Every year in October children from many countries come to dance, sing, act, and above all play and have fun in Belgrade, Serbia's capital city, whose traditional children's festival "Joy of Europe" celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009.
A hallmark of the festival is that its young guests are not housed in hotels or youth centres, but in the homes of ordinary Belgrade children. The 2009 festival took place from Oct. 1 to Oct. 5, and was attended by about 500 visiting children ages 7 to 14, from 20 European cities.
The theme of this year's gathering was "Through the Centuries and Universe" - a title borrowed from a book by Milutin Milanković (1879-1958), a Serbian scientist and space researcher of world renown, whose birth, 130 years ago, the festival commemorated.
The festival opened with a carnival on Belgrade's Trg Republike - a large square in the capital's downtown. There, children wore masques of their own making and staged performances as presentations of their home countries. Aside from its European guests - from Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Hungary, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Croatia, Russia and the Czech Republic - the Joy of Europe also had special visitors from faraway China.
The festival organiser Ivana Teodorović from Belgrade's Children's Cultural Centre says that the event involved not only children from the capital of Serbia, but also from other cities such as Leskovac, Pancevo, Kucevo, and Subotica. All in all, the number of participants reached around 1,000.
"This event is above all a great opportunity for kids from different European countries to meet and spend time together, and hear many different European languages. The time they spend together is really most important. About 15 years ago I, too, took part in the festival and remember it was wonderful," Teodorović says.
As part of this year's programme the Prague Youth's Ballet performed "The Dance of the Rainforest" at the Vuk Karadžić Cultural Centre. The festival's anniversary was celebrated at the Children's Cultural Centre with a concert by the Serbian Radio and TV Station's Children's Choir, which performed the works of Ljubica Marić. The concert also celebrated 100 years from the birth of this Serbian composer, who died in 2003.
The festival closed with a performance at the Sava Centre's Grand Theatre Hall on Oct. 4, with children presenting the culture and tradition of their homelands through dance and song. A special segment of the show was dedicated to scientist Milutin Milanković.
The Joy of Europe festival was founded in 1969, and organizer Ivana Teodorović says that over the years nearly 16,000 Belgrade families have hosted young visitors from abroad. Moreover, each year one Belgrade school returns the visit by travelling to one of the cities that participated in the event. This year's jubilee was attended by Yitka Bayagrova, who was among the participants in the first festival 40 years ago.
The last day of the gathering took the children to a fair at Ada Ciganlija - a popular Belgrade picnic and recreational area located on the banks of the lake Savsko Jezero and the Sava river - where both hosts and guests enjoyed various games and shows prepared especially for them.