The annual event in Novi Sad breaks down ethnic barriers and promotes regional and European integration.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Novi Sad -- 26/07/13
Australian songwriter Nick Cave performs on the Exit Festival's main stage. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
Thirteen years ago, a grassroots gathering at Novi Sad's Petrovaradin Fortress gave thousands of voices and faces to the desire for change in Serbia.
In the summer of 2000, a series of concerts, artistic performances and public discussions took place at Petrovaradin, all with the aim of opposing the ruling regime of Slobodan Milosovic and achieving democracy in the country and peace in the region.
Each summer, young people from around the world have returned to Petrovaradin for what is now known as the Exit Festival. Over the years it has grown into one of Serbia's most important international brands and one of the world's top music events.
Exit 2013, held July 10th-15th, included 350 artists on 20 stages and attracted more than 200,000 visitors from 60 countries and six continents who had the chance to break down ethnic barriers. Festival organisers said the event drew about 5,000 citizens of other Balkan nations, almost double the number that attended in 2012.
"The Exit is the first event which, after the wars and isolation of the 1990s, gathered at one place in 2001 young people from all countries from the region that were in conflict during that past decade. It became a symbol for connecting youth in the region and a model for similar events that came after in Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro," Dusan Kovacevic, founder and chief executive officer of Exit Festival, told SETimes.
Kovacevic added that since the festival's beginnings, it has attracted citizens from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia. Visitors from those countries came again this year and stayed in the Exit Village, a tent camp area near Petrovaradin that is home to visitors from around the world during the festival.
Nikola Skoric, a nuclear engineer from Zagreb, attended the festival for the first time this year and stayed in the Exit Village. He said he sees the festival as something that opens borders between countries and brings new generations together.
"Those who were leading the wars are at home. This is no place for them and they do not want to be here, but we, representatives of new generations, are together and symbolically represent the new joint future. Croatia needs such a festival in order to bring Serbs there since they are still staying away from Croatia while we are here and more than welcome," Skoric told SETimes.
Skoric's neighbour in the village was Stefan Rankovic, a psychology student from Bjeljina, BiH.
Rankovic told SETimes that the Exit Festival is a pillar of reconciliation since it provides youth from the whole region with the chance to gather without thinking of nationality or past conflicts.
Nikola Skoric of Zagreb attended the festival for the first time and stayed in the Exit Village. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
"This means a lot for our future since we have to co-operate, and I believe that the fact that the youth from the whole [of the] Balkans is here is going to improve relations among Balkan countries on a general level because our reunion is the signal that we are ready to go forward together without looking behind and thinking about the past," Rankovic said.
Zoran Stajic, a music professor at Novi Sad gymnasium Zivorad Jankovic, said the Exit Festival contributes to regional reconciliation by giving visitors a larger view of their affiliation to the European family and universal principles, which do not include differences based on nationality.
"In order to expand horizons of a young man and his acceptance of the values and culture of other nations, first and foremost, the interaction and co-existence between different approaches to art and culture must be transparent and accessible. This was not possible in sealing areas in southeast Europe, especially in the former republics of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. ... Exit, then, has entered on the scene and brought together the music and socialisation of young people," Stajic told SETimes.
Kovacevic said the festival will continue working on regional and European integration.
"Exit doesn't only gather and connect young people from the region, it gathers together the most significant manifestations and tourist destinations in the region, in order to promote [southeast Europe] as the most attractive region for young people all over the world. With this aim, the Exit organises a youth fair where undiscovered attractions of the region like festivals, clubs, centres for extreme sports, tourist organisations and agencies as well as NGOs that work on regional integration of youth in the west Balkan have been presented," Kovacevic added.
The Exit youth fair was held two days before the start of the festival in Novi Sad. Exit also organised a conference for branding experts, which focused on the importance of creating regional brands and strong public images of Balkan countries.
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