The flatlands of the Pannonian basin hold the most fertile soil for agriculture across Vojvodina in Serbia, in southern Hungary and in the easterly regions of Croatia known as Slavonija and Baranja. For thousands of years, the peoples of the region have worked the land, their efforts culminating in the busy but joyous time of harvest. Harvest celebrations have long been important in the region and in the Slavonian town of Vinkovci, those celebrations evolved into Vinkovci Autumn festival. The largest annual event in the town, it begins once again today, continuing until 22nd September.
Folklore societies and groups from all over the country take part in the festival, with contributors from Kvarner and Zagorje to Dalmatia and beyond displaying their culture. Some even come from other countries such as Germany, Hungary and Serbia. This is best seen on the last day of the festival, the event's highlight procession. Up to 2500 participants will gather in 73 groups and will take part in a giant costumed march through the town.
While Slavonia, Croatia's most eastern region may remain mostly neglected by visitors, it actually offers a lot of things to experience, particularly its cuisine and culture. Spicy-red-meat sausage, Kulen, is a Slavonian treat loved all over Croatia and you can also try other delicacies such as Čobanac, a meaty stew containing multiple wild meats such as boar and venison, Fiš Paprikaš, a river fish and paprika stew or fresh carp grilled on forks. All of which are accompanied with locally made wine and schnapps.
Kolo, a traditional dance that differs from place to place is often performed in huge circles, dancers grabbing each others hands, their movement dictated by melodies emanating from traditional instruments such as the tambura, violin, diple and bagpipes. Apart from dance, singing is a big aspect of Slavonian parties. Their 24 measure singing with repeating verse known as Bećarac is so distinctive and beautiful that was listed on UNESCO's non-material culture heritage in 2011. Bećarac is also a word for a bachelor who enjoys drinking and singing and its interesting that, in a relaxed atmosphere, Bećarac can become quite vulgar and humourous, the call and response singing taking on a similar form to a contemporary battle between hip hop rappers.
Hip hop culture, a hit with the town's youth, also plays a part in proceedings and several graffiti and street artists will once again appear at the event. This segment of the programme, known as 'Hip Hop on Orion', will also contain breakdancing and free workshops. While some of the previous graffiti work can still be seen in the backyard of Vinkovci's technological park, this year, artists such as Zagreb's Tilto One and Rebus, Skel, Dale, Unet and Gask from Osijek will also decorate the stairway in Slavonski Sokak.
Add to this litany a car show, performances of established Croatian pop singers, as well as a Star Wars-themed event, and the Vinkovci Autumn Festival has clearly expanded much further than a simple appreciation of ancient traditions. However, for those who want to experience the 'old Slavonia' and traditional Croatia in general, there's no better place to do so.