At the end of February, the process of cutting down some 400 plane trees began on Belgrade's longest street, the Boulevard of King Alexander. The trees were planted there in the 19th century, and the tree-lined path represented one of the oldest and most beautiful green oases in the center of Belgrade. A municipal company Gradsko Zelenilo, which is in charge of all city parks and tree-lined paths, has announced plans for complete eradication of the trees on the boulevard, explaining that they were old and sick.
This action has caused protests of citizens and a lot of reactions by Belgrade’s writers, artists and other famous people in the press and on the internet. They expressed doubts that all the marked trees were sick. They fear it is yet another excuse for expansion of parking areas or another project that will be revealed only later, after the giant plane trees have been destroyed.
The director of Gradsko Zelenilo, Radovan Draskic, said that the cut had started and that citizens should be aware of the danger of sick trees left standing. The website Balkan Insight published his statement; here is part of it:
We chose this part of the boulevard because it has the most problems. Why? It isn't difficult to prove; when you look at the outside of the [trees], they look healthy, but studies have shown that they are rotting. You can see that a metre or two is healthy and then the rot starts.
A group of citizens who opposed the cut called for a petition to be launched. They sent a letter to the Belgrade mayor Dragan Đilas. Among other things, they wrote:
Besides aesthetic, historical and cultural significance, the trees, as you know, also clean the extremely polluted air in this neighborhood. There are engineers from the Faculty of Forestry and Horticulture among the signatories of our petition. The engineers believe that, contrary to the assertions of the director of Gradsko Zelenilo, the trees are not actually sick, as was the case with certain previous cuts.
A Facebook group titled REMEMBERING BELGRADE CHAIN SAW MASSACRE!!! already has more than 800 members. Here's the group's description:
Belgrade City Hall has cut down over 400 trees in the longest boulevard in the city.
They have given us some lame excuses about “sickness of the trees” But the truth is more ugly.
It is, as you may imagine all about… money
Dusan Pavlovic from the NGO Zeleni Srbije told Balkan Insight that such a decision was tragic, but that it was too late to change anything now:
This shouldn't have happened without consultations with relevant organisations and experts. Now that the damage is done it is too late to stop and therefore we will try to press the authorities to do what they promised to do afterwards, namely plant new trees.
Bloggers also reacted to the event.
Nune Popovic wrote:
[…] If plane trees are really sick and present danger to the lives of Belgrade’s citizens, as mayor Đilas said, and that some of the experts contested […], a logical question arises: why is the study by experts from the Faculty of Forestry […] not revealed? What is the obstacle for an open public discussion about the issue in which the international experts should be included too? […]
[…] Đilas’s behavior looks like he enjoys the requests that are sent to him to check the decision about the cut of plane trees, like Milosevic enjoyed in 1991. When Đilas, as a leader of student protest, asked him to do a favor to his people and withdraw from the power.
That’s why I suspect the decision that the plane trees should be cut is more sick than the trees whose cutting Đilas supports, and instead, it is in the public interest to make sure that everything possible is done so that the trees are treated and saved.
Blogger Srđan Mitrovic writes about the building plan for the Boulevard and explains why more people didn't join the protests:
[…] Sincerely speaking, I would be surprised to learn that any of those who live on the Boulevard participated in the protests. Probably, they can hardly wait for their buildings to be torn down, so that they can get money or square meters from investors [who have intention to make new buildings in the area].
Let's say good-bye to plane trees in a dignified way, with many honors and respects.
Let’s light candles on each venue of their merciless and unfair massacre.
Inviting all volunteers to gather themselves, today, on Sunday, March 7, next to the Vuk Monument, and bring candles, matches and cigarette lighters. […] Let’s send a picture into the world that we regret what's happened to our plane trees and that we are not monstrous killers. […]
Vladimir, a young man (25) from Belgrade’s area Braca Jerkovic, who calls himself as a “self-styled lawyer,” is on duty every night in order to save one of the plane trees in the Boulevard. He is also collecting citizens’ signatures in order to petition the municipal authorities to start treating his plane tree. Blogger Albicilla, in another post, published Vladimir's explanation:
I am aware that there is a minimal chance that a plane tree, which is entered in the proposal under the number 191, will survive […]. It’s obvious that those who made a decision about it will go to the end. It is my initiative, no one stands behind me, only my plane tree. Though I don’t live on the boulevard, I can’t be idle. I am hurt when I see how plane trees disappear.