Vladan Vasic, the Mayor of Pirot: The Citizens of Pirot are Proud of their City

Interview

Photo: Private archive

Vladan Vasic was elected three times as the President of the Municipality of Pirot, and after the elections in 2016, he became the first Mayor since Pirot was granted the city status, prior to the elections. A significant step forward was made in the construction of infrastructure during his previous presidency of the municipality and citizens of Pirot have got a sports hall, an indoor swimming pool, new factories, and bridges, and the quay and squares have been arranged in a way that is proper for a city that aspires to become a significant tourist destination. The most important to him is the fact that the citizens have become proud of their city.

EP: Are you impressed by the fact that the citizens of Pirot have shown you their trust for the fourth time and what do you think how you won their approval?

Vladan Vasic: I have pointed out many times that winning the elections in small towns is a feat, two victories – a huge success, three – incredible, and four – almost impossible. I am grateful to my citizens for believing in me and my team.

EP: The last “green” news that came from Pirot was about the construction of the plant for secondary separation of waste at the Regional Landfill. How far have you come with this project?

Vladan Vasic: We plan to finish with the construction of the plant for secondary separation at the Regional Sanitary Landfill purchased from our own funds. The construction of hall is ahead of us. Although we mainly rely on the municipal budget, we expect that part of the money will come from the available funds. The plant for secondary separation is of great importance for Pirot, primarily because recycling will be commercialized, and the deadline for exploitation of the existing landfill will be considerably extended. Currently, the deadline is mid-2021.

EP: The schools of Pirot are considered to be the most advanced in the country. Some of them have introduced the use of biomass for heating. Can you tell us something more about this? Is this a feasible way for the entire municipality to heat in this “ecological” way and do you have plans that go in that direction?

Vladan Vasic: Four schools and one nursery use biomass for heating starting from this winter. The project was implemented thanks to a public-private partnership which according to my knowledge is a pioneering venture in Serbia. About 80 million dinars were invested in the project and the costs of local self-government were minimal. Biomass is a locally available fuel, therefore significantly cheaper than oil fuel. It is estimated that achieved savings will exceed 30 percent. A healthier environment is something that cannot be expressed in percentages or in money. We should not forget the employment of local workforce for the preparation of biomass. In the end, the money from the savings remains in our city. Since small boiler rooms have been shut down and with the construction of central power plant “Senjak”, which supplies all the users of district heating, an important precondition has been created for moving to the next stage – which is the use of biomass for heating of the entire city instead of oil fuel. We have begun the development of this project and the feasibility study is currently being developing. The ultimate goal is the healthier environment and cheaper heating for all the users.

EP: You have declared that you want Pirot to become the first “green” city in Serbia. Is that title at your fingertips or you have a competitor in Serbia?

Vladan Vasic: It is true that we want to become a “green” city, but it is not important for us to be the first. We would prefer to be one of many “green” cities in Serbia since greater participation will contribute to the satisfactory effect. Other municipalities and cities are not seen as competitors but as associates. All positive experiences are welcome, and we are at their disposal for sharing our knowledge. Employees at City Administration contact their colleagues from other cities and municipalities, attend seminars and on some even have the role of a lecturer.

EP: The first calls were announced for grants from pre-accession funds of European Union for Rural Development (IPARD) primarily intended for investments in equipment and machinery for processing industry and primary production at the beginning of 2018. Given the fact that domestic farmers neither have the information on available resources and nor have the knowledge for the preparation of the projects at the local level, do you provide them with some sort of system assistance?

Vladan Vasic: In Pirot region there aren’t many farmers who meet conditions for IPARD, thus local self-government focuses more on the program of support measures for agriculture and rural development financed from the city budget. The state envisaged that training and technical assistance for applying for IPARD funds are provided by Regional Agricultural Advisory Service (RAAS) which operates within the Ministry of Agriculture whose advisors have already attended seminars. Professional staff at Department for Agriculture in the City Administration is acquainted with the conditions for the use of funds for IPARD in order to provide farmers with basic information on the program and also to harmonize the local incentive program with it, which is one of the conditions envisaged by the Law on incentives in agriculture, so as to get a positive opinion from the Ministry of Agriculture. Also, the Department for Agriculture in the City Administration organizes educations in cooperation with the RAAS advisors where they talk about IPARD funds among other things.

EP: Last year, Pirot hosted two significant events for environmental protection, Climathon, and Scientific Conference on water and Solid and Hazardous Waste Management. What is your attitude on their role in informing the citizens about the importance of tackling climate change? Do you think that your fellow citizens have sufficiently developed awareness of the need for the environmental protection and how does the city plan to contribute to a more active participation of the citizens in solving environmental challenges in the future?

Vladan Vasic: These two important events held in Pirot represent a acknowledge to our city. They have greatly contributed to informing the citizens of Pirot. Climathon 10 is the first event of this kind that was held outside Belgrade. The Serbian capital was the host to the previous 9 Climathons. The event was held as a part of last year’s Researchers’ Night. There were topics like Chapter 27, renewable energy sources, climate change and the influence of small hydropower plants on flora and fauna. Scientific conference on water, solid and hazardous waste management is one of the most important scientific meetings of this kind in Serbia. About 200 experts from Serbia and abroad met in Pirot. The goal of the event was the exchange of knowledge and experience in the field of environmental protection and primarily of water as one of the most important natural resources. The citizens of Pirot had a chance not only to listen but also to participate in these two events which greatly contributed to raising awareness. In general, “ecological” awareness is not at the necessary level neither in Pirot nor in entire Serbia. The cooperation of local and republic institutions in the field of citizens’ education is necessary, as well as more strict penal policy for all those who pollute the environment. Through cooperation and financing of the projects of non-governmental organizations that deal with ecology, citizens are involved in the conservation of the environment directly or indirectly every year.

Vladan Vasic was born in Pirot in 1971. In his hometown, he finished primary and secondary school, and in Nis, he graduated at the Faculty of Electronic Engineering. He worked as a system engineer in the computer centre of the factory “Prvi Maj”, and from 2000 he was a councilor in the Pirot Assembly. He was first elected for the President of the Municipality fifteen years ago, and today as the Mayor he influences the development of his city.

EP: How does Pirot attract tourists? What would you show your guests?

Vladan Vasic: Pirot attracts tourists with gastronomy, nature, and people. Thanks to a huge number of local specialists, Pirot received recognition as European touristic destination of exceptional importance for gastronomy. As a fan of Pirot, I would show my guests numerous springs, rivers, waterfalls, the peaks of Stara Planina, pedestrian and bicycle paths. Among other things, Pirot is attractive for tourists due to the ideal conditions for hunting and fishing. There are more and more tourists in Pirot – the number of nights in Pirot in 2016 was 28 thousand and in 2017 it rose to 42 thousand. Tourists quickly grow fond of the citizens of Pirot with their specific dialect, smile, and hospitality.

EP: What are your plans for the development of the city in 2018 and what will be the main focus of the city administration?

Vladan Vasic: Further plans are to continue with the investment in infrastructure in all parts of the city and to create an even more favourable economic environment for business and more comfortable environment for the people with adequate sport, cultural and tourist attractions. We are trying to develop a favourable climate for the development of IT sector in the city. Communal infrastructure is also important to us so we are going to put a priority on wastewater treatment in order to become an environmentally advanced city. Investing in young people and taking care of each individual in Pirot is of greatest importance.

Interview by: Jelena Kozbasic

This interview was published in the new issue of the Energy portal Magazine on SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, March 2018