This article recounts facts from the start of the felling and issues that surrounded the beginning of the action to save Plane Tree No. 198. If they do sound a bit harsher at times, it’s because the author is openly biased against the felling. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that these are the facts 🙂
King Alexander Boulevard, or Revolution Boulevard, as it was known before, or just simply The Boulevard, as Belgraders call it, is (was) famous for its long line of plane trees (Platanus acerifolia) that shape(d) visual identity of the street since the 1920’s.
Plane trees were given to Serbia (part of Yugoslavia at that time) as a part of WWI war reparations from Germany. They survived the Second World War and NATO bombing of 1999. Ever since they grew to a substantial size, these plane trees, like all other trees in Belgrade, were subjected to inadequate and unprofessional “care” that prefers pollarding to regular pruning, and overall neglect, with minimal, if any, pest and pathogen control, to say no more.
In 2010, city government decided to begin the reconstruction of one part of the Boulevard, from the Monument to Vuk Karadžić to Cvetko market, 2,5 km (1,55 mi) altogether, and to cut down all the trees, more than 300 of them, in that part of the street.
This move wasn’t publicly approved, but the government didn’t respond to public appeal and experts who claimed such a move was both unnecessary and harmful to Belgrade’s microclimate and inhabitants’ health. Two expert studies, done by the Faculty of Forestry in 2006 and 2008, show that, although the state of the plane trees is far from ideal, due to decades of neglect and maltreatment, most of them can be treated and healed. There were only around 15 trees that could not be saved. Treatment would, as the studies say, prolong the trees’ horticultural age for at least 10 to 15 years. Not to mention the fact that plane trees can, on average, live up to 300 years, and oldest of the trees on the Boulevard were “only” around 90 years old. Nor to mention that treatment of these trees would definitely be much cheaper than felling the existing ones and importing new trees; something that should not be overseen in a country whose economy could be defined as moribund.
Felling, sometimes dubbed “Belgrade chainsaw massacre”, began on the morning of 26th February. Out of 15 thousand people who expressed (only on-line, unfortunately) their disagreement and wish to protest and defend trees with their bodies, only about 50 of them actually appeared, while the communal service in charge of felling was protected by huge police cordons. The city sent out three different felling teams equipped with all possible machinery.
When at one point 10 of more ardent protesters managed to enclose a couple of plane trees to attempt to protect them with their own bodies – the police didn’t stop them, but they also didn’t stop the fellers from cutting the trees directly above the heads of the protesters. A dreadful scene, to say the least. No one was hurt, luckily. The media were fully spinned to support the felling weeks before it started, and there was virtually no mention of the protest, except for two or three lines in some newspapers suggesting that it was a small band of desperate lunatics in a pointless action.
It was similar on Saturday 27th, when protesters gathered near Lipov lad tavern and attempted to protect another group of plane trees. During that time, previously defended plane trees were felled, and felling continued with undiminished speed and brutality. Everybody was completely demoralised, shaking their heads with unbelief saying that there’s nothing that can be done against their brute force. It was tacitly decided that there will be no protest the next day, and people slowly returned to their homes, defeated. However, one man thought otherwise…
Go to the next page to see what happened 🙂