The turnout figures for the Serbian elections suggest Exit Festival’s "Get Out To Vote" campaign may well have had some effect on a poll that many Serbs believed to be a referendum on the country’s European future.
Exit started it after the festival organisers analysed the figures for the first round of the presidential election on January 20 and found that a high percentage of young people didn’t bother to vote.
The result had the Radical Party’s Tomislav Nikolic heading a field of nine candidates with 40 percent of the votes. The Democratic Party’s Boris Tadic, who has been president for the last four years, trailed in at second, with 35.4 percent.
Although Nikolic had clearly won, he didn’t have the 50 percent needed to claim outright victory and so he and Tadic faced a run-off on February 3.
The omens looked good for Nikolic, who’d lost the 2004 presidential election in a run-off against Tadic, which was a worry to Serbs who believe the best way forward is for the country to step up its bid to join the European Union.
Neither side agrees with Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and neither do many Serbs, judging by the way an estimated 300,000 turned up to the torching of the American Embassy in Belgrade.
The January 20 election saw 61 percent of the people vote, although the turnout was noticeably higher in Exit’s home city of Novi Sad, where the festival has previously mounted get-out-the-vote campaigns, at 67 percent.
The campaign leading up to the 2008 election covered three major Serbian cities: Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis. On the Sunday evening after the vote, big parties were held in all three and entrance was permitted only to those whose finger shone under a light. Serbian law requires every voter to be marked on the finger with a special spray, which prevents anyone from voting twice.
When that day’s vote was counted, Tadic had squeaked in with 50.5 percent against the 47.9 that Nikolic polled. The 66 percent turnout was the highest since Serbia dumped Miloševic in 2000. In the Novi Sad area the turnout was a little more than 70 percent.
“We wanted to show people that they can influence their own futures by using their votes,” Exit press chief Rajko Božic told Pollstar, while insisting the festival makes no effort to influence how people vote.
As far as the current party political setup in Serbia is concerned, it’s not hard to determine where Exit’s allegiances lie. The event began as Zero Exit Noise Summer Fest in 2000 to mark the fact that Serbia’s first democratic elections would see Miloševic make his exit from politics and the country would finally exit from a decade of war and repression. That year the festival ran a similar campaign urging people to use their democratic rights.
In 2004, then-newly-elected Prime Minister Tadic showed up at the 50,000-capacity Petrovaradin Fortress site on the opening day of Exit and made it clear how much he supports it.
Last year, a poll carried out by the U.K.’s Virtualfestivals.com resulted in Exit being voted best European festival.
This year’s event is scheduled for July 10-13. The acts already announced include The Sex Pistols, Paul Weller and Nightwish.