The First World War has left long-lasting scars not only in people’s destinies and hearts, but also in a large territory of present-day Latvia and Lithuania, where the so-called fronts were located for several years, including the “Life and Death” line. A complex system of fortifications with ditches, trenches and bunkers was built on both sides of the front line. Thousands of soldiers fought and died in fierce battles here, which is evidenced by the countless burials of fallen soldiers. Many concrete bunkers, impressive cannon and ammunition storages, and endless twists and turns of trenches built by German soldiers have survived to this day in the forests of Demene, Svente and Medumi Parishes of Daugavpils District.
The beginnings of the project can be traced back to the Medumi Elementary School and the local collectors who have created small private collections in Medumi, which even large museums could be proud of. Taking into account a rich historical heritage, history teacher Miropija Petkune has been delivering history lessons for a long time. Classes are held not in the school premises as usual but at the bunkers and trenches left by the war. In 2015, the staff of the Augsdaugava District Tourism, Recreation and Culture Institution “TAKA” created new tourist route “Around the bunkers of the First World War”. The route invites travellers to visit bunkers, trenches and some private collections, as well as includes a lunch in a field kitchen. A similar route was also created by the staff of Zarasai TIC in Lithuania. In 2019, a joint idea arose to write a project that would allow the given activities to be presented at a different and much higher level, as well as provide an economic contribution to both regions. Representatives of the Augsdaugava District Jana Kezika and Rolands Gradkovskis and representatives of Zarasai District Ramunas Kersys and Nijole Elena Sukstuliene actively worked on the following project.
As of January 25, 2021, the Council of Augsdaugava District as a leading partner together with Zarasai District Tourism and Business Information Centre started the implementation of the joint project which was called “Creation of the tourist route and exposition devoted to the heritage of the First World War with the aim of attracting visitors to the border area”. The aim of the project is to increase the number of visitors to the border regions of Lithuania and Latvia whilst using the heritage of the First World War that is located in Augsdaugava and Zarasai Districts.
The German Army built a unique system of fortification during the First World War that has been preserved for more than a hundred years and are interesting for tourists nowadays.
Many activities have been done within 2 years as a result of the implementation of the project. For example, two exhibitions of the First World War in Turmantas (Lithuania) and Medumi (Latvia) were opened, the infrastructure was made clean and an international tourist route was created.
The historical heritage of the First World War can also be found on the tourist route that contains several military objects on the territory of Latvia and Lithuania which have been preserved in a relatively good condition on both sides of the border. As part of the project, these objects were cleaned up, the road signs and information boards were installed. Since the objects are quite far from each other, 20 bicycles are offered for the convenience of visitors who want to explore this route, as well as 10 e-bikes that are suitable for people with different levels of physical activity.
The goal of the Interreg V-A Latvia-Lithuania cross-border cooperation program is to promote the sustainable socio-economic development of the regions, helping to make them more competitive and attractive for living, doing business and tourism. As a result, local residents and entrepreneurs will benefit from the increase in tourist flows. Moreover, training for tourist guides is planned to be organised which will provide new job opportunities for local residents. On the other hand, entrepreneurs who are involved in work with visitors will be able to publish information about their services for free on the project website and leaflets.
The total financing of the project is EUR 731,449.50, incl. 85% ERAF financing – EUR 621,732.07; funding of the Augsdaugava District Council EUR 385,179.50, incl. 85% ERAF financing – EUR 327,402.57. The project is being implemented within 2 years (25.01.2021 – 24.01.2023).