07 September, 2006

Franz Ferdinand Rocks Home of Namesake

Happy days in Novi Sad
Jul 7th 2006
From Economist.com

Franz Ferdinand rocks the Balkans, and lives to tell the tale

IF THE words “Franz Ferdinand”, “Serbs” and “the Balkans” make you think only of the assassination of an archduke of that name by a Serb in Sarajevo in 1914, you are just not with it. On the night of Thursday July 6th a Scottish rock group with the late archduke's name topped the bill at one of Europe's coolest rock festivals, held at Novi Sad in Serbia.

The next year or so threatens to be difficult for Serbia. It may face the loss of Kosovo, an Albanian-dominated southern province currently under UN jurisdiction and hungry for independence. But the Exit rock festival, now in its seventh year, offers a hopeful glimpse of what Serbia could look like if and when the country finally puts its problems behind it: as happy and relaxed as anybody else in Europe on a long hot weekend.

When the festival began, at the end of the Milosevic era, the name was chosen to signify an exit from nationalism. It has grown into four days of fun attracting 150,000 fans to an Austro-Hungarian era fortress dominating the Danube.

The other performers this year include Morrissey from Britain, and The Cardigans from Sweden, and dozens of groups from Serbia, from other Balkan countries, and from further afield. Some of the local fans are too young even to remember the wars of succession in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Other fans travelled much further for the occasion: 3,000 tickets were sold through the festival's London ticketing agency.

The home crowd included Boris Tadic, Serbia's president, who was strolling around Exit to the echoes of Franz Ferdinand—a good public relations move, with an election possible in the autumn or winter. The foreign ministers of Bosnia and Serbia were there, too, for a debate on the fringes of the festival with Olli Rehn, the European Union's enlargement commissioner, about EU visa policies, which the Balkan countries think are much too tough on them.

At moments such as this Serbs have the rare pleasure of finding their country in fashion. They hate the fact that, most of the time, foreigners tend to think of Serbia first in terms of wars and war crimes. The government has got fed up too. It wants to hire consultants to “rebrand” Serbia's image in the world.

But rebranding may not be enough. The government might do better hiring somebody who can also find Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian Serb wartime leader indicted for genocide, who found refuge in Serbia. In May the EU suspended talks with Serbia, on an agreement generally regarded as a first step towards membership, after a deadline to arrest Mr Mladic expired without result.

Serbia can hardly afford to lose time. In Croatia next door, which became a candidate for EU membership in 2004, the economy is picking up, foreign investment is coming in and the small business sector is growing. Mr Rehn, 44, said he would like to come back to Novi Sad when Serbia is joining the EU and the festival can be renamed “Entry”. Serbs will have to hope that he, and they, are not too old to enjoy the music by then.


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