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Serbia: Guca and Exit Music Festivals

Traditional Guca Trumpet Festival is held anually in Guca, a town hours south of Belgrade, near the city of Cacak, from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3. The event remains the main topic of the country’s bloggers these days. Their talk ranges from pure drivel about how it feels to have a piece of history turned into a mainstream event, to harmless remarks made by happy visitors who experienced the actual event in Guca, to criticism of the Serbian Prime Minister using this celebration for his premature political campaign, to a serious debate which depicts what some call a “Serbian sociological phenomenon.” What should be simple blogger chats turn vigorous and scathingly rich as online residents compare two national music festivals (traditional and localized Guca to modern and west-oriented Exit). By reading Serbian blog writers wrangle about what appear to be, at first glance, innocent issues, one could easily conclude how deeply the nation is divided. They show how troubled Serbian society is at the moment, healing after decades of madness throughout the region.

This year, there is also the premiere of a documentary showing how people invade the sleepy village of Guca for a week of music, drinking, dancing and utter madness:

[...] The film centres around the ambitions of two young trumpet players in their quest to win ‘The Golden Trumpet'. [...]

Typical remarks are available for the reader to browse in the online Guca guestbook, which is filled with joy and tributes.

Bob from New York applauds the atmosphere he discovered in the small Serbian village:

This is the best summer music festival in Europe. The festival has great music and is very eventful. You won’t regret coming because you will also get to explore beautiful Serbia. The fantastic site, great people, excellent performers and cheap drinks make it the place to be! The Guca festival in Serbia is an absolute must for any music fan.

Vladimir is a Stockholm resident who is originally from the Balkans. He emphasizes Guca’s “celebration of life” atmosphere:

I listen to a totally different kind of music, I don't drink and I'm really not a person who would enjoy too many people crowded in one place. I don't feel overly patriotic about my country and (in a way) the traditional music of Serbia isn't important to me – but Guca! The atmosphere there in the crowd when the people around you are dancing, jumping, laughing and crying at the same time – celebrating life – it filled my heart so much that it made me proud it's happening in my motherland. [...]

Kostas from Thessalonica writes:

[...] The festival is a must see for everyone, especially for people not familiar with [the] Balkans. There is no way to describe this to you, because you will have nothing to compare it with. I have been going to it for years now and every time it gets better. You should not be scared of not liking or knowing our traditional music and customs. There are thousands of foreign visitor[s] every year and they get accustomed to the atmosphere of the festival even [more so than] the locals. Everything is cheap and fun is guaranteed.

At Serbian journal Rodoyf, there is some of this year’s festival statistics:

[...] The majority of the 1,500 participants of the 46th festival in Guca, about 160 kilometers (about 96 miles) south of the Serbian capital Belgrade, are Roma from around the region. But as the word spreads further west, the festival has been attracting an increasing number of foreigners, boosting the attendance numbers to an estimated 400,000 this year.

[...] In Guca, [young spectators] jump onto tables to strut their stuff and show their appreciation for their favorite bands. Played by up to 50 or even 60 musicians at the same time, the melodies are transformed into a kind of deafening, higher sound.

[...] The trumpet festival, which offers visitors free entry, is well on the way to becoming a commercial event.

Serbian brewery MB, the main sponsor of this year's festival, reported beer sales of 4,000 hectoliters, or more than 700,000 British pints. The event has also become lucrative for various travel agencies [throughout Europe].

At Serbia Blog, Viktor depicts Guca's unique feel:

[...] tons of grilled meat, [...] hectoliters of alcoholic drinks [...] and thousands of cubic meters of festivals specialt[ies] – sauerkraut [...] were devoured and hundreds of people still felt their ears buzzing because of the loud trumpet music. Hundreds of thousands of Euros remain in the pockets of entrepreneurs such as room and hotel owners, restaurant workers, musicians of all kinds. [...]

He cites and comments on Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's words made while paying a visit to the festival:

“Guca represents in a best way what Serbia is today, what does its openness, belief in oneself, hospitality, party and music. [The] trumpet festival is a confirmation on our courage and joy both in good and bad times. It represents people's return to the roots, joy and meaning of life. It speaks about who we are, what we are, our urges. We express our joy and sadness with [the] trumpet, we are born with sounds of [the] trumpet, and also buried with sounds of [the] trumpet. Guca is [a] Serbian brand, it's a value that can represent Serbia in the world. Those that can’t understand and love Guca, can’t understand Serbia. If we are going to go in [the] EU without our melodies and colours, then we wouldn't know who we are.”

Now what is wrong with this speech, besides the fact that it's politically motivated (elections are coming) and completely unnecessary for such a festival? Well, it simply is a bit far from the truth. You don't have to love trumpet and Guca to understand Serbia. You don’t even have to know what Guca is to love Serbia, because Guca is far from being the only thing that can represent Serbia [...]. Personally I think that Guca is a good brand because it does represent “the life as it once was”, but that's why I'm afraid that it shouldn't fall into trap of being the ONLY thing Serbia can give. And hopefully the plans of making it into an international festival and allowing foreign bands compete together with Serbian ones stop the nationalistic approach to the whole thing. But also it seems as though forbidding all kinds of political speeches is a must in the future. [...]

Bg anon tries to explain why foreigners find Guca so attractive:

[...] They find things to do with history (like Guca) that are romantic and evoke a certain feeling – concerning their own countries to show that their ‘roots’ have long been cut. They like the idea of a traditional society. So Guca is a free pass for them. They don’t have to apologize for getting drunk, standing up and singing in public and in fact it's ‘in the name’ of a foreign culture – much ‘cooler’ to promote a foreign culture than to try to promote your own these days. [...]
Our Serbian (middle class) mainstream may be seeking modernization, Europe and so on but the European mainstream have a different outlook now. They want it ‘real’ not sanitized. [...]

Viktor replies:

Yes I agree that Guca should stay traditional, but not degrading and backwards, if you catch my point. And I’m afraid that the organizers are somehow letting this happen to it each year more and more. That's why I’m happy if they are really going to make it more international. After all, the trumpet is not only a Serbian, but a traditional instrument of the world. It's only that we somehow decided to celebrate it first and that's a good thing.

Bg anon writes:

[...] Serbia doesn’t have the monopoly on drinking culture, since the Germans or British are well known for it. You saw the way people behave on your travels. [Do] we in Serbia [have a bit of a complex] about not being quite ‘European’ enough to try to sanitize Guca? I don’t think we should [...]

Things start to heat up even in blog entries that don’t have anything to do with music festivals. In his popular B92 blog, Mark Pullen continues to portray Serbian countries and people from a foreigner's perspective. He gets a reply from Jasmina, who informs him about the topics currently being discussed in Serbian chats and discussions:

Here in Serbia, nowadays, you can often hear the discussion about what the “real face of Serbia” is like. Is it the Exit Festival or Guca? Is Serbia urban and modern like Belgrade, [...] or rural and traditional like the rest of our country?

In his B92 blog, Aleksandar Vasovic cites B92 news. It sparks polemics about which Serbian festival represents the nation better:

[...] Journalist Teofil Pancic stated that national gathering of trumpet players in Guca is parade of ebriety and inherently distasteful. It is being illustrated as original Serbian identity. He assessed the way Guca is presented in public as nothing less than promotion of Serb as good savage who makes Guca of his life and does nothing. According to Pancic’s words Exit Festival is the one which gives Serbia dignity, not Guca. Historian Branka Prpa said the Guca festival is a “cultural model of agrarian society which produces that sort of entertainment.” The festival is not problem by itself but in the way political elite and media present it as something essentially and originally indigenous. [...]

Queeria posts a “no comment photo” by Predrag M. Azdejkovic, on which you can see Serbian PM Vojislav Kostunica (on the left) and government minister of Capital Investments Velimir Ilic, who happens to have enough spare time to head the festival’s organizing board. They probably believe they are entitled to appear on Guca’s main stage as the government is sponsoring this year’s event.

Doctor Wu publishes his rather distinctive opinion on the matter:

I think Guca and Exit are more a class than a national phenomenon. Lower middle class and barely literate toothless Serbia whose supreme pleasure is to visit Guca annually (highlighting – just one afternoon and evening in a year) making the trip in more than fifth teen years-old car. I think the English way of calling them is ‘chavs’. The real middle class has its festivities as well. Those are the people with status emblems like prestigious schools, trips abroad, new Peugeot automobiles, Mars bars and its Exit jubilee. It is naive to expect that those two worlds would ever congregate. That’s nothing new for Serbian society. [...]

Atomski mrav turns patriotic and emotional as he states:

[...] We need to condemn politicians who use those festivals for propaganda purposes, as well as any other political utilization [of traditional and popular events]. Serbia is lucky to have both Guca and its counterpart Exit as it is blessed to have its water polo team, Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Olivera Jevtic and other successful sportsmen and sportswomen. In the end, I have to notice with regret, all of these Exit-Guca polemics are an indication of a distressful division of our people, as well as a reflection of an unexplainable need for that allotment. [...]

In his personal blog entry called “Communication-Polarization,” the Serbian politician and former foreign affairs minister Goran Svilanovic states that polarization in the public dialogue is acceptable during crisis and thus electrifying people who are defending their stand in the normal daily Guca/Exit conversation isn't good. He gains a lot of readers’ opinions on this (SRP).

Sue:

[...] To put it all together both Guca and Exit are Serbia, as the LDP [Liberal Democratic Party] and the SRP [Serbian Radical Party] are, but despite that some people aren't able to fancy Guca’s parade of drunk people and naked female singers [...]

Aris:

[...] It is not about choosing between Exit or Guca, Ceca or whoever else… It is not about loving another thing, it is about not spitting in advance at anything you don’t cherish. That’s fine, for the beginning.

Zoran:

[...] Both Guca and Exit are part of the greater good for this country. It would be nice to have more similar happenings. Exit provides a wide choice of tunes, as well as our national sounds mixed together among those of others, combined with different presentations conducted on site by NGOs. On the other hand, Guca represents a huge quantity of high quality foods as well as trumpet artists, to certain extent exclusive to this region. That increments our nation.

In his latest pessimistic inscription titled “Away, far away from here,” Goran Svilanovic depicts Serbian hardship as a “no-exit” situation. Among others, he accumulates this attention-grabbing thought from Dragan D, suitable to conclude this overview with:

[...] here it is, I am getting a live broadcast of Guca [aired by national TV], one could get an inkling that crowds are celebrating all around. Nobody mentions the proportion of deprived citizens or maybe some statistics on smokers among youth, etc. Where we are headed for, by whom and in which direction, it is a big question. [...]

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