“Mirëdita, Dobar dan!” festival opens today

Festival “Mirëdita, Dobar dan!”, which is organized by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Serbia for the past five years, opens in Belgrade tonight. The contemporary cultural scene of Kosovo will be presented to the Belgrade audience through theater performance, debate, film, music and photo exhibition. According to the organizers, the purpose of the festival is to initiate the cooperation between the Serb and Kosovo cultural communities through meetings, and thus contribute to the normalization of the relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Festival coordinator Sofija Todorović said in her piece published on Peščanik that the goal of the festival was to “demystify Kosovo”, and not to treat it as “mythical country”, but as a real place. “Culture and art overcome the boundaries based on hatred and mutual ignorance the easiest,” she added.

The “Mirëdita, Dobar dan!” festival, which will last until June 2, is, same as in the past years, exposed to attacks, and has triggered harsh protests by some groups and parties in Serbia.

Serbian Radical Party (SRS) MP Miljan Damjanović last week has said that “officials, members and sympathizers of the Radicals will prevent the political, anti-state and anti-constitutional festival on May 30th.” He has also said that the Serbian government should ban not only this festival, but also the activities of all non-governmental organizations “financed from the countries of Western Europe”.

Festival’s organizers saw his statement as a threat and a call to violence and called on the responsible institutions to react.

“This nationalistic rampage continues, primarily because of the lack of a timely response by competent institutions to threats and hate speech, as well as the fact that Vojislav Šešelj continues to sit in the National Assembly, although as a convicted war criminal under the Law on the Election of Deputies, he can not continue his mandate,” the Initiative said in a statement.

Serbian Movement Dveri, the youth of the Democratic Party of Serbia and the organization Srpski Zavetnici are also opposing the festival. According to the portal Telegraf, representatives of Zavetnici announced that as a sign of protests they will organize the collection signatures against the “pro-Western” NGO sector in front of the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade,

Although the Ministry of Interior of Serbia has banned protest rallies during the Festival, Miljan Damjanović of the SRS announced that his party would still hold the protest.

The impression of many sociologists and representatives of non-governmental organizations are that extremism in Serbia and the region is strengthening, and that the activities on the right are not negligible.

Last week, the RECOM Project Coordinator Nataša Kandić has spoke on “worrying strengthening of extremism in Serbia and in the region” during a press conference on the need to establish RECOM (Regional Commission for establishing facts about war crimes and other serious violations of human rights committed in the territory of the former SFRY from 1 January 1991 to December 31, 2001).

Supporting this is also the fact that last year was announced that the “Mirëdita, Dobar dan!” festival will be attended by the former President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga. This has caused the protests of the Zavetnici and representatives of the Association of Kidnapped and Killed Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, which has prompted Jahjaga’s arrival to the festival to be canceled.

On the occasion of this year’s announced protest, playwright and civic activist Borka Pavićević stated to Radio Free Europe that similar problems have been happening for years and that in actions preventing such manifestations, the political parties have taken promacy over from the right-wing organizations, but that in essence “there is not a big difference between them” .

The Youth Initiative for Human Rights has announced that the festival will be held despite threats from parliamentary parties and that “political elites, police and prosecutors must no longer be silent and ignore the open threats of violence, but immediately react and stand in defense of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and protect people’s security”.

The inspiration of the festival “Mirëdita, Dobar dan!” is the personality and artistic creativity of the  actor Bekim Fehmiu, and the organizers say that the goal of the festival is to encourage regional cooperation and that it contributes to peace building efforts.