratulations, but also for questioning what the people of Đakovo do so well and how, in a less developed touristic area, they maintain traditional culture at the level of the TOP tourist offer.

Director of the Tourist Board of Đakovo, Marija Borko, has been part of the organization and content creation of Đakovo connections for the past 16 years. Precisely at that time, tourism began to develop more strongly and become recognizable in this part of Croatia as well.

How has the event grown, what novelties has it introduced, what do the local population expect from it, what do visitors expect, and what is the future of tradition in the age of artificial intelligence, we asked the director who takes care of everything from digital visuals to the square meters of the tent, something like "Mary for all". .

Let's go to Đakovo with Marija Borko!

Director Borko, how are the preparations for "Đakovo Connections" - the TOP event from 2023, which will take place in 2024 from June 21 to July 7? Is your reward an additional challenge, and perhaps a "burden"?

Marija Borko, director of tzg akova 2
Photo: Marija Borko, director of the Tourist Board of Đakovo

We cope with the "burden" of victory very well, there is strength for more such "burdens". The award is another in a series of positive challenges. They all come down to the basics - how to include everyone who wants and deserves it in the "Đakovica Connections" and how to present the immense wealth of Croatia, Slavonia and Đakovica in fourteen days. This year, we will give our answer to these challenges for the 58th time at "Đakovo Docks".

The richness and diversity of the program as well as the inclusion of all age groups represent the basis for the growth and sustainability of "Đakovo Connections". The local community is the authentic bearer of content, and in tourism nothing is as good and as attractive as authenticity. Regardless of whether it's about nature, tradition, or food, the most important thing is to provide a sense of belonging and even identification with a certain destination and its values.

"Being yourself" is a feeling that in Slavonia has a special strength based on acceptance and is the starting point of our widely known hospitality. Our hospitality boils down to the fact that we are our own, not someone else's. You are not a guest with us, you are part of us. This form of hospitality is impossible to learn, and I'm not even sure it's professionally described anyway. After all, why not describe it, come to Đakovo and see for yourself. If you manage to define it, you have overcome one challenge and - the reward follows.

In the era of increasingly numerous and attractive events, "Đakovo moorings" have additionally strengthened as a cultural, but also a tourist manifestation. What is the secret?

The basic theme and goal of the event have never changed, but have been upgraded over the years. Events within the manifestation are dynamically adapted to the needs of participants and visitors every year. Also, the dedication and involvement of the local community, which is fully involved in the creation and realization of the Đakovica embroidery, is an element of the vitality of the event itself.

Therefore, I would say that the secret is precisely in the liveliness of our manifestation. Our tradition is not something from books and dusty chests, it is a living substance of life. Technology is one thing, and humanity, smile, song and dance is another.

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They are not mutually exclusive but complement each other. On this track, we are enriching the event with digital, contemporary, and even more modern content, but none of the organizers, who are all Đakovo residents, leaves the basic guiding thread - traditional culture and Đakovo as its center.

Ultimately, this kind of realization of the idea of ​​what and how the people of Đakovo want to present to Vezov, is possible due to the unreserved support of the main organizer of the City of Đakovo and the Tourist Board of the City of Đakovo, who ensure the continuity and qualitative growth of the event.

Sustainability is a top tourist topic that applies to all segments and elements of the tourist offer. In Croatia, in addition, the development of less developed touristic areas has been intensively emphasized in previous years. How do you see Đakovo and Đakovo vezov in these key tourist contexts?

Semantically speaking, after 58 years of maintenance, we can see sustainability as maintenance. The very fact of such a long continuity confirms that these are true values ​​that are close to a wide circle of people and for which there is full support from the local population.

Our manifestation is not separated from the city or the people, but rather inseparably unites them. The advantage of Đakovo as a year-round tourist destination is the very name of the event, which has become the strongest brand and tourist identity of the city. Regardless of the fact that the event only lasts for a certain time, the theme of the event is present in Đakovo as a destination all year round. Customs, horse breeding, concerts, workshops, everything is available in Đakovo throughout the year, and we must certainly add to that a number of other events that follow tradition, for example Bušara.

Our hospitality boils down to the fact that we are our own, not someone else's. You are not a guest with us, you are part of us. This form of hospitality is impossible to learn - Marija Borko, TZG Đakovo

Therefore, I would describe one aspect of the sustainability of the event as supporting the sustainability of the destination as a whole. Đakovo is on the Đakovo embroidery brand, the Cathedral of St. Petra, better known as the 'Đakovo Cathedral' and the Đakovo State Stables, built its clear tourist recognition with year-round and unique attractions at the level of a wider regional destination of Slavonia and the whole of Croatia. Our tourism development is not, will not and should not be rapid, it should be safe, authentic and honest, and in this it finds its resistance to all challenges.

We have to provide the experience we are talking about to every visitor, and we ensure it by continuous and permanent care for our city, stakeholders in the tourism sector, but also all other sectors, as well as by supporting the work of numerous associations. Together, we make the destination of Đakovo a unique and unmissable destination for every trip to continental Croatia.

How would you, as an organizer, but also personally as a participant of Đakovo connections, invite guests to the Croatian TOP event in Đakovo?

Each of our texts and announcements is an invitation throughout the year, and it is not just a formality, but a reflection of a year-long reflection on our Connections. However, if I need to combine a touristic and personal, emotional message in one invitation, it would be on the trail of encouragement to travel where you will feel humanity, happiness, support and passion for life, to a city and to an event where loyalty and commitment are in love for tradition, heritage, ancestors and descendants, the motivation of every song, every car and the warmth of every Đakovica yard and table. Our hearts and our yards welcome you. 

However, the Đakovo moorings would not have had such results if a successful symbiosis had not occurred between the organizers and heritage experts. One of these experts is the ethnologist Marija Gačić, from the Heritage Chaser-platform for applied ethnology, producer of additional programs of Đakovo Connections.

Marija gauiu heritage chaser profession for promotion and consulting in culture
Marija Gačić, Heritage Chaser platform

Marija, how did your cooperation with Đakovo Vezvi begin and what innovations did you introduce into the well-known scheme of the program? 

My cooperation with Đakovica embroideries began in 2017 when I worked as a curator at the Museum of Đakovica. That's when I got involved in counseling and practical volunteer work. The first step was to improve the Small Embroidery program. It was obvious that we were dealing with one of the largest children's (folklore) festivals in Croatia and that we could use its potential multiple times - not only to raise the rating of Đakovica Vezovo, but also to promote heritage in a contemporary context.

So, together with my colleague Maja Nikačević, I first started a series of creative workshops for children. Since 2017, the workshops have been taking place in parallel with the performances of children's folklore groups after the parade through the city. There are always a dozen workshops that offer different creative and educational content, all of which are connected in some way with heritage and traditional culture. 

Over the years, this criterion has further crystallized: all the contents that we create and realize at Đakovo Vezvi have to do with traditional culture, primarily from Đakovo, and then from other parts of Slavonia (the only exception is entertainment and music in the tent). The foundation is, therefore, on shock culture. Later, I also directed my professional interest towards applied ethnology, started the first private ethnological practice in Croatia, and through heritage interpretation, heritage management and other related methods, I propose, create and implement various contents for this festival.

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In general, we always keep in mind that Đakovo embroideries are part of the culture of this region, we can even say part of the identity. On the other hand, no changes are introduced spontaneously, but the existing formats are gradually enriched with contents that speak about tradition in a different way. 

Today we can say that we have successfully applied the aforementioned principles in many programs: from art and literary contests for children, through concert programs such as "Heritage for Children" to classic programs such as parades and performances by folklore groups - everything exudes a thoughtful approach, a well-rounded and quality story. The audience recognizes this and is happy to attend such programs. In particular, the aforementioned program "Heritage for Children" is a small festival that intensively connects traditional culture with the present: children perform contemporary dances to music such as Kića's Šokačka grana; electric instruments play the wedding party, sing about the homeland, Šokadia, Slavonia, Đakovo, speak in the Šokač dialect, etc. 

In addition, I proposed several professional-educational programs with the theme of heritage, the work of folklore societies, etc. Đakovo embroidery is still a festival based on the work of folklore societies, cultural and artistic amateurism, which, in addition to financial support, also needs professional support. 

In addition, art and literary contests are successfully held, which in the last few years have grown into national contests with an extremely good response. 

By translating tradition into modern language, we are opening a new direction, extending its life - Marija Gačić.

I created characters for the "Living Đakovo" storyboard, which embody registered cultural assets whose owners live in the area of ​​Đakovo, so during the days of the Vezovo you can meet Ljelja, Bećaruša, Samičar, Lipizzaner Rider, Zlatovezilja, etc. 

This year, we will additionally warm the atmosphere with dance and musical animations around the city before the ceremonial opening of Vezov... The goal is to make the city burst with joy, shocking songs, and dance, and for the atmosphere to be what visitors will take home - until the next Vezov.

What exactly does your content production for Đakovo vevez entail? 

Apart from the initial consultations with the organizers, when the proposed programs are adopted, I start creating the content. I create content for different audiences: from children, young, middle-aged, elderly, to the general population of the audience that comes to Đakovo from various regions. 

When interpreting heritage and designing content for festival programs, it is extremely important to know the original material, i.e. the traditional culture as it was at a certain moment in the past, but also to follow its echoes in the present. Here I rely heavily on my professional, ethnological and cultural anthropological knowledge and skills. However, the content needs to be further adapted to today's audience, so we strive to enrich established formats with contexts, not just scant information.

Practically, it looks like we do, for example, a show of the folk costumes of Đakovo, showing unique folk costumes accompanied by an interesting conference that reveals a number of interesting facts told in a stylish manner, avoiding exhaustive listing of costume parts or decoration techniques. This does not mean that it is less important to us how many petticoats are worn or with what technique something is embroidered. This means that we tell it all in an affective-interpretive way, which further engages the audience. In addition, we put the program in an unusual place and get an interesting program that the audience is eagerly waiting for this year.

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I have been following the folklore scene for years and it is clear that the established formats of folklore reviews have become unsustainable. But this does not mean that the value of folklore and traditional culture is lost. I think that they contain an exceptional value that needs to be communicated to today's audience in a new way. We are actually doing this at the Đakovo docks and I am extremely satisfied and grateful to the organizers who recognized the potential of this approach for the betterment of the festival. The audience recognizes it as well. 

I actively advocate creativity in stage performances of folklore societies, interpretation, new formats and enrichment of classic formats. I am not afraid that the tradition will suffer because of this, will die out or similar. Exactly the opposite. I firmly believe, and practice confirms it, that such an approach gives new life to traditional culture. By translating tradition into modern language, we are opening a new direction, extending its life. 

At the very end, Gačić emphasizes how that folklore societies in Đakovo are quite active, faithful to their traditions and very open to cooperation.

"On the other hand, it is a pleasure to work on creating programs in which a lot of space is given to local performers, local culture and takes advantage of the opportunity that thousands of people flock to Đakovo to see and experience exactly that: Đakovo and Đakovo, Slavonia, Baranja and Srijem - shocking culture. " concludes Gačić.

Photo: TZG Đakovo

 

21. June 2024.