Friday, October 7, 2011

Bosnia funding problems ends popular urban music festival Demofest

Organizers of one of the region’s biggest musical events have confirmed that this year’s festival was the last, citing lack of money and support from the authorities.
Bosnia’s music production industry says urban culture has suffered a terrific blow after the organizers of Demofest, the former Yugoslavia’s biggest music festival for demo bands, revealed that weak financial support has forced them to close shop.
Over four years Demofest hosted some of the biggest stars on the alternative music scene, such as Tricky, Fun Lovin Criminals, Asian Dub Foundation, Kosheen and Stereo Mc, as well as former Yugoslav musicians such as Kiril Dzajkovski, Partibrejkers, Rambo Amadeus, Hladno Pivo, Marcelo.
Approximately 150,000 visitors attended the four festivals, giving over 1,500 demo bands from all the former Yugoslav states a chance to shine on the bitg stage.
The organisers of the last Demofest, which was held from July 21-24  in Banja Luka’s Kastel fortress, say sponsors this year came up with half of the 200,000 euros they needed to stage the event.
They say they tried to commercialize the festival this year by charging an entrance fee of 5 euros per person. In previous years entrance was free. But the new fee wasn’t enough to make up the shortfall.
“Everyone called Demofest a great project and liked it, and every year they promised to find the funds for the festival - but it was all just promises,” Brankica Jankovic, director and founder of the Demofest, told Balkan Insight.
The only consistent institutional support for the festival came from the city of Banja Luka, which provided 30,000 euros for the first two years and 15,000 for the last two. It also offered free use of the Kastel fortress as a venue.
But Jankovic said the Education and Culture Ministry of the Republika Srpska, the predominantly Serb populated entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, had rejected Demofest’s application this year for the contest in which it allocates funds for cultural projects.
“The day before this year’s festival started, the ministry phoned and said countless journalists had called to ask why the ministry wasn’t funding Demofest, so they’d decided to give us 10,000 euros,” Jankovic recalled.
She said they had turned down the last-minute offer as insufficient.
The ministry blamed budget cuts in culture on the global financial crisis, which had affected Bosnia, and said support for other cultural projects had also been rejected.
Officials noted that in its first two years the ministry had backed Demofest to the tune of 30,000 euro annually, adding that this year they offered 10,000, which, they said, the organizers decided not to accept.
This year’s total budget for cultural institutions in the Republika Srpska is 5 million euros. Programmes in the independent sector received 210,000 euros while programmes in state institutions obtained 200,000. The rest goes on salaries of the employees.
Demofest received no support at state level from Bosnia’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Festival organisers say the ministry did not reply to their application for funds.
Zorica Rulj, Ministry of Civil Affairs spokesperson, told Balkan Insight that Demofest didn’t get any funding from them because the Bosnian state still hadn’t adopted a budget for 2011.
This was because the country still has no state government, following one year of political stalemate since the last general election.
“The government has only a technical mandate and no funds can be given out until a new government is formed,” Rulj added.
Tourist organizations in the Republika Srpska say they filled all accommodation in the city during the festival and owing to the lack of hotel space many visitors rented rooms in private flats.
“These people put their money in [to the city] but the authorities did not recognize the opportunity,” Jankovic said.
The Ministry of Trade and Tourism of Republika Srpska told Balkan Insight they did not have exact data on the amount of money generated during Demofest, and the Ministry of Education and Culture was in charge of matters related to the festival.
Industry reactions
Meanwhile, people from the music industry have expressed bitter disappointment that Demofest will no longer be around.
Nikola Jovanovic, talent and music manager for MTV in Serbia, told Balkan Insight that it was bad news for the music industry in the whole region. Demofest was a major music festival and MTV had felt full confidence in the team behind it, he said.
“Bearing in mind that entrance was free for years, we can understand that it was hard to find money each year for the festival,” he said, adding that he hoped the organizers could find some way to keep Demofest alive.
Demofest was listed this year on the UNESCO list of projects that bring together the different cultures of the countries of former Yugoslavia.
Well known DJ Dejan Ilic, alias “Woodie”, a regular participant at Demofest, said the organizers had made superhuman efforts to realise the project but it had become impossible to do it without outside help.
“I’m very sorry about it,” he said. Discontinuing the festival would be a shock for urban culture fans, and much time would probably pass before something similar was organized again, he added.
“This festival was an opportunity for all young musicians from Ex-Yu to represent themselves to audiences for free,” he recalled.
“It was an opportunity that you wouldn’t want to miss in this region. Playing in front of 20,000 or 30,000 people in Ex-Yu is a very serious matter,” Ilic added.
Marko Ristic, editor of Nocturne music magazine, in Belgrade, said the closure of the festival was another sign that urban culture in the Balkans was crumbling. Demofest had become the most professional festival in which young performers in the region could perform, he noted.
“It’s shameful that those who could have supported the continuation of this event have allowed Demofest to be switched off,” Ristic said.

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