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 deep cultural roots and vibrant entertainment life in historic taverns. From dances to musical performances, a journey into rich traditions

Deep Roots of Cultural Traditions

Cultural and entertainment life mostly unfolded in taverns. Nearly all taverns had halls where dances and various events were held on Sundays and holidays. Celebrations took place from November, when agricultural work ceased, until the end of February - almost every week. Organizers made sure that multiple events did not occur simultaneously due to attendance. An exception was made for major religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter, as well as New Year's, when everyone wanted to provide suitable entertainment for their members or regular dance attendees.

Fortunately, these holidays did not often coincide, except for Easter, and only in certain years, as Catholics celebrated their holidays seven to fourteen days earlier than the Orthodox. This meant competition was within the same religious community. As these celebrations represented exceptional moments for young individuals, almost every family had at least one member attending, resulting in significant attendance at each event. It was even a particular pleasure to have a choice of where to go. New Year's was celebrated on December 31st by Catholics and on January 13th by the Orthodox, allowing taverns to accommodate those who wanted to welcome the New Year in a cheerful mood.

Cheerful moods were mainly experienced in taverns during that time because it was not customary, nor practically feasible, to organize celebrations in private apartments. There were no record players, tape recorders, and even radio sets were a rarity that could capture the appropriate atmosphere.

During that era, music was exclusively found in taverns, as only they had halls suitable for organizing events and dances. Cinema halls were not used during those days, except for regular film screenings.

At events, in addition to theatrical plays, there were musical performances, recitations, and more. Once a year, the Sokol society held its academy, where, among other rhythmic exercises, gymnasts performed their most successful routines on apparatuses. At that time, the best gymnast on all apparatuses was Veselin Josimović - Šulja, ranking among the top in the entire Banat region. Exceptionally successful events, held once or twice a year with well-rehearsed vocal and musical performances, were organized by the Russian Women's Gymnasium.

In the entertainment scene, youth was divided not only by nationality into Serbs and Hungarians but also by social status.

Hungarian youth had dances in taverns for Hungarian youth, thus creating a division. The poor and common folk had dances at Danka Marčić's tavern and at the "Kruna" tavern, while wealthier farmers, craftsmen, and merchants had theirs at Laslo's tavern. More elite events for Hungarians were held at the civic reading room. The common folk only had dances.

Serbian youth had several taverns: at Nove Trbića in Vranjevo for the poor youth and at Arsen Pecarski's for the middle and wealthy youth. In Novi Bečej, agricultural youth had their dances in a tavern located near the intersection of roads to Bašaid and Novo Miloševo (I don't remember the owner's name), and today, Schneider Geza resides in that house. Commercial and craft youth held their dances and events at Sele Nićin's tavern. The "Vojvodina" tavern belonged to the highest echelon of Novi Bečej society. It was frequented by educators, officials, Jews, and the wealthiest merchants. There were few students at that time, mostly from wealthy families, so "Vojvodina" was accessible to them. Older, wealthy merchants, lawyers, doctors, and Jews had their meeting place in "Kasina," which was located where the Pensioners' Home is today. "Kasina" was more like a club, or a closed-type tavern.

Music education, at that time, was a necessity for a certain segment of young people who sought cheaper entertainment than what professional musicians provided in taverns. Every society sought to keep its membership in continuous activity and engagement, so, in addition to its main goal, it organized the social life of its members. Societies aimed to provide certain privileges to their members, which could be achieved, among other things, by having their own orchestra, for example. Members would pay minimal ticket prices for events where their orchestra performed, regardless of whether the event took place in a tavern. The tavern owner would make enough income from the "consumed" drinks of the event attendees. The money from tickets usually went towards paying for the music, or in the case of performances by professional entertainers, covering their expenses and fees.

Considerable effort was invested in organizing amateur ensembles such as tamburitza orchestras, singing choirs, or groups of singers, amateur theater groups, and more. It was a very demanding task at that time. Participants in these amateur groups had no privileges with their employers, not even during public performances, let alone during rehearsals and practice. It was all an exclusive contribution of individuals - participants in a specific amateur group - to the cultural and entertainment life of their community or society as an organization.

One can only imagine the sacrifices made by the leaders of these groups: directors, choir conductors, orchestra leaders, and others. Their efforts were immeasurable by today's standards. It is not offensive to claim that nowadays, it's rare to find such enthusiasts willing to take on these roles in much more favorable conditions if they know it won't be compensated in any way, be it through suitable workplace benefits, monthly fees, or at least tours that would allow them to experience for free what they would otherwise have to pay for from their family budget.

These enthusiasts, the leaders of certain amateur groups, deserve recognition for their tirelessness and humanity, especially considering the very difficult conditions at that time. Their role in the development of cultural and entertainment life in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo should be emphasized to ensure their merits and they themselves are not forgotten, even though the veil of time has already erased their figures for most contemporaries, and younger generations may not have heard of their names, let alone their deeds and contributions.

I make an attempt, even in this modest way in these notes, to acknowledge their dedication and humanity. My memories are far from realistic assessments of their merits; they are much greater for the development of cultural life and culture in general in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo.

I specifically emphasize that I do not list them here in order of their contributions, as I do not feel capable of doing so even today, especially not based on my memories from the time when I was thirteen or fourteen years old. Similarly, the space I dedicate to individual great contributors in these notes is not related to their position in that life, but rather depends on my memories of their contributions, which is not a measure of to whom any particular credit belongs. Each contributed in their own way to Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. Besides those mentioned, there are probably others who made a similar, perhaps even greater, contribution, without being mentioned. It should also be added that success did not always depend solely on the effort and expertise of the respective group leader and organizer; the conditions for the development of certain activities were also significant and varied. Novi Bečej, and especially Vranjevo, had a rich tradition in theatrical arts. In 1830, a amateur group was founded in Novi Bečej, led by Antonije Brežovski, which lasted for 18 years, contrary to all previous and subsequent groups whose existence was barely one, at most two years. Women also performed in this Novi Bečej group, which was a rare occurrence until then and was considered a great courage in the conditions of patriarchal morality.

Jovan Knežević - Caca founded the first Serbian professional theater in Vranjevo in 1860, from which the Serbian National Theater in Novi Sad was formed in 1861. In the first generation of actors at the Serbian National Theater in Novi Sad, nearly half of the entire ensemble consisted of sons, daughters, and sons-in-law of Pop-Luka Popović from Vranjevo.

Stevan Čekić from Vranjevo established the second theater troupe in Vojvodina in Novi Bečej, which was simultaneously the first to tour major cities in Serbia. Laza Popović's theater, the son of Pop-Luka from Vranjevo, is the third theater troupe among Serbs in general. It toured Vojvodina and Serbia, as well as Croatia, Slavonia, Dalmatia, and Montenegro, visiting places and regions where no theater had performed before.

Laza Popović became the first director of the newly established National Theater in Belgrade in 1868. Jefta Žikić had his theater troupe that toured major places in Vojvodina and Serbia. In 1905, a city theater in Šabac was formed from his troupe, and he became its first manager.

Of the first four singers in the Belgrade opera from among Serbs, three were from Novi Bečej and Vranjevo: Teodora Boberić-Arsenović, Vojislav Turinski, and Aleksandar Nešić-Tucaković. After World War I, the first director of the Belgrade opera was Vojislav Turinski from Novi Bečej. He also organized the first children's theater in Belgrade.

Bogdan Čiplić, a fellow citizen and at the time the manager of the Serbian National Theater, was one of the main actors in the founding of the opera in Novi Sad. From the Popović family of priests in Vranjevo, more than twenty prominent actors in the Serbian National Theater in Novi Sad and the National Theater in Belgrade emerged, a case unmatched to this day.

Even today, there are highly distinguished actors born or originating from Novi Bečej in Belgrade theaters: Slavko and Nikola Simić, Vlasta Velisavljević, and others. Joca Savić from Novi Bečej achieved the greatest success in renowned foreign theaters.

There is a long list of Novi Bečej residents who have achieved success on Serbian stages and brought fame to Novi Bečej. Success on stage and travels to major places in Vojvodina and Serbia attracted young residents of Novi Bečej to try their hand in the profession.

Many first tested their talents in amateur groups in Vranjevo, hence the great interest of the youth in working with these groups. Thus, a tradition was created, enriched and maintained with each new name and success until World War II. Talents were born and developed. Some became famous actors in Belgrade theaters, while many, perhaps no less gifted, such as Arsen Pecarski, Sosa Veselinov, Boža Dujin, Bata Ćurčić, Anda Dujin, Marjan Jovanović, and others, remained in Vranjevo for family reasons, enchanting their fellow citizens with their talent and skill.

That source has not completely dried up. It still boils today, in smaller numerical proportions but maintains the quality level of its celebrated Novobečej ancestors. Many temporary groups in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo practiced theatrical art among both Serbian and Hungarian populations. This was understandable given that, at that time, there could be no public events or, as they called them, festivities, without serious theatrical plays.

One thing that I believe should not fall into oblivion is the work of the Amateur Youth "Napredak" in Vranjevo, which, in addition to theatrical art, also nurtured a love for books and had its modest library. "Napredak" presented three to four plays annually, always at a dignified level. In addition to plays from rural life, which were always attractive to the farming population, the repertoire was complemented with plays from contemporary life, especially works by Nušić. Almost all of Nušić's theatrical plays were presented by the youth of "Napredak."

The Amateur Youth "Napredak" existed until World War II. The credit for its existence between the two wars primarily belongs to tradition, but without an organizer and director like Arsen Pecarski, the tradition alone during the period of the Great Depression and beyond would not have been strong enough to withstand all those trials.

Uncle Arsen Pecarski was an enthusiast to the point of fanaticism. During his time, being a supporter of theatrical art was not unusual, but being such a supporter, as a director, not for two or three years but for a whole twenty years, only resilient people could do that, and Uncle Arsen was exactly that. Besides a tavern with a particularly good reputation, likely due to both the drinks and the music played every week and on holidays—of such quality that only Arsen could provide—he also had land and a vineyard. His family was above average in size - he had five children. He educated all of them, which was not easy because education represented a significant expense, requiring a lot of effort to secure suitable income. Arsen Pecarski, amidst all his work, managed to set aside time—instead of resting—for preparing theatrical plays.

Some individuals were inclined to see Arsen's involvement in the "Napredak" amateur youth as a way of "killing two birds with one stone," meaning that, as a tavern owner, he secured suitable business for his establishment through "Napredak" performances. Such views are incorrect and perhaps malicious, as the society in Novi Bečej and Vranjevo at that time was highly differentiated, and it was known which social class had access to specific taverns. In Vranjevo, as mentioned earlier, there were two taverns similar to Arsen's, where social gatherings took place: Nove Trbića, for the economically disadvantaged rural youth, and Arsen Pecarski's for the youth of Vranjevo's middle class and wealthy individuals. Regardless of the level of the performance, Arsen would have a full tavern on Christmas, Easter, and New Year's Eve. The level of theatrical performances that Uncle Arsen, with significant personal sacrifices, provided did not affect the number of visitors who would stay after the performance for the dance. This does not imply that there were no theater enthusiasts who came to Arsen's for the theater performance itself, rather than the tavern, as they did not attend for the sake of the performance. This was a stimulus for Arsen Pecarski to satisfy the theatrical "connoisseurs" of Novi Bečej and Vranjevo. The material aspect could not have been a motive because, in those conditions, it was impossible to achieve that.

Attendance, as previously mentioned, was ensured by the excellent music of the then-unequaled Krompa. Uncle Arsen was simply a great lover of theatrical art, striving to set aside time in his busy schedule and even making material sacrifices for his love. Several times a year, he went to Belgrade to attend specific theatrical performances, carefully observing scenery, makeup, costumes, movements, and everything else necessary for directing such a play in Vranjevo's conditions. In other words, he went to the theater in Belgrade with a specific plan, not just when the opportunity arose.

For Arsen, visits to professional performances were, as a rule, besides relaxation and recreation, at the same time a school for acquiring the necessary knowledge for directing the play in Vranjevo. Today, it is challenging to describe the effort and exertion Uncle Arsen invested in providing the necessary cast for even the most complex theatrical plays. Fortunately for him, thanks to tradition, there were always talented individuals who played the lead roles. For all other roles, not always minor ones, actors had to be chosen from among the semi-literate rural youth. There were many such roles because, for the audience of that time, plays with a large number of actors were attractive.

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