With the Milosevic regime consigned to history's dustbin, Serbia's internationally-known music festival finds relevance in a new era.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Novi Sad -- 30/06/11
Exit festival founder Dushan Kovacevic. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
When the first Exit festival took place in 2000, organiser Dushan Kovacevic was a 22-year-old electrical engineering student and member of the anti-Milosevic group Оtpor. He longed to see world-class musical events come to Serbia, and to have the opportunity to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds.
Although he did not know much about organisational management, he did not let that stop him. Supported by two of his best friends -- who were also comrades in the struggle against the Milosevic regime and against the turbo-folk music that was representative of the era -- Kovacevic established Exit and succeeded in persuading CNN and the BBC to present a different view of Serbia.
SETimes: What happened in Novi Sad in 2000 leading to Exit? Were you aware that the 100-day opposition to Slobodan Milosevic would become one of Serbia's most important international brands?
Dushan Kovacevic: Concerts, parties, theatre pieces, movies, public discussions, artistic performances all took place and presented Serbian youth with a different cultural model than the one promoted by the then ruling regime.
Immediately after the democratic changes of October 5th that year, I realised that the future -- when it comes to festivals -- lies in the development of a large international music festival. I had experienced the large European festivals and realised it was the way to go.
SETimes: A slogan at the first Exit, "Serbia, are you ready for the future?" may be understood as an appeal to the new political leaders. Were they ready to support Exit?
Kovacevic: In the struggle for democratic change, we were in the same trench with majority politicians who later assumed power; they were among the first who provided support. A few years later, when they became different and opposing political options on the local, provincial and national level, their support for Exit was one of the rare things that connected them.
SETimes: Were foreign performers, contractors and visitors afraid in Serbia early on?
Kovacevic: Yes, it was the only problem then. Performers and audiences were not sure whether they would be safe. The first few festivals, however, burst their dilemma. Serbia was isolated for ten years, but our advantage was the awareness that a normal life is exactly what we were missing. This is why Exit after October 5th simply had to happen, the energy was so phenomenal -- similar to the energy of the 1960s hippie movement in America. The audience wanted to consume everything, immediately.
SETimes: And the audience?
Kovacevic: The first visitors were our neighbours from Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia. This fact indicates that there would be no wars if it were up to us. Over time, visitors started coming together with the performers from throughout the world -- the UK, Scandinavia, Canada. Thanks to all these great people, Exit has become the only festival in the world whose only -- and central -- means of advertising is its audience.
SETimes: Exit is very popular internationally, contributing to Serbia's image in the world. What are Exit's local benefits and its greatest contribution?
Kovacevic: Exit does not cease to carry cultural significance, primarily in terms of defence from [Idol-like music competition] Grand un-culture and similar creations. Certainly, this will be Exit's main feature in the coming years. But the fact that Exit contributes to our society through tourism can allow us to say the cultural and tourism aspects are now equal.
SETimes: Is Exit worthwhile from an economic and marketing point of view?
Kovacevic: Over 30,000 foreigners visit Exit; they spend over the 10m euros per year. The marketing value of improving our country's image is several times higher. Also, the potential to expand tourism and improve Serbia's image through Exit are even bigger, and we intend to use that potential in the coming period.