In Serbia’s remote east, ‘gold rivers’ offer hope

By Jovan Matic, AFP

DEBELI LUG, Serbia–Since ancient times the ��gold rivers�� of a rural corner of eastern Serbia have drawn prospectors hoping to strike it rich by teasing the precious metal from the area’s waterways. The mountainous, heavily forested region today is poor and depopulated, but a tiny community of panners still eke out a living by coaxing gold flakes �X and the occasional nugget �X from the brisk waters flowing to the Danube River. ��Gold, it’s all around here and very good quality at 22 karats,�� said prospector Nebojsa Trailovic, 59, smiling broadly as he showed off some yellow flecks he had just panned from the Todorova Reka river. ��But it takes lots of work, seven or eight hours per day, your hands in cold water, to extract between 10 and 12 euros (US$12 to US$15), about a half gram,�� said Trailovic.

Like an aging hippie with his white beard, straw hat and denim vest with patchwork pockets, Trailovic takes time to choose the ��perfect spot�� to start sifting and panning.

The life is solitary, the terrain rugged but local legend says the land holds magical powers �X along with the lure of gold. Some locals are now hoping to ��sell�� this whole experience to outsiders to bring much-needed income to the remote pocket. ��The goal is to promote gold panning and attract tourists who would try to search for gold,�� said Zivorad Jakobovic, a prospector from the town of Kucevo. ‘Has potential’ He founded tourist organization Zlatno Runo (Golden Fleece) in April, which aims to promote gold panning for visitors. ��The idea is on a very good track and has potential,�� said Sandra Vlatkovic, spokeswoman for the national tourism office. For Trailovic, the initiative is not totally farfetched because foreigners already come from Sweden, Hungary and throughout Europe to spend the summer here searching for gold. The area is also rich in minerals including zinc and notably copper.