In Danube Park, Novi Sad
Our guide Milena directed us through Danube Park as she explained the history of Novi Sad. We passed smiling, tall Serbian preschoolers trailing after their tall teachers. A Habsburg fortress had been erected on the ruins of earlier fortifications, on a hill above a narrow bend in the river. The formidable Austrian Empress Maria Theresa had decreed that a city should be developed on the bank opposite the fortress. It was supposed to be a garden spot, a civilized complement to the bastion. Novi Sad means New Garden, or Park. It became the intellectual and artistic center of the region. Members of so many ethnic groups within the Austro-Hungarian Empire settled there that it earned the sobriquet of Europe in Miniature.
In 1999, NATO bombers attacked Novi Sad, ostensible to force the Serbian militias out of Kosovo. And thereby hangs another sad and sanguinary tale, one outside the scope of this narrative. Novi Sad was bombarded for three months. Whole neighborhoods were destroyed, as well as oil refineries and all of the bridges across The Danube. Families were separated. There was no electrical power. Water and food supplies dwindled. The suffering was such that the cool, slightly pedantic Milena's voice trembled as she described that period.
To date, not all of Novi Sad's bridges have been replaced. Close to the dock, metal stanchions twisted above the water's surface, as stark as any memorial sculpture. There was, incidentally, at least one monument to the Jewish and Serbian victims of the Hungarians Fascists who raided Novi Sad in 1942. We passed it on our way to the Danube Park. Even from a distance, its import was unmistakable. The thin, dark grey metal figures of a man, a woman and a child stood on a pedestal with Hebrew as well as Serbian writing identifying the subject.