We lived in a country where you could disappear overnight // The 405 meets EXIT founder Bojan Boskovic
EXIT Festival is held in an abandoned fortress (the Petrovaradin Fortress to be precise) in Novi Sad, Serbia, and by all accounts is a remarkable festival with a fascinating history. These words also very much apply to EXIT Festival founder Bojan Boskovic.
This summer sees the annual festival celebrate it's 13th year, running from July 12th-15th and boasts a hugely eclectic range of acts in a picturesque setting. Prior to this we were fortunate to be granted an interview with Boskovic in which we discussed a number of topics from his astonishing life; life under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic pre-EXIT, how EXIT Festival originated (including the infamous 100 day festival in 2000), a Prison-based hunger strike, and his thoughts on modern political movements such as Occupy.
Not topics you'd get to discuss with most British Festival organisers ay? The in-depth answers provide some real talking points and insights in regards to the state of youth culture and European politics.
What kind of life did you lead in Novi Sad in the years before the first Exit festival, under Milošević's rule?
When I enrolled university in the second half of the 90’s Serbia was in the midst of dictatorship which boosted up xenophobia and nationalism. Most young people were trapped in daily survival techniques and great apathy. We created the Student Union of the University of Novi Sad – the only independent student organization at that time that we formed with the aim to change the status quo – we were basically asking for freedom of speech, citizens’ rights, democratic elections, freedom of independent media and autonomy of the University. Back then, great inspiration for all of us was Mr. Zoran Djindjic (Prime Minister of Serbia that was assassinated by the state security in 2002, two years after the fall of regime) whose ideas we followed. Most of our activities were various kinds of creative subversive anti-regime actions which often resulted in being arrested or being taken for interviews by the state security.
How did the first Exit festival (that ran for 100 days) come about - and describe the atmosphere of the event and how it changed.
In 1990’s the regime of Slobodan Milosevic realized this when it invented special type of subculture called turbo folk – cheap ethno folk music played on rock and roll instruments which sang about Serbian victories and nationalism, worshiped conflict as a model of expansion and final solution, brought distorted systems of values and role models – war criminals with drugs, gangs, guns and black jeeps. This subculture was enforced by national media and pretty much formed (poisoned) generations of young kids. EXIT mission is therefore to promote music trends which are clearly opposite aesthetics of turbo folk sub culture, celebrating individualism and offering an alternative to governmental idea of what young Serbs should look like. Sharing the same cultural space of former Yugoslavia (the language) a lot of youth from the region actually belongs to State of Exit aesthetics and regularly visit our event.
The reputation of Exit has increased hugely in recent years in countries other than Serbia. Are you ever concerned that too many international visitors will dilute the festival?
Why would that be the case? The creative industry is probably one of the culturally most diverse industries as well as one of the most ‘democratized’ industries in the world. A lot of it is owned to the spirit DIY (Do It Yourself) culture where today it is enough to have a computer, a (pirate?) software and access to internet – and one has a potential to become a serious production unit. These initiatives are reshaping the World today, changing the understanding of both local and global. EXIT in a way presents all of these initiatives to the people through the eclectic program. Our visitors are more advanced festival goers in a way. I hope EXIT is a festival where east meets west - bringing the best people from UK, Serbia, Croatia, the Balkan region, Russia, Ukraine...
Tell us about the events that led to your 10 day hunger strike in 2004.
In 2004 the social dimension (message) of EXIT festival was to promote the EU integration process – our government became (again) the very embodiment of Serbian nationalism, this time in democracy though. Three weeks before the elections (and four weeks prior to EXIT festival) the police arrested me and a colleague and took us into custody. The charges were that ’organizator gave away too many free tickets for the festival and therefore damaged the functioning EXIT association’. I was supposed to stay incarcerated for the next few months until the investigation finished, although we had clear books and I had a non-violent record. So, I had to go on 'a diet' until they let us out.
What's the most scared you've ever been?
In jail? It's an interesting place. Builds a character a lot. I don't think I was scared as much as I was pissed off. You know, the dictatorship was gone, and I thought that we were sailing towards some more peaceful waters. Instead, we still live(d) in a country where you can just disappear overnight.
Are you familiar with the recent Occupy political movements? What are your thoughts on this?
Yes I am. Very much. I think that the activism is extremely important. I think that Occupy needs to formulate their ideas more clearly and outline them in plane words. It's going to be hard without leadership. I disagree in we are all equal approach - reminds me too much of hippie movement. Also, resembles a bit 'The Beach' - the movie. Good ideas need the curators to emerge in the best possible light in order to become a success. Same as in music. Same as in anything else. Mentoring is needed. Quality, taste and aesthetics are a matter of trust not a majority trend.
Do you believe that music and culture can still influence politics in the modern world?
Culture and music are often the only discourses of freedom of speech in repression. While there is often a lack of electricity and running water in some places, as well as internet blockade in some other places there is almost never a lack of mobile phones and ingenuity. Technological revolution is changing the societies for the better as people can use social media, choose their peers and enjoy the ubiquity of information. Counter culture spreads more quickly than ever. In all of the places I traveled I encountered a sense of brotherhood amongst the people living there. It also seemed that the tougher the living conditions, the more creative people are and with more motive to get engaged. The creative industry is probably one of the culturally most diverse industries as well as one of the most ‘democratized’ industries in the world. A lot of it is owned to the spirit DIY (Do It Yourself) culture where today it is enough to have a computer, a (pirate?) software and access to internet – and one has a potential to become a serious production unit. These initiatives are reshaping the World today, changing the understanding of both local and global.
But... on the other hand... another interesting angle is to look at our generation (I am speaking of my generation now, and younger generations as well - let's say 18 to 35 years). I find many of us are spoiled and really of a semi-narcissistic attitude. our system of values is quite questionable. we are in love with Apple computers, network of friends, iPads and I this and I that... but in a way, this all kind of reminds me of some 'big lefty artists' which are quasi activists and socialists and yet - they only eat the best caviar and smoke solemnly cohibas and hate, just hate, when cognac is served from a wrong glass :) It's obvious - the only star they stand for is from a 5 star hotel they stay at. I am really wondering what is the potential for change. Internet as virtual battlefield is not the privilege of limited few. It's not a class thing.
You have discussed in the past about a "Berlin wall in Serbia to the rest of Western Europe". Can you elaborate on this - and if things are getting better for the Serbian people?
Things are better. We had a visa regime and every time we wanted to travel we needed to wait in lines for visas at your embassies. Meanwhile, all the criminals in serbia had a visas in their passports. It was stupid and affecting only students - and it made no sense to isolate students because these are the people that can bring changes to the society. In 2007, EXIT was lobbying to abolish visas for the young people of the Balkans that want to travel to the EU. We managed to bring to EXIT Mr. Oli Ren (EU High Commissioner for Enlargement) and get him engaged in the debate about the mobility. Visas were abolished in 2009. Mr. Oli Ren, giving a speech at the EU parliament said that he is 'already a citizen of State of EXIT' and that his 'visit to EXIT festival catalyzed the process of visa abolishment'
Anyhow. Things are better. We have democracy. We have internet. Wars are gone. The political situation could be better but that is a question of evolution...
What is the idea behind the Exit Online Label? Any Serbian acts that you recommend?
Basically, we are trying to invest energy, time and money into this in order to set a system of quality. There are amazing bands and their aesthetics is challenging a status quo. Try Obojeni Program - Kako to mislis: mi
Bestival and Exit teaming-up sounds like a match made in heaven. What will this entail, and have you been to Bestival?
We are happy for this teaming up. It's a great honor for us. I hope to go to Bestival this year. The problem is that in this live industry you are always busy - for me it is still impossible to plan 2-3 months in advance.
The trial of Ratko Mladic has just commenced; is it important for you, and the people of Serbia, to see him brought to justice for his war crimes? What goes through your mind as you see his face on TV?
I rarely watch TV and if I would see his face I would switch the channel. He steers no emotions in my mind; except perhaps the feeling of some great stupidity. I am not sure if you are aware of it, but in 2005 EXIT festival was marking 10 years of massacre in Srebrenica (the town in Bosnia where Serbian forces killed more than 8.000 Muslims in 1995). This initiative steered a lot of emotions in our society and raised many questions. A lot of threats came our way, (some of them from the new president that won the elections yesterday). EXIT was criticised and attacked in the media by radical Serbian politicians, football hooligans and skinheads. It took the next 5 years (in 2010) for Serbian parliament to issue an apology statement for the victims.
What are the political themes for 2012's festival?
Still shaping it. Will be out soon.
There's a bit of a 80's theme for some the headliners this year, and an impressive mix of genres present as always. How do you decide who plays Exit?
Well, this year is tough, especially with the price of the ticket we want to have for exit. But we try to be brave and it also has a lot to do with who is on tour, and what we can afford. In reality this is a highly competitive industry with a low entry barrier... I like the line up. It's a good mix of different genres.
Who would you like to play Exit that you haven't been able to get thus far?
Many bands. If i name them, agents will increase the price! Got to play it low.
Rain and mud dominate most UK festivals. Can you guarantee hot and sunny weather?!
Last year it was 42C, and that is hot. So, forget about the umbrellas and bring sun cream.
Where do you see Exit in 10 years time?
Not sure if it will exist. There is one thing with exit festival - you never know when is the last one...
You can still win a pair of tickets to Exit in our competition