Dispatch from Fruška Gora
posted by Andrew Gryf Paterson on 21 December 2023

Andrew Gryf Paterson was selected as one of the Rewilding Cultures Mobility Conversation grant receivers in spring 2023. They are travelling from Finland to Montenegro, exploring potential future routes of human climate migration in reverse. During their travel, Paterson will keep a travel diary on the Bioart Society website. This is the third blog entry.

Dispatch from Fruška Gora [Written 7.-8. & 20.-21.11.2023]

19.10.2023: A view across and within a valley of Fruška Gora

Fruška Gora is an upland hills range, about 80km long, with only a few highest points a little more than 500 metres about sea level, just south of the river Dunav (Danube). These used to form an island in the ancient Pannonian sea in the Central European basin which last existed 1 million years ago, and whose watery bed is since the flat Vojvodina agricultural plains.[1]

More recently, in the past few thousand years, the area gained a reputation as a ‘fruitful’ area, rich and fertile, which also gained a tradition of Serbian Orthodox monastries. A large part of the area became the first National Park (of Yugoslavia) from 1960 onwards, popular with private summer dwellings around it’s fringes, near to Novi Sad conurbation and suburbs. Fruška Gora gained a reputation regionally in Europe for it’s rich natural and human cultural heritage, and as I described in previous travel blog post, was affected by environmental pollution during the Kosovo war in 1999.[2]

19.10.2023: Local bus dropping off at the edge of Fruška Gora National Park area, and walking down into the valley.

It was here that I would accompany post-national back-to-the-land researcher and practitioner Sergey Dmitriev who lives as an agro-nomad in the the Balkans for the last one and half years, to visit one of his prime contacts in Serbia that he had got to know over the past year while researching ecological and back to land movement in the Balkans region.[3] 

Sergey is a contact of mine for 10 years, and we collaborated together on a production in Helsinki together called ‘Education Engineering’ in Autumn 2013, when he was director of Game|Changers network for informal education, especially dedicated for information technology workers, in St. Petersburg. That occasion brought together Russian, Nordic-Baltic, UK & US informal or alternative education initiatives.[4] He later came to visit me at the start of my studio residence at Villa Tarvo, and was my first guest in June 2019 in the very early prototype days of what I now call ‘Kitchen Lab Tarvo’, with gifts of buckwheat, while on tour visiting Swedish & Finnish eco-villages.[5] During the pandemic period, Sergey was living in a village in Russian Karelia, developing plans for an ecologically-grounded base. However, after the full-scale war started in Ukraine, Sergey travelled in early March 2022 to Serbia, and has been based in the Balkans region since, moving between Albania, Bosnia, and in the past year between Serbia and Montenegro, as visa-free travel allowed.

19.10.2023: Sergey Dmitriev, outside Šumska1 eco-tourism homestay.

I was brought to Fruška Gora because of two initiatives on either side of a hillside valley on the edge of the National Park area, and we travelled together by local bus 74 from Novi Sad beyond Popovica settlement up to the end of the line, and where the nature conservation trail walkers begin. We walked down from that point along past several prestigious summer houses, and corporate ‘team building’ residency centre, towards two family-based initiatives and places that Sergey had regularly visited several times before for inspiration, research and writing. Šuma means forest in Serbo-croat language, and at this Fruška Gora valley where we arrived, there was a collective dream of a whole forest education developing in very localised area of these uplands.

19.10.2023: Introduction video to Šumska1 eco-tourism homestay, presented by Goran Sadžakov.

Šumska1 eco-tourism homestay benefited from foresight in ecological-tourism experience of several senior experts, Goran Sadžakov & Gordana Kuzmanović Sažakov, who as a couple brought together decades of political and ecological activism, as well as their respective passions in music, theatre and plant-based cooking.[6]

20.10.2023: Left - Straw-bale & clay natural materials construction; Middle - Šumska1 family guest room; Right - Vegan breakfast.

Their adult children Filip Sadžakov & Iva Lindenberger, the latter who returned from Switzerland together with Alvise Lidenberger, a theatre actor, combined their focus in developing the Šumska complex with outdoor pedagogy for young children, with the name Šumska škola (Forest school).[7]

The international outdoor education model for pre-school children was developed first by Ella Flautau in Denmark in the early 1950s, then by Gösta Frohm in Sweden later that decade as occasional activities; however it was Siw Linde who formalised the model as ‘Rain or Shine’ Schools (I Ur och Skur in Swedish) by the mid 1980s, which was further popularised in Germany as the ‘Waldkindergarten’ model.[8][9] I was familiar also to similar models in Helsinki and Finland, where this model is also valued.[10] Of course in a land of boreal forests, several generations ago in or near forests are where most adults worked, and children grew up. In our contemporary urban lifestyles, there is a re-valuing of children growing up outdoors and close to nature, and new initiatives are being formed including in Serbia. Indeed, I found a copy of Jane Worroll & Peter Houghton’s book A Year of Forest School from 2018 on the Šumska1 commons bookshelf.[11]

20.10.2023: Outdoor site of Šumska škola

This ambition is being combined on-site with foundations and shelter, ambition and work-exchange: The upper level of the Šumska1 main house and outhouses were developed as natural-material (clay and straw-bale) buildings for both guests, and in upcoming winter and next year, the kindergarten buildings. These are built with international expert and voluntary support of ‘Workaway’ workers, who are exchanging their labour for learning new skills, sharing and gaining lived experience of eco-tourism. The Sadžakov and Lindenberger families hope that their initiative will blossom in the fresh hillsides among the woods and trees of the locality. There are often 10-20 working persons staying as guests onsite depending on the season, and there are currently 10 children registered in the kindergarten, half of which are local Serbian, and the other half are those of recent immigrant Russian parents. The location and pedagogical service is attractive to those who are residents of nearby Novi Sad, as well as digital nomads who have recently settled in the area.

20.10.2023: Left - Goran Sadžakov showing how red peppers are roasted for home-made ajvar; Middle - Sample of bookshelf in Šumska1 ; Right - Outdoor conversation with ‘Workaway’ volunteer.

However, down the steep valley stream and back up again, there is another initiative to visit called ‘Forest University’. He also particularly wished to introduce me there, so we head over to visit Višnja Kisić and Goran Tomka, who are a couple living near the forest of Fruška Gora, Serbia, while also working in numerous other locations. In their research, teaching and practice they explore entanglements between culture, politics and ecology. They are both Professors at the Faculty of Sport and Tourism Novi Sad, lecturers at UNESCO Chair MA in Cultural Policy and Management in Belgrade and visiting professors at numerous universities like University Hassan II Casablanca, University Lyon II and International Relations University, Beijing. In one of their more recent publications, they write about the ‘ecological turn’ in culture.[12] Following the COVID-19 pandemic, and the birth of their child, they decided to refocus their efforts as part of the same trend and bring a new grounded initiative forwards from where they live, as a ‘forest university’ which engages with it’s symbiocenic environment.

The symbiocene as a concept was developed by Australian eco-philosopher Glenn A. Albrecht, where as a member of the so called Post-WW2 ‘Baby-boomer’ generation, he calls for a post-Anthropocenic meme that is the opposite of the period of human dominance, which proposes a “complete change of the biophysical and emotional foundations of society from the ecocide to the symbiotic, from the destructive to the nurturing”,  unites the different generations that follow his own. A combined “Generation Symbioscene” which celebrates particular places as “unique sites of biocultural energy and creativity”. Furthermore, at such places “the diversity of human culture in the Symbiocene will be a new form of tribalism. The new tribalism will not exemplify xenophobia, but an emergent hybrid humanity that celebrates and respects diversity and has new intellectual and emotional attributes.”[13][14]

So there we were, sitting together in the terrace seating area of Višnja Kisić and Goran Tomka’s home, with visiting art-historian and pedagogue Milja Vuković from Beograd, as well as Sergey Dmitriev and myself, drinking tea, eating nuts, introducing ourselves to each other.

19.10.2023: Outdoor site of Forest University

LISTEN TO AUDIO (Introductions by Kisić, Tomka & Vuković, in conversation with Paterson & Dmitriev)

19.10.2023: Outdoor site of Forest University, with local vegetation, vinculture

As the Forest University is in early stage of development, there is currently no place to look online, but the following notes have been based on texts shared by Višnja Kisić and Goran Tomka:

Why and for what reason?

Forest University (FU) is a place for counter-hegemonic practices of knowledge creation, sharing and being in this world. It is dedicated to questioning and reshaping the boundaries of culture, society and nature, in order to open space for new ecological and socio-political imaginations and practices. It desires to transgress the dominant mantras of sustainability, greening and climate action, and look for ways of being in the world which are not only ecological but anti-colonial, post-capitalist, queer and symbiocenic.

Processes at the FU are based on critical pedagogy, decolonial pedagogy and eco-pedagogy, in which grounding, presence, deep listening and enmashment with the web-of-life are crucial components in learning.

Thus, the FU seeds from the creative capacities, symbiotic solidarities and experimental knowledges in more than human world.

Some of the forms of creating and sharing knowledge are collective readings and discussion sessions through MOBA (seasonal works on the land), individual and collective residencies, weeks long in search of answers to a specific question that concerns us, walkshops, podcasts and samizdat.

Common to all these forms is that creating and sharing knowledge is not just cognitive, but bodily and affective, and comes from specific seasonal work practices, elements and exposure to all beings of this space. It aims to contribute to public domain (commons), in any forms of wikimedia, copyleft, open data and open source.

The Forest University is neither a university nor a forest, in the classical understanding and practice of those words. It is an alternative to the anthropocentric-capitalist university framework of creation and sharing knowledge. It is an open learning place, a place where learning and a more intertwined understanding of life happen driven by curiosity and the desire for transformations.

FU is a learning place without selected teachers, diplomas and school fees.. An environment where you can walk barefoot and sleep under the sky and trees and encounter other forms of less-borders experiences. It is a school that is a habitat, but also a school that connects with other places and beings who wonder and search for regenerative, caring and rebelling ways out of the dominant system.

When and how?

FU is a university in becoming, without knowing when it will be „done and fully ready“. Since 2019, it has been seeding itself, but with dedication to not colonise itself by project logics, fixed plans, urge to succeed and desire to make it happen as soon as possible.


It is located in the liminal place which is the meeting place of the protected forests of the Fruška gora National Park with the land that was an orchard, a cottage from the socialist period, and a place of permanent residence on the outskirts of Novi Sad - a place much more complicated than idealized ideas about forests.

Recent activities

  • Deep Live Gathering, October 2022
  • Continuations of culture in the culture of “ending”, December 2022
  • Towards the Symbiocene - March & April 2023
  • Ecological imaginations: reading and discussion group July-October 2023
  • Transformative Pedagogies October 2023
  • Deep Live Gathering 2023

21.10.2023: Left - Crossing the valley; Middle - Outdoor kitchen as part of one of the outhouse accomodations at Forest University ; Right - Vegetarian lunch

I, Andrew, return as author, with the consideration of the question of ‘who’ is involved in the Forest University? Obviously there is Višnja, Goran, and visiting fellows such as Milja and Sergey, the neighbours at Šumska1, and their local children. There are the local and international itinerant workers, digital or ‘Workaway’ nomads who come to connect with land for a while, who may stay for a period, maybe even fall in love with the place for longer. There are those from across the Fruška Gora valley and neighbours who may be curious. There are those who come to attend the international ‘Deep Live’ Gathering(s) at the Forest University node,[15] or for Serbian cultural policy specific events such as the ‘To the Symbioscene’ event.[16] But that is just the humans..

The forest and all it’s inhabitants are included, trees of chestnut and fig, pines and firs, plus those who are passing through the landscapes between settlements of Popovica and Stari Ledenici, such as the squirrels and black woodpeckers, other flying creatures, the insects and bugs, fungi and lichen, microbes. The plants and vegetal matter, biotic assemblages such as soil and humus. The abiotic heritage, the water, and rocks. And more..

According to Sergey Dmitriev, this inclusiveness of the Symbiocenic gathering, the Šumska initiatives (eco-homesteads, kindergarten, school, university) in Fruška Gora help to finally reach towards a vision of a new type of nature reserve with intentional eco-centric communities living near-by or within such reserves, with a broad multi- or trans- disciplinary research agenda, considerate of sustainability policy ambitions, and deep university cooperation. This could lead to the possibility for local involvement on a more solid philosophical base. Additionally, there is this claim: “I believe such eco-socio-research (learning) ecosystems could eventually support not only the resilience of the bioregions where they were established but also initiate a revision of humans’ natural abilities and the role of humankind. I cautiously suggest that some children growing up in such places may be slightly more gifted on average.”[17]

21.10.2023: Walking through Popovica on leaving Fruška Gora area.

What I learned those days additionally is that that Sergey got to know this place by sleeping outdoors in the forest, dreaming of future developments.[18] After two nights sharing the valley, one night I slept myself in the luxurious eco-homestead family room of Šumska1, and another night on the balcony floor, part of the Forest University ‘uncampus’, we parted on the edge of the Fruška Gora national conservation park. I left the area wandering down the bus road with my backpacks, until the bus finally came and took me to the city.. With the hope to return again one day to learn more.


[1]  Novi Sad Travel Office. (n/d). Fruška Gora. Website. Accessible from https://novisad.travel/en/fruska-gora-2/

[2]  Paterson, A. G. (25 October, 2023). Dispatch from Beograd & Novi Sad. Bioart Society Rewilding Cultures Mobilities Conversation Blog. Webpage. Accessible from https://bioartsociety.fi/projects/rewilding-cultures/posts/dispatch-from-beograd-and-novi-sad 

[3]  Dmitriev, S. (n.d.). Sergey Dmitriev about. Webpage. Accessible from https://sergeydmitriev.medium.com/about 

[4]  Yarmanova, L., Paterson, A. G., Dmitriev, S. (2013). Education Engineering Days. Archival webpage. Accessible from https://archive.org/details/agryfp-2013-pixelversity-education-engineering-days 

[5]  Paterson, A. G. (2023). Kitchen Lab Tarvo. Webpage. Accessible from http://www.kitchenlabtarvo.info 

[6]  Šumska1. (2023). Šumska1 Homestay in the nature. Webpage. Accessible from https://en.sumska1.com/ 

[7]  Šumska škola. (2023). Natural learning in nature. Webpage. Accessible from https://www.sumskaskola.rs/en  

[8]  Wikipedia. (n.d.). Forest kindergarten. Webpage. Accessible from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forest_kindergarten

[9]  Bundesverbandes für Natur- und Waldkindergärte (BvNW). Webpage. Accessible from https://www.bvnw.de/ 

[10]  Kluukeri, I. (31.8.2020). Ulkopäiväkodissa metsäretket ovat arkipäivää ja kaiken voi tehdä pihalla: unet teltassa, ruoka taivasalla, askartelu kalliolla – ja puskapissa. YLE website. Accessible here: https://yle.fi/a/3-11514310 

[11]  Worroll, J. & Houghton, P. (2018). A Year of Forest School: Outdoor play and skill-building fund for every season. London, England: Watkins Publishing.

[12]  Kisić, V. and Tomka, G. (2023). Ecological turn in culture. In Biljana Tanurovska – Kjulavkovski (editor in chief) and Ivana Dragšić (co-editor), From praxis to policy: Environmental shift through art and culture. Skopje, Macedonia: Lokomotiva – Centre for New Initiatives in Arts and Culture.

[13]  Albrecht, G. A. (8 March, 2019). Generation symbiocene. The Ecologist. Webpage. Accessible from: https://theecologist.org/2019/mar/08/generation-symbiocene

[14]  Albrecht, G. A. (2019). Earth emotions: New words for a new world. Ithaca and London, NY and England: Cornell University Press. pp. 156-191.

[15]  Deep Adaptation Forum, We Here & Relearn. (2023). Deep Live Gathering 2023. Online and multi-sited gatherings between 30.10.-04.11.2023. Webpage. Accessible from https://futuref.org/deeplivegathering 

[16]  Vuković, M., Prodanović, D., Kisić, V., & Tomka, G. (2023). To the Symbiocene 2023. Online and multi-sited gatherings between 22.3.-29.4.2023, implemented with Kulturni centar Beograda, platforma Plavo i zeleno i Šumski univerzitet Fruška Gora. Plavo I Zeleno. Webpage. Accessible from https://www.plavoizeleno.rs/ka-simbiocenu

[17]  Dmitriev, S. (25 April, 2023). Symboicenic Environments. Webpage. Accessible from: https://sergeydmitriev.medium.com/symbiocenic-environments-da1696ddddc1

[18]  Dmitriev, S. (14 May, 2023). The roadmap for symbiocentric environments 2023-2025. Webpage. Accessible from: https://sergeydmitriev.medium.com/the-roadmap-for-symbiocenic-environments-2023-2025-60ddd95acb95