Ćemovsko polje (Ćemovsko field) had been a rather abandoned forest park in Podgorica (Montenegro) until one day Damira decided to create something exciting and useful for her neighborhood. She organized young and old, kids and families, and turned the forest park into a lovely community park – where people like to spend outdoor time: running, playing tennis, biking, or just take their dogs for a walk.
However, the urban forest is attractive not only to recreation activities. Illegal logging was discovered soon, that made locals furious and pushed them to stand up for their “green oasis”. Damira took several photos and made various videos witnessing the crime, to fight against the destruction of their beloved environment.
Damira Kalač is a journalist and environmental activist, taking care of her surroundings in Podgorica via green activities, such as planting trees, cleaning up the littered natural areas and raising waste disposal awareness. She is a relentless warrior, empowering people around her, from all ages. In this interview, she talked about her early experience with recycling paper, environmental crimes in Ćemovsko polje, her hopes for a greener Podgorica, and last but not least, she shared her thoughts on happiness.
What does “Ćemovsko polje” mean to you?
For me, on some way, Ćemovsko polje is the symbol of changes, an example of how “ordinary” people can make big and great things. As you know, the story about Ćemovsko started as an initiative of a group of citizens. In the past, there was an illegal dump, but today, there is a children’s playground, dog’s park, and jogging track… The most important thing is that people really like that place and use it. Every morning, you can see people training. Every day you can see parents with their children in the park, you can see people with their dogs also…
Where were you born and raised? Do you have a special experience related to your consciousness on environment?
I was born in Podgorica, Montenegro, but I was raised in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I lived there for 12 years, till the beginning of the civil war in ex-Yugoslavia, 1992.
During my primary education, we had some extracurricular activities – in my school, they organized excursion in nature for the children, we had a small school garden… I remember a very large container in front of the school building in which we left the old paper that was then recycled…
You know, every family gathered the old paper, newspaper etc… in front of their homes, and this paper is collected by the children who lived in the neighborhood. In some way, this was the competition for the children – they competed who will gather most paper! And yes, that was one of the first lessons about recycling in my life. And today, I really don’t know why the schools in Podgorica and in the other cities in Montenegro, don’t do the same thing? That simple story about recycling from my childhood is something I often mention, trying to compare it, with today and use it as a good example. For the time being it’s all in vain, for now.
When did you start to feel responsible for your community?
I really don’t know. First of all, I think that is something one is born with. As I said before, I learned to be responsible during my primary education, I learned in my home, from my parents also. They shown me all the beauties of nature.
But, if we are talking about my civil activities from few years ago, then they become more visible with the first actions in Ćemovsko field. I believe it was because I started blogging about that. Then the journalists started to spread the story. And now, even my friends who don’t live in Podgorica and Montenegro, know about Ćemovsko. You heard about Ćemovsko, too J
“Damira, Ćemovsko is branded thanks to you”, people say to me.
What is your professional background?
I am a computer science engineer, but actually I earn money from writing.
As I used to say, I write all my life. I realized that is the excellent way to change things. On my blog damirakalac.me, I write about hiking, nature, and Montenegro’s “wild beauty”, as we say, but also about environmental protection, sustainable development, etc.
How do you find the education system in Montenegro? If you could change anything in it, what would that be?
Primary education in Montenegro has a civic education program, for example. But, I am not sure if we have the right teachers or maybe they don’t have the right idea how to teach the children about that [environmental issues] in a right way. I have a really good example from the school in my neighborhood – a few months ago, the children from that school decided to make some benches and tables for the schoolyard, and for this, they used pallets. I spoke with them every day, the children were so excited because of this project! So, when they finally finished all the things, do you know what happened? All the benches and tables the children made, the school keeper threw in the trash! Because the head teacher thought that these things are ugly and unsafe. Nobody talked with the children, they just threw all their works away, this was a big disappointment for them.
For me, that was sad, and devastating.
What are the motives of environmental crime in your country? Can you give an example?
Almost on a daily basis, in the park on Ćemovsko we have problems such as: illegal and uncontrolled logging, waste disposal. The same goes in other forest parks in Podgorica, and in the whole country also. In Montenegro, there is a big problem with dumping hazardous, fecal and toxic waste in rivers.
Some examples filmed on Ćemovsko:
On illegal logging: https://youtu.be/dn0qZiKPQk8
On plastic bags: https://youtu.be/vPTQ_QwZs8A
On illegal waste disposal: https://youtu.be/c97Vi5cu1Wg
You are a woman leader… Does it challenge you more?
Honestly, not really. I found a way how to lead this battle, and – for now, I believe I am on a right path. The best thing I do is writing, so – I write. To be sure what is proper, I read the laws, the other cases similar to some in my city, in my country. If I don’t know or don’t understand something, I try to find experts and people who know more than me. In short, I learn, learn, learn – every day.
What is your strongest belief that helps you through any difficulty and gives you power to continue your activism?
Without a doubt, I believe that every person can do great things and make changes in society. If they really want of course. Changes are possible, but you have to move and forget the “likes”, “hearts” or “angry” icons on your Facebook profiles. Actually, the social networks are great for activism, but you have to do more than just click the like button. You have to believe in changes. And want to change things.
When do you feel happy? What does “happiness” mean for you?
OMG I am really happy when I am in a forest, under the trees, when I walk barefoot on the grass. And when I see the things around me getting better.
Tell me a person who inspired you the most!
A person who inspired me? Each person who is ready to change the things because of their beliefs.
How do you imagine Podgorica in ten years?
Podgorica in ten years… Hmm… Greener and cleaner, accessible to all. I imagine the city with green rooftops, more parks around the city, more parks in front and around the buildings, I imagine the city with more cyclists and fewer cars. Hope, in ten years, the river Ribnica will no dry up during the summer. And imagine that Ribnica and the other rivers in Podgorica will be so clean that we could drink the water from them.
What message would you send to the readers to encourage them to be more environmentally-conscious in their daily life?
As I have already said – you have to believe in changes. And want to change things… Each person is a movement. A big movement.
And that movement and changes could start even if you give someone a warning because they threw a paper on the street…
The author expresses thanks to Rada Brajović for drawing her attention to the “Ćemovsko polje” project.
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.