Our task is to continue to work hard on affirming children’s creativity and to pass on to the future generations for the next fifty years the values that “Joy of Europe” cherishes from the very beginning – friendship, love, tolerance and acceptance of the other and the different
“The Joy of Europe is a festival of love and diplomacy of true friendship. We should learn more from children”, tells for Diplomacy & Commerce Dragan Marić, director of Children’s Cultural Center Belgrade, the cultural insitution for children which has been the executive producer of this unique European children’s festival for 50 years. Every October for half a century, Belgrade has been the children’s capital of Europe. The founder and sponsor of the International Gathering of Children of Europe is the City Administration of Belgrade and the executive producer is Children’s Cultural Center Belgrade. This year’s festival was supported by “Forma Ideale” – the company with long-lasting tradition in supporting events regarding children. This year’s 50th-anniversary Festival was also supported by the Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia, Dragica Nikolić Foundation, The Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Serbia, NIS Company, Ušće Shopping Center, Coca Cola and many other friends of the festival.
How important is this anniversary not only to Belgrade and Serbia, but also to children from all over Europe?
— “Joy of Europe” at the time of its founding was a pioneer event in this part of the world. As a kind of friendship nursery, one of the festivals for children with the longest tradition in Europe, it has been able to recreate the emotional environment in which over 25,000 friendships have been created among children. In order to present the significance of the event for children, I will tell you the story of two boys, nowadays grownups, who have become a symbol and one of the most beautiful stories of “Joy of Europe”. We have received a recent letter from a Christian from Norway that starts like this: “I am looking for my friend…” He acquired the other one in 1976 in Belgrade when he came to our event and was a guest of certain Saša Andrić and his family from Belgrade. The friendship is not forgotten, because important things from childhood are remembered forever. That is why the story of “Joy of Europe” is essentially a story of love and friendship.
As anniversaries are milestones, you had the task of summarizing impressions from the previous fifty festivals and laying the groundwork for the next fifty years. Did you have a plan for how to accomplish this?
— This year’s event slogan was “Journey to the Center of Happiness,” as a modification of the title of the Jules Verne adventure book. We came up with this slogan since in 2019 we looked back at all the happiness that had been emerging and developing among children from different countries and cultural backgrounds. At the beginning of the year, we made an exhibition of photos by famous photographer Branko Jovanović and his “Joy – Play – Friendship” photo collection, which showed a retrospective of joy. The project “Joy of Europe Digital!” was launched, a multi-year project of collecting, archiving, digitizing and virtual presentation of processed material, related to the life of the biggest and oldest festival of children’s creativity in our country. In order for the event to live visually for decades to come, we decided to do murals at several Belgrade elementary schools, bringing authentic children’s artwork to the walls. At the end of the year, we plan to publish a book about Joy of Europe. Our task is to continue to work hard on affirming children’s creativity and to pass on to the future generations for the next fifty years the values that “Joy of Europe” cherishes from the very beginning – friendship, love, tolerance and acceptance of the other and the different.
What awaited the little ones who came to us from over twenty countries in Europe?
— The festival traditionally began with a carnival in the city center, a festive parade of all costumed festival participants. International Art Contest “Joy of Europe” exhibition, “Friendship Gatherings” concerts and Gala concert followed, at which children presented their music and stage performances. It was a great honor for us to welcome the ambassadors of the countries participating in the event this year, who, through their attendance at the concerts, gave real support to their young colleagues – children ambassadors, who brought the song, dance, customs and traditions of their countries. Most importantly, in addition to the interesting festival program, the little ones experienced unforgettable socializing and making friendships that will last for a lifetime.