What Is the Exit Festival?

Marlene Garcia

The Exit Festival defines an international music event held annually in Novi Sad, Serbia. It attracts music lovers from throughout the world and exposes them to a wide range of musical styles. Almost two dozen stages and a huge dance arena create a party atmosphere at Exit Festival, where attendees often camp in tents during their stay.

Serbia's first Exit Festival, in 2000, ended with a voter registration drive that had some political impact.
Serbia's first Exit Festival, in 2000, ended with a voter registration drive that had some political impact.

On the banks of the Danube River sits the gated Petrovaradin Fortress, a historic fort that once served as defense against Turkish invaders. This site was chosen for the Exit Festival, which sits on a hill overlooking the city below. Within the grounds of the fortress, Exit Village offers camping facilities as part of the state of Exit. Tokens known as Exit money are used to buy food and drinks during the festival.

The first Exit Festival sprung up in 2000, when a group of young people gathered to protest the leadership style of Slobodan Milosevic. This first event focused on ways to oust Milosevic from power and lasted 100 days. It ended with a voter registration drive that might have contributed to Milosevic’s loss in his re-election bid to remain president of Yugoslavia. As the leader of the Socialist Party, Milosevic was later charged with war crimes linked to conflicts with Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

A core team of organizers decided to continue with the festival, drawing more than 200,000 people the next year, mostly from Serbia and adjacent countries. The Exit Festival that year featured a group from Croatia, representing a return to peace after years of war. Word of mouth helped boost attendance for the nine-day music festival in subsequent years.

Over time, the length of the Exit Festival was shortened to four days each year so organizers could attract better-known acts. The tactic seemed to work: the 2003 festival drew 400 artists from all over the world, along with visitors throughout Europe. As the event continued to grow in popularity, it was deemed by some as the best music festival in Europe in 2007.

A wide range of musical genres has introduced attendees to music they may not have known. The Exit Festival promotes a philosophy of tolerance among cultures, environmental awareness, and making the world a better place. Over the years, its political undertones switched from a single goal to encompass topics such as the human sex trade, substance abuse, immigration issues, and the economy.

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