Hopes of the Shaykash Ascendants
There are not many of them, but they are very famous: Čurug, Gospodjinci, Djurdjevo. If you visit them, you will see the windmill, beautiful old churches, valuable iconostases, unusual bells, collections of silver jewelry from the ancient times… Equally interesting are the Čurug wine, fruit brandy, penny sweets, honey, cheese, cultural and tourism events. Professor Branko Stajić, Municipality president, introduces us to the ambitious development strategy, creation of a big industrial zone, ways to employ the people living here and improve their living standard

By: Goran Budimir

If we would look for the geometrical center of our northern Serbian province on the map, it would probably be Žabalj. There, in the famous Shaykash area (southeastern part of Bačka), by the river Tisa, this Municipality covers an area of 400 square kilometers, including its four famous old settlements: Žabalj, Čurug, Gospodjinci and Djurdjevo. On the intersection of the main roads from Novi Sad towards Zrenjanin and Senta, near the crucial international Belgrade-Budapest corridor, on fertile and gentle soil, this is one of the rare municipalities in Vojvodina which has shown a continuous increase of inhabitants in the previous three censuses. The population of the Municipality is about 27.000, out of which Žabalj has a bit less than 10.000. More than 90 percent are Serbs, and among the 17 other nationalities living here, there is more than one percent of Yugoslavs (1,23) and Roma (2,1).
The history of this part of Serbia is long and turbulent, often dramatic, full of suffering, heroic. The traces of settlements on the terraces of Stara Tisa, Jegrička River and Mala Bara indicate that people have been continuously living here ever since the young Stone Age. ”Remains of settlements from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age are located one next to another, as well as Celtic necropolises, Sarmatian semi-dugouts and Slavic silos”, notes the official chronicle of Žabalj. ”Abundant archeological findings from this area are kept in the Museum of Vojvodina and Homeland Collection in Žabalj. Also worth mentioning are the collection of silver coins from Gospodjinci, collection of silver jewelry from Čurug (VI century BC), Scordisc weapons, ceramics and tools made of stone, bone, metal. There is a completely preserved water management object from the IV century, known as the Roman Trench, used as the first-class sailing communication in the ancient times and Middle Ages.”
Documents testifying the presence of Serbs in the present area of the Žabalj Municipality originate from the IX century, however they had probably been living here even earlier. Among the present settlements, Čurug was first mentioned in 1225, Gospodjinci in 1341, Djurdjevo in 1513, Žabalj in 1514. In the early XV century, these were the estates of Serbian Despot Djurdje Branković. From mid-XVI century, the area was under Turkish dominion (Titel Nahiya), and from 1699 to 1918 under the Habsburgs.
- For the purpose of defending the then border with Turkey, the Shaykash frontier guard battalion was formed in 1763, as part of the Military Frontier. Žabalj became part of it the same year and Čurug and Gospodjinci in 1769. In 1800, after the Serbs had moved from Temerin to the area of present Djurdjevo, the structure was complete – tells us Professor Branko Stajić, forty-two-year-old Municipality president on a moody December day of 2010 in Žabalj. – The Shaykash battalion was remarkable in several battles against the Turks, as well as against the Hungarians during their Uprising in 1848/49... In late 1918, following the free will of its inhabitants, all municipalities of the then Žabalj County were integrated into the Kingdom of Serbia, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians respectively.


The economy of present Žabalj is essentially based on agriculture and processing capacities, mainly a large sugar refinery.
– According to the register, our Municipality has a bit less than 300 commercial companies and about 700 entrepreneurs – continues president Stajić, our host. – The privatization process was almost completely finished in 2004, so already in 2005 the share of socially owned companies in the national income was only about one percent. The ”Šajkaška” Sugar Refinery was purchased by Greeks, and local capital was invested in ”Saobraćaj”, ”Agora”, ”Jedinstvo”, ”Bačka”, ”Mlinovi”, ”Budućnost”, ”Gospodjinci”, ”Djordje Zličić”... Besides providing benefits for business operations in our Municipality, incentive loans for investments, development, technological improvement, an important element in the strategy of Žabalj’s development is the industrial zone we are preparing (Eastern Working Zone ”Žabalj”). It’s location is extraordinary: 20 kilometers from Novi Sad, 25 from Zrenjanin, 80 from Belgrade, situated at the Novi Sad-Zrenjanin motorway and only 15 kilometers from the Belgrade-Subotica highway. It covers an area of 42 hectares. We have all the designs and technical documentation in preparation. The plan is to have industrial complexes, urban services, warehouses, storage places, small enterprises production plants… We are also adjusting the Municipality administration, so that it could be efficient in the expected wave of investments. Our objective is, of course, to attract serious local and foreign investors, to enable the development of small and medium sized enterprises, to employ the people and improve their standard of living.
The Municipality of Žabalj is rich in waters: the Tisa, Stara Tisa and Vrbica meanders, Jegrička River, the network of canals from the Danube-Tisa-Danube system. Besides their role in irrigation and drainage, they are also important as a tourism potential (hunting, fishing, water sports, resorts…), but one that is only about to be exploited. The fishermen oasis at Jegrička was proclaimed natural park in 2006, and the fishing area on the Stara Tisa in Čurug in 2008.
”Bačka”, the only catering company in Žabalj, was privatized. The previous motel on the Tisa was turned into a beautiful salash estate ”Debeli Lad”, but, unfortunately, this is the only object of ”Bačka” which preserved its previous purpose.
In December 2010, the Tourist Organization of Žabalj organized a round table named ”Importance and Possibilities of Tourism Promotion”. A number of restaurant owners, agricultural producers, households with the potential to become engaged in rural tourism, and associations gathered at the table. The concrete possibilities of promoting their offer via TO Žabalj were presented, forming of new tourism products, as well as convenient ways of financing tourism projects from local and foreign funds. The general manager of TO Žabalj Marija Čupić, chief of the Municipality Department of Economy Čedomir Božić, and Municipality Coordinator Dragan Dejanović held very useful lectures.
Žabalj also has a lot to offer in the area of cultural and sacral heritage. If you visit this area, be sure to see the Church of St. Nicholas (1784) and the Roman Catholic Church of the Snow Lady (1826) u Žabalj, Church of Holy Ascension (1802) in Djurdjevo, Church of the Transfer of Relics of Holy Martyr and Archpriest Stephen in Gospodjinci... 20 events are traditionally organized in the Municipality: religious, ethnographical, sports, agricultural, gastronomical… The Žabalj Municipality is also famous for the čurug wine, fruit brandy, penny sweets, honey, cheese, vegetables…


Virgin Mary’s Village
The name under which Gospodjinci was first mentioned in 1341. Today, this beautiful Pannonian type village has wide asphalted streets, green gardens with flowers, a school, library with a reading room, movie theater, youth home, ambulance station… People here will proudly tell you that the first school was built already in 1763. The benefactor and collector Pavle Beljanski was born in Gospodjinci (famous is the gallery-legacy in Novi Sad carrying his name), as well as painter and sculptor Bondarov, general and historian Avram Djukić...


Church in Čurug
The first church in Čurug was mentioned already in 1739. The present Church of Our Lord’s Ascension, famous for its three towers and iconostasis created by painter Djordje Krstić, was built in 1860. Also famous is its old bell, Big Counter G, weighing 4.775 kilograms. The inscription on the bell reads: ”The Serbian Orthodox Church Municipality in Čurug, during the reign of His Royal Highness Aleksandar the First, King of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, and the hierarchy of His Holiness Dr Irinej, Bishop of Novi Sad and Bačka, erects this bell on the Holly Church of Ascension, to awake the faithful ones day and night to praise the holy name of our Lord.”


Several times during its turbulent history, the Serbian population of the Shaykash area and Žabalj Municipality experienced severe suffering. The mass pogrom took place in 1849, during the Hungarian Uprising, when all villages in the Municipality were burned down and their inhabitants killed. After the demobilization of the Frontier in 1873, the Serbian population was forced to move. During the Hungarian occupation in World War II, about 2.000 Serbs and Jews were premeditatedly killed in early 1942… Never to happen again!


There used to be seven of them in Čurug, but today there is only one. Rodja’s. They say it was manufactured in Hungary in 1843, and that a man from Čurug purchased it there and brought it to his village on a ferry down the Tisa. Later it changed many owners, and has been in the Stojšin family since 1913. The cultural and tourism event ”At the Čurug Windmill” is held every year by the windmill, presenting the rich tradition and culture of the Serbs in the Shaykash area.


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