Discovering Novi Bečej: Stories, people, history

By the paths of the past: Discover the rich history, interesting events and unforgettable people who have shaped Novi Bečej through time, as we return together to the heart of this beautiful city on the banks of the Tisza.

Explore the rich history of craftsmanship in Novi Becej, Serbia, where skilled artisans played a vital role in the town's development and economic growth

Craftsmanship

Craftsmanship, much like trade, was a companion to general economic development, evolving in line with other economic sectors. This doesn't mean that these areas didn't influence the development of other fields and branches, but their progress was primarily shaped by the population's demand for artisanal services. These needs could vary for different social strata. While the cubic part of the population contributed to increased trade and hospitality, its role in the development of craftsmanship was considerably more modest.

Therefore, it wouldn't be unrealistic to assert that craftsmanship in Novi Becej was similar to that in other places, but there were more craft shops satisfying the needs of the population with higher standards than in smaller towns or places of the same size with predominantly agricultural and labor professions.

Novi Becej, along with Vranjevo, had over 300 registered artisanal shops and workshops, a remarkably high figure by today's standards. However, there was no clothing or footwear industry, nor furniture or carpentry, as these needs were met by artisans: tailors, shoemakers, and carpenters. Additionally, there was a different attitude towards consumption. Incomes were lower, but frugality was much greater than today.

The concept of the quality of goods differed from today's, influencing the demand for artisanal services. Quality meant good materials and solid craftsmanship, ensuring the durability of the product. Today, quality is often determined by fashion trends, appealing colors, and designs, or, in the case of technical products, by keeping up with the latest solutions, with durability taking a back seat. Even with relatively poor materials, many consumer products today are discarded without repair, being replaced as soon as they go out of style. In that era, this rarely happened, and only the extremely wealthy or extravagant individuals allowed themselves such luxury. Footwear was worn for a long time, and few people had more than two pairs of shoes or sandals. Items were repaired until the cobbler declared further fixes useless. This applied to clothing, furniture, pots, cans, stoves, locks, leading to a high demand for craftsmen to patch, repair, and maintain these items. Today, with a different perspective on consumption and a lack of appropriate craftsmen for quick repairs, it is one reason why new products are easily and quickly replaced.

Novi Becej's craftsmen were generally serious and hardworking individuals. In an era of intense competition and relatively limited purchasing power, only a diligent person with quality workmanship could survive. Customers, mostly locals, needed to turn to him for services tomorrow and the day after, which they would do only if satisfied with his initial service or if recommended by one of his customers as a reliable and skilled craftsman. Reputation was built solely on these qualities and was maintained in daily interactions with customers. These were not highly educated individuals, but life taught them that progress depended on retaining existing and gaining new customers.

Most of Novi Becej's craftsmen were like this, and the majority of them had their shops as long as they were capable of working, either operating them themselves or passing them on to their children to inherit their clientele. This wasn't unique to cobblers or tailors but applied to every craftsman. For instance, blacksmiths in Novi Becej had regular customers among farmers, ensuring that their plows were well forged and completed on time, as a farmer couldn't afford to come twice. I remember how serious and dignified blacksmiths were: Čilag, Mavrak, Kelemen, Kasaš, Miljević, and others. The same applied to barbers, among whom I highlight Dušan Davidović, who was the president of the Novi Becej Craftsmen Association for many years, and others like Toša Sekulić. Painters and masons, usually known for being unreliable and heavy drinkers, were highly respected citizens in Novi Becej. For instance, the painter Ivan Stojšin served as the president of the Craftsmen Association for about ten years after Dušan Davidović's death. Photographer Konstantin Vukov was esteemed as a skilled craftsman and exceptionally cultured person who spoke 6-7 languages. Construction master Pal Maćaš enjoyed the highest reputation among craftsmen. Among the very reliable and, above all, hardworking craftsmen were Joca Kiselički, the gingerbread maker, Max Josimović, the tailor-confectioner, and so on, listing extremely serious, hardworking, and honest individuals from each craft. Of course, to avoid idealizing life and Novi Becej's craftsmen, there were, among tailors, shoemakers, and masons, those who didn't always meet deadlines. However, it was well-known, and their services, despite their expertise and the quality of their work, had to be cheaper than those of craftsmen who kept their promises or agreed-upon deadlines.

Novi Becej's craftsmen were serious, sober, and above all, modest individuals with a great deal of respect. Their demeanor wasn't limited to their work and clientele but extended to their families, the streets, and every place they found themselves in. Among the most respected young individuals were the children of Novi Becej's craftsmen, whether as students or apprentices, assistants, or clerks. They carried with them the fundamental upbringing and work ethic from their families, and the environment wasn't negative enough to significantly alter these foundations, especially not in a negative sense.

In Novi Becej and Vranjevo, at least twenty boys from the most passive regions of Yugoslavia, as pupils of the "Privrednik" Society, learned various crafts every year. Most of them, like other pupils of "Privrednik," became solid and diligent entrepreneurs. I was pleased when I met the highly esteemed tanner Jelisavčić in Pančevo, who was also the president of the "Dinamo" Handball Club (the state champion at the time). He was delighted to learn that I was from Novi Becej because he had learned the trade from Novi Becej's cobbler Kulčar. Another encounter in Belgrade in 1949 was with Lieutenant Colonel Đuro Zupković of the Yugoslav Army, who had learned his trade as a "Privrednik" pupil from Novi Becej's locksmith Zupčić. Both spoke highly of their masters, even though this was perhaps the most challenging period of their apprenticeships. This is the clearest confirmation of the reliability of Novi Becej's craftsmen, as I did not selectively choose those with whom I would verify my impressions; these were random examples.

Modesty was not only a characteristic of Novi Becej's craftsmen but a fundamental trait of all hardworking individuals. A craftsman who highly valued his product or the product of his labor simply could not survive.

At that time, Novi Becej had five bakeries, each with 2-3 employed bakers and pastry sellers, even though no rural household purchased bread from a bakery. Instead, their housewives kneaded the bread. The fact that they had their shops until the economic crisis, and even lived at a higher standard than average, speaks to their diligence, modesty, and especially their entrepreneurship. They found ways to produce what would secure the necessary income to support their families and pay their employees. Bread and pastries were delivered to regular customers in their homes at times convenient for them, especially for breakfast before heading to work. Similarly, restaurateurs had to receive pastries and bread early in the morning to ensure that their guests had fresh bread every day for breakfast. The same applied to students, and everyone was taken care of just to sell more bread and pastries. Confectioners and many others who delivered purchased goods to customers followed similar practices. Butchers sent their workers to the Russian Women's Gymnasium Internat with meat, sausages, and other meat products. The same went for regular consumers—café owners. This was a complete and comprehensive service. This service mentality was an integral part of the quality of the work or products of craftsmen.

In Novi Becej, there were four watchmakers during a period when there were few, very few, wristwatches and pocket watches; mostly, there were wall clocks and a few alarm clocks. It should be noted that Slovaks from Czechoslovakia and Slovenes had workshops on their backs, walking the streets and repairing watches in homes. There were also coopers, sheet metal workers from Slovakia, offering their services while traveling from place to place, yet there were two sheet metal shops, a few coopers, a saddler, and others in Novi Becej.

Novi Becej and Vranjevo had five bakeries in the city center (Čorba, Nastić, Vilotijević, Miletaški, and Bleskanj), and in the heart of the city, there were five butcher shops (Janković Jene, Janković Kalman, Štaud Karlo, Pinćin Stevan, Nikolić Pera). In addition to these, two more butcher shops were on the main street, one across from the pharmacy near the house of Dimitrijević Borić and another at the entrance to the main street from the direction of Bašaid. In Vranjevo, there were butcher shops belonging to Belskanj Šandor, Lalić Toše, Boberić Ilija, and Bugarski Sime. Several other butchers didn't have their shops but worked at stalls in the market or in farmers' homes. There were two gingerbread makers who had their shops and permanent stalls at the market, and they were also visitors to the fairs in Novi Becej and Vranjevo. Novi Becej also had two dairies—one in Novi Becej and the other in Vranjevo. There was a hat maker, a milliner, a woodturner, three locksmiths, four rope makers, four tinsmiths, and so on.

Additionally, there were crafts whose exact number of shops and craftsmen I cannot accurately determine, so I will provide an approximate figure. There were five barber shops in the city center (Davidović Dušan, Juanin Ivan, Sekulić Toša, Tandi Jožef, and a Hungarian who had a shop in the building next to the former post office, across from the Lutheran church), and probably another twenty who went to homes to shave farmers. There were around ten locksmiths, with 2-3 workshops in the center, while others had workshops in their homes, equipped with corn shellers and corn grinders. There were around twenty blacksmiths, twelve wheelwrights, seven saddlers, eleven shoemakers, eighteen carpenters, four or five painters, three or four furriers, twenty tailors and cobblers each, as well as masons and the previously mentioned four watchmakers (Hafner Bela, Hafner Aladar, an older Hungarian who had a shop next to Pere Sekulić's store, and a Jew named Marci in Šušanj), two or three coopers, a brush maker, a wax maker, a grinder, and others.

This does not sufficiently emphasize the role of craftsmanship in the economy of Novi Becej. Since I do not have data on gross income or the income of the economy from that period, an approximate indicator will be the participation of craftsmen and their families in the total population of Novi Becej. Considering that craftsmen earned significantly higher incomes than the average income of Novi Becej's residents, we will see that the role of craftsmanship in the development of Novi Becej was of great significance. Assuming there were more than three hundred master craftsmen, and at least every fourth employed one assistant or worker, it follows that at least 350 residents were working in craftsmanship. With the average family having five members, more than 1,750 Novi Becej residents, or about 10%, directly depended on craftsmanship for their livelihood. It is not an exaggeration, based on this participation in the number of residents, to conclude that, given their higher income, craftsmanship contributed roughly 15-16% to the creation of the total income of Novi Becej. This estimated contribution of craftsmanship to the income of the overall economy of Novi Becej simultaneously indicates that it had a significant impact on the development and vitality of Novi Becej as a whole. Additionally, the influence of craftsmen and their families on the consumption of food and other personal consumption goods, especially those for further processing and production, should be considered to fully understand the role of craftsmanship in the development of Novi Becej.

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