Exit Builds More Bridges

Bojan Boskovic and Ivan Milivojev were no doubt pleased to see the 850-word spread the online BBC World News service spent on Serbia’s Exit Festival, confirming the event they helped start as students in 2001 is rapidly gaining international recognition.

Along with friends from the Novi Sad Student Union, they got some government backing to build an event that would be a musical celebration for Serbian youngsters. It also became a celebration of the end of Slobodan Milosevic’s bid to be dictator of all the old Yugoslavia.

In 2001, local bands played a festival that went on for weeks, but Exit has since developed into a four-day event that attracts international talent and a total crowd of more than 150,000 to the ancient and historical fort that overlooks the River Danube as it passes through the city center.

The fort was built on the edge of the Petrovaradin forest by the Austro-Hungarian Empire more than 250 years ago, one of nine dotted along the river in a bid to keep out the Turks and other invaders from the south.

Before that, it’s believed to have been the site of a 14th century Celtic abbey and – going back more than 2,000 years – may once have been the site of a Roman fort.

A stark reminder of more recent history is the fact the battlements overlook the Varadin, Sloboda and Zezelj bridges, which NATO bombed to destruction in the spring of 1999.

The debris blocked the river as a trade route, much to the annoyance of countries like Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary, which relied on the Danube as an important transport artery between the Baltic and Black Seas.

It also cut Novi Sad’s water supply for two years as the Petrovaradin bridge, which has since been rebuilt and links the festival site to the city, also carried the pipe through which it flowed.

“I don’t know why they did it because they were hardly Milosevic supporters in Novi Sad,” said Dragan Ambrozic, who has booked the festival’s international acts since 2003.

Working with Nick Hobbs from Charmenko, he produced a 2006 lineup July 6-9 that included Morrissey, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, The Cardigans, Billy Idol, The Cult, Pet Shop Boys, HIM, and Suzanne Vega.

There were 600 performances across Exit’s 26 stages with music ranging across the entire genre spectrum.

Further proof of the event’s widening international reputation is that more than 10 percent of the four-day tickets were bought outside of Serbia, primarily in the U.K., adding up to sales of about 5,000.

Boskovic, Milivojev, Ambrozic, the organising team and the fans see the event as the former Yugoslavia’s only “state” whose borders are not drawn in blood.

While the original Exit was conceived as a challenge to Milosevic’s authority, the modern festival aims to address the unhappy legacy of the wars associated with his leadership.

This year’s festival was the first since Milosevic died in March this year, while in prison in The Hague awaiting trial for war crimes.

The trial of one of his cohorts, Radical party leader Vojislav Seselj, has just opened in the same city.

– John Gammon