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Event Showcasing Kosovo Culture Opens In Belgrade Amid Nationalist Protests

Vojislav Seselj, leader of Serbian Radical Party, protesting against a festival of Kosovar culture in Belgrade.

A culture festival named the Mirëdita, Dobar dan -- or "good day" in Albanian and Serbian -- opened in Belgrade’s Center for Cultural Decontamination on May 30 despite attempts by ultranationalists to disrupt it.

The festival, organized for the first time five years ago, presents Kosovo's contemporary cultural scene to a Belgrade audience through theater performances, debate, film, music, and a photo exhibition.

Sofija Todorovic, a spokeswoman for the festival organizer, Youth Initiative for Human Rights, said the gathering was intended to spur cooperation between the Serbian and Kosovar cultural communities and open the door for artists to connect.

By spurring such cooperation, organizers hope the annual festival will contribute to the normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina -- a key requirement laid down by the European Union as a condition for both countries' membership.

But Serbian nationalist groups organized opposition to the event.

Police forces stopped a group of between 150 and 200 ultranationalists from the Serbian Radical Party who were headed to the center to try to prevent the festival from opening.

The leader of the party, Vojislav Seselj, who was convicted of war crimes, addressed the crowd in front of the police cordon, using offensive language against the festival organizers and visitors. Afterwards, the group left.

To ensure security at the event, police forces blocked streets near the center and set up high security measures at the entrance.

Hushtrim Kolichi of the Pristina-based organization Integra expressed concern over the tensions at the festival, saying he had hoped they would fade away, but that has not happened.

"Some politicians oppose the festival, which is why there are so many police. Our only goal is to address the population,” he said.

This year, the festival opened with the film Marriage, which is about couples of mixed ethnic backgrounds. The festival will end on June 2.

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