The Balkan Youth Festival „The Balkan Youth” (BYF) was created in 1996 thanks to the initiative of the mayor of Gabrovo (central Bulgaria) Ivan Nenov, who conceived the BYF logo and came up with the motto: “The youth of the Balkans today, future for Europe tomorrow”.
Emilia Marinova, director of the Youth Centre in Gabrovo, launched the project thanks to the help of John Tennant, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). At the time, war was still tearing up the neighbouring countries of ex-Yugoslavia. A need was felt to react and do something against the problem of the continuous conflicts in the Balkans, opposing people who shared so much linguistically, historically, culturally and who had lived peacefully together for so long. The idea of the BYF was born. It would develop for many years, and a lot of young people helping to organise it would grow with it.
The first edition of the BYF took place in Gabrovo and was organised by many young volunteers. It was relocated in 2005 to Sandanski (South-West Bulgaria), in the heart of the Balkans, very close to Greece and Macedonia. Year after year, more and more artists – musicians, dancers, painters, photographers, etc. – performed in front of an ever-growing audience. New projects were developed, among which for example the stage for contemporary arts, where everyone was free to join hip-hop dancers from all over the Balkans, the photography exhibition “Heat, Life, Thirst” or the traditional dances and pop rock competitions.
The Balkan Youth Festival is a unique event, not only for Bulgaria, but also for the Balkans. It is unique because it is a free festival almost entirely organised by volunteers and gathering together young people from the Balkans. The festival cannot be reduced to a music festival: all art forms through which young people wish to express themselves can become part of it, whether it be happenings such as die-ins, graffiti, photography, modern or traditional dances. It is a global event, driven by the will to get to know each other and find out about other cultures.
Frontiers cause wars, and the most dangerous of them are nowhere else but in our minds. Thanks to the Balkan Youth Festival, for already fifteen years, the idea of the “Balkans with no frontiers” – frontiers created by prejudices, stereotypes, ignorance of the other – has flourished, especially thanks to the numerous friendships that it helped create.