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Police Ban Serbia-Kosovo Cultural Reconciliation Festival in Belgrade

police ban serbia kosovo cultural reconciliation festival in belgrade

Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic ordered the ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ festival to be banned on security grounds, while journalists and some organisers trying to reach the festival from Kosovo were halted on the road by police.

Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs on Thursday ordered the ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ cultural exchange festival to be banned on security grounds, just hours before its planned opening in the evening.

“The Ministry of Internal Affairs issued an order to stop the public gathering ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’, due to the danger of people’s safety and property being put at risk, as well as the danger of the disruption of public order and peace on a larger scale,” Interior Minister Ivica Dacic said in a statement, public broadcaster RTS reported.

He added that no other gatherings will be allowed in the area in central Belgrade around the festival, which is intended to promote Serbia-Kosovo cultural exchange help foster lasting peace and the normalisation of relations between the two countries’ peoples.

Serbian media reported that on Thursday afternoon in front of Dorcol Platz, where the festival was due to be held, a group of around 50 young men gathered, preventing entry to the area and waving Serbian flags.

The youth wing of the opposition New Democratic Party of Serbia (New DSS) staged the protest, demanding that the festival be banned for security reasons and claiming that it is unconstitutional, N1 TV’s website reported.

“The first [reason that the youth activists gathered] is to welcome fellow citizens from Kosovo and Metohija to our capital. And the second is to express our regret that this festival is presented as an exchange of Kosovo’s and Serbian culture, which is unconstitutional,” said Stefan Seratlic, president of Youth of New DSS.

A group of young men attempted to prevent the ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ festival from taking place in Belgrade on Friday. Photo: N1
A group of young men attempted to prevent the ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ festival from taking place in Belgrade on Friday. Photo: N1

Serbian police stopped some of the organisers of the festival from Kosovo and teams of journalists, including a BIRN crew from Kosovo, from reaching the festival by road.

Police stopped them 25 kilometres from Belgrade, citing orders “not to allow [them] to continue further”. After being held up for an hour, the organisers and journalists returned to Kosovo.

The Serbian police had accompanied the team from Kosovo from the Merdare border point after they entered Serbia.

Taking its name from the Albanian and Serbian words for ‘hello’, ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ was founded in 2014 by the Youth Initiative for Human Rights, the Civic Initiative from Belgrade and the Pristina NGO Integra with the aim of promoting cultural exchange and creating “a tradition of collaboration” that would contribute to a permanent peace and the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

Since its first edition a decade ago, ‘Miredita, Dobar Dan!’ cultural festival, which brings together artists, rights activists and opinion makers from Kosovo and Serbia, has attracted its fair share of attention from the Serbian right-wing, but authorities in Belgrade have largely let it pass without comment. But this year’s festival was marked by strong criticism from Serbian officials.

Interior Minister Dacic earlier in June called for the festival’s cancellation, while Belgrade Mayor Aleksandar Sapic said it would not be allowed to use any public space. Sapic accused the festival of “falsifying and changing history through the promotion of so-called Kosovo cultural heritage, disregarding the fact that it is Serbian”.

Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia’s deputy prime minister and former intelligence chief, said in the run-up to the festival that “if the state does not respond, citizens will be given the space to say what they think about such an abomination.”

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