For 26 years now, winter in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a time of international cultural exchange. Organised by the International Peace Centre, the first 'Sarajevo Winter' festival took place from Dec. 21, 1984 to April 6, 1985. The festival has brightened Sarajevo winters ever since, and has become a symbol of freedom, creativity, and worldwide cross-cultural dialogue.
During the event, artists from around the globe hold presentations throughout Sarajevo - indoors as well as in the open - sharing their diverse interests and achievements. The theme of the 2010 festival was 'What now?,' a question some 1,500 artists from over 45 countries strove to answer from Feb. 7 to 28.
Twenty four hours a day for three weeks straight, the city lived the rhythms of art, hosting as much as 129 cultural and entertainment events. The backbone of the 26th 'Sarajevo Winter' was an array of shows and gatherings, including numerous plays, concerts, exhibits, film and video screenings, and featuring performance and installation art as well.
As festival director Ibrahim Spahić points out, it is precisely the times of economic crises that raise the question of what to do with art - and of its place in the lives of people.
"What to do now? When everything is over, when one after another all the events have come and gone, when great artists have travelled the world and come home, their arrival begs this question - what now?! Empty canvasses or an installation ask the same. If we were to remove a work from a gallery, if we were to remove artists, who are the conscience of every society - so if we were to dispose of this conscience, we would again arrive at this question: What now?!" says Spahić for Southeast Europe: People and Culture.
Doris Pack, the president of the European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee, visited the 'Sarajevo Winter'. "I am deeply convinced that Europe can develop in peace only through culture. This festival contributes to that. Here musicians, writers, artists, directors, and theatre artists from all over Europe meet in an intercultural dialogue. At this time Sarajevo is a part of the life of Europe. This is why I am very pleased to visit Sarajevo," said Pack.
'Sarajevo Winter' has been a member of the European Festival Association (EFA) since 1995, and has been actively contributing to the EFA's mission and projects.
"In an attempt to engage both artists and the public in jointly making Sarajevo a free and open city, a place where cultures and civilisations blend, the ['Sarajevo Winter'] festival has made extraordinary accomplishments, and as such can serve as an example to all EFA members and festivals throughout the world," said Kathrin Deventer, the secretary general of the EFA.
With an awareness that strengthening cultural ties in the contemporary world opens the door to better understanding between different civilisations and cultural traditions, the festival had special programmes to commemorate the 100th birthdays of writers Meša Selimović and Skender Kulenović as well as painter Voja Dimitrijević, the 200th birthdays of composers Frederic Chopin and Robert Schumann, the 150th birthday of Anton Chekhov, and the 100th anniversary of the death of Leo Tolstoy.
This year's festival featured artists from Korea, Austria, Hungary, Denmark, Germany, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey, Iran, the United States, and Russia. Festival director Spahić said he was pleased with the outcome of the event, and added that even when asking a question such as 'What now?,' artists do not give up, seeking their answers regardless of the circumstances in which they live.
"The festival was open to everyone... People created, communicated, and that was true joy of it. Over 1,500 artists created a wonderful story of the 'Sarajevo Winter,' which has revived the good tradition of asking a good question despite everything."
The 'Sarajevo Winter' festival was followed by the 'Eko Oko' (literally `Eco Eye') Environmental Film Festival. In a way quite an appropriate extension to issues of art and culture, the 'Eko Oko' featured 20 documentaries and feature films from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Egypt, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Spain, Iran, and Switzerland. The entire programme strived to raise people's awareness of the environment, and its urgent need for lasting care and protection.
The 2011 'Sarajevo Winter' will be held under the theme 'The Art of Love.'