Serbian government bans cultural festival “Mirëdita, Dobar Dan!”

The ban on the Serbian-Kosovan festival “Mirëdita, Dobar Dan!” is a serious setback for the efforts to promote dialog and mutual understanding in the region, forumZFD comments.

Yesterday, just a few hours before the planned start, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Serbia banned the festival “Mirëdita, Dobar Dan!” (Albanian and Serbian for “Good day”) in Belgrade. A written order was issued banning all planned activities with immediate effect. The reason given was security concerns, as right-wing groups and hooligans were protesting against the festival.

“The ban is a serious setback for the efforts to promote dialog and mutual understanding between Serbian and Kosovar societies,” comments Alexander Mauz, Chairman of the Executive Board of Forum Civil Peace Service (forumZFD). “Such events must be possible in a democratic society.” forumZFD and the Aachen Peace Prize Association – this year’s awardee is YIHR, one of the festival’s organizers – urged the Serbian government to allow the festival to take place and to protect it from attacks.

The two-day cultural festival “Mirëdita, Dobar Dan!”, which has been taking place alternately in Serbia and Kosovo since 2014, is organized by the non-governmental organization “Integra” from Pristina and the “Youth Initiative for Human Rights” (YIHR). YIHR is a long-standing partner of forumZFD and has been promoting understanding and reconciliation in the Western Balkans for over 20 years. Through exchange programs for young people from Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Bosnia & Herzegovina, it helps to overcome hostility and prejudices. In particular, the YIHR works in the field of dealing with the past, especially on the Balkan wars – still a controversial topic in the region today, where revisionism and nationalism are widespread. For its many years of commitment, the YIHR will be awarded this year’s Aachen Peace Prize on September 1, 2024.

The organizers protested strongly against the ban on the cultural festival: “With this order, the MUP [editor’s note: Ministry of Internal Affairs] violated the Constitution of Serbia, specifically freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” Integra and YIHR criticized in a written statement. They reported that even high-ranking members of the Serbian government had already stirred up hatred in advance of the festival through public statements. In the past few days, neo-Nazi groups and hooligans gathered in the square in front of the event location, protesting against the festival and blocking access to the site. A bomb threat was sent to the organizers and threats of hate and violence circulated online.

Despite these clear threats, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has not taken sufficient measures to protect the festival, criticized Integra and YIHR. The state sided with the right-wing groups and hooligans instead of defending democratic rights: “The fundamental duty of the state is to ensure the freedoms and rights guaranteed by law, and to appropriately sanction those who infringe upon or organize against these freedoms and rights of citizens.” However, participants who were traveling by bus were prevented from continuing their journey by Serbian police on the way.

“The ban on the festival and the statements made by members of the Serbian government against the event undermine efforts to achieve peace and normalize relations with Kosovo,” emphasizes Alexander Mauz, Chairman of forumZFD’s Executive Board. “Dealing with the past and reconciliation between the countries of the Western Balkans are a crucial step on the path towards the European Union. Civil society initiatives such as Integra and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights make an important contribution to this and should be supported, not hindered in their work.”

The Aachen Peace Prize was also appalled by the ban. Press spokesperson Lea Heuser explains: “Young people did not experience the war of the 1990s. In everyday life, they are constantly confronted with heroic stories about their own people and hatred against the ‘others’. Providing safe spaces is essential to allow encounters and getting to know one another. The festival, which has now been canceled for alleged security reasons, would have been such a space for meetings and dialogue.”

The organizers of the festival have announced that they will appeal against the ban. Despite all that has happened, they will not be discouraged: The message of reconciliation and the urgent need to create space for communication between the two societies for peace-building is now more crucial than ever, they stated. We will not cease our efforts to continue expanding the space for cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo.