The Exception Proves the Rule

The exception proves the rule

A report by Eduard Freudmann and Ivana Marjanović


In Novi Sad, the exhibition Exception – Contemporary Arts Scene from Prishtina[1] that opened on 22 January 2008 in the Museum of Contemporary Art Vojvodina in Novi Sad was inaugurated by the president of the Assembly of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina Bojan Kostreš (LSV – League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina). In his speech, he stated that Kosovarian artists were welcome in Novi Sad irrespective of Kosovo’s status, being it either independent or part of Serbia. Harsh attacks followed by representatives of nationalistic parties (DSS – Democratic Party of Serbia and SPS – Socialist Party of Serbia). The attacks led Kostreš – in order to defend himself – to approach the Serbian nationalistic common standard by misinterpreting that “the fact that Kosovo-Albanian artists came to Novi Sad, shows that they feel like citizens of the Republic of Serbia”[2]. Furthermore, the exhibition was abused by the Radical Party in their election campaign TV’s advertisement stating: “The exhibition glorifies atrocities committed by Albanian terrorists in Kosovo.”[3] Additionally, the presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolić (SRS – Serbian Radical Party) referred to the exhibition attacking his opponent Boris Tadić (DS – Democratic Party) in the prime time head-to-head confrontation on Serbian state TV[4].


On 3 February 2008 – in-between the openings in Novi Sad and Belgrade – the second ballot of the Serbian presidential elections was held. The “moderate” and “pro-western” candidate Boris Tadić won it by a narrow margin of 2% against the ultra-nationalist Tomislav Nikolić. In February, the situation in Serbia was tense because of the expected declaration of independence by Kosovo on 17 February 2008.


On 7 February four days after the elections, the exhibition was violently prevented from being opened in Belgrade. On 8 February, the City Council and the Serbian Ministry of Culture issued press releases, condemning the incidents by stating that “Belgrade has always been and will remain an open city” and referring to “the basic principles of tolerance, the respect of cultural variety, the freedom of speech and artistic expression” [5]. Nevertheless, both institutions stated that they could not support the exhibition beyond such a declaration, as they were not in charge of it, thus shifting their responsibility to the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Overall, it is possible to say that the Serbian political landscape was opposing the exhibition; the protagonists were either attacking it (SRS, SPS, and DSS) or not commenting on it (DS). Supportive statements were rare and only given by small parties such as G17 Plus and LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) as well as by a large part of the NGO sector.


The very first press reactions after the opening of the exhibition in Novi Sad were surprisingly positive – one of the yellow press papers even listed the event in their daily “top rankings”. Subsequently, the media coverage started with the attacks. Initially the attacks were against the involved politician (Kostreš) and the institution (Museum of Contemporary Art, Vojvodina), but as soon as the exhibition was about to open in Belgrade, the media started to attack the organizers (curators and NGOs). The media was not at all interested in the concept and content of the show, even less in the new contextual space of dialogue and reflection that would have been opened up with the exhibition. The media was rather attracted by the putative scandalous potential they scented. They drew the attention solely on Dren Maliqi’s artwork Face to Face. The work displayed face-to-face Andy Warhol’s double picture of Elvis Presley as a cowboy and the double image of Adem Jashari, a leader of the UÇK (Kosovo Liberation Army). Jashari is considered a freedom fighter by the Albanians and is stylized as a national icon in Kosovo, whereas Serbs consider him a war criminal and terrorist. Displaying Jashari’s picture and the scandalization it brought, lead to hysteric and hostile reactions throughout the Serbian public. With the constant use of nationalistic terminology, the exhibition was declared as an event that glorifies Albanian separatists and terrorists. Experts and non-experts spoke in the media about the violators of the Belgrade exhibition in superlatives, glorifying them, and accusing the curators and organizers of the exhibition as being Anti-Serbs guilty of treason.


The first indication of a violent act was the public request by the “Association of displaced persons from Kosovo and Metohija” to close down the exhibition in Novi Sad. It included the threat to send their members to accomplish the closing in case the organizers would not comply.[6] Meanwhile, in far-right internet forums it was announced that the exhibition will travel to Belgrade and plans were made how to disrupt it.[7]


On the day before the Belgrade opening, the clerical-fascistic movement “Otačastveni pokret Obraz” (Fatherland Movement Dignity) invited “all Serbian patriots to attend the opening […] and to show to the Albanian separatists and their Belgrade accomplices what [the patriots] think about the artistic and political goals of such a manifestation”[8]. On 7 February 2008, half an hour before the exhibition was about to be opened a mob of 300 fanatic Obraz members, football hooligans and other nationalistic forces gathered in the streets around the gallery. Police had to prevent them from attacking the gallery (at the same time they also prevented visitors from reaching the gallery and attending the opening). Nonetheless, violators succeeded to enter the exhibition space and tore down Maliqi’s artwork. One of them was interrupting the opening speech by capturing the stage and holding a hate-speech in which he discredited the participating artists and accused the organizers of betraying fatherland and humanity. By showing a stone, he intended to reproduce the countrywide spread cliché of stone throwing and therefore uncivilized Albanians. Although he was marched off by the police, his intervention made the police instruct the organizers of the exhibition to shut it down before it had even been opened. On the day after, the glass door of the gallery was broken. As the building was under police surveillance, the perpetrators were arrested and examined by the police who subsequently proposed to stage a public performance including the institution’s director and the perpetrators within which the latter would apologize for their act.


In providing a possible overview of the events, it could be said that police has to be considered an active protagonist in the events. However, their special units prevented the mob from accessing and attacking the gallery space, at the same time the police let the opening being disrupted in order to insist on the claim that the organizers have to close the exhibition. The police not only let vandals pass through the controlled gate and destroy the artwork; they did not intervene during the violation of the opening speech either, though considerable police forces were present in the gallery. In spite of repeated requests, the police refused to do so referring to freedom of speech. At this point, the director of the space in which the gallery is located agreed to close down the exhibition taking into consideration the police’s evaluation that the “safety of visitors and organizers can no longer be guaranteed”. Subsequently the police evicted the visitors and pressed the director to sign an agreement to renounce the opening of the exhibition. On the next day, the police demanded that those art works, which were visible from outside the gallery, be removed. Afterwards, they demanded the works to be removed from the space altogether – according to their conception the transport should have been organized with massive police protection, which obviously was an attempt to frighten the organizers in order to make them not even think of reconstructing and opening the exhibition in the future.



In conclusion, six points have to be stressed further:


Firstly, the exhibition provided one of the rare opportunities to revive the repressive apartheid policy Serbia had imposed on Kosovo until losing access to its territory in 1999.


Secondly, Serbia’s cultural policy is conceived by ultra-nationalistic powers, and executed by violent mob forces while official institutions of the Republic of Serbia compliably assist.


Thirdly, the part of Serbian society that designates itself “democratic” turned out to be in support of the nationalistic consensus. The large part of the Serbian cultural scene reacted accordingly by commenting that it is was “not the right moment for such an exhibition when they take 15% of our territory”[9] and relativising the incidents when judging that the exhibition’s “artistic value is very low”[10].


Fourthly, the exhibition’s non-protection is the continuation of the state of exception in Serbian public space after the overthrow of the Milošević regime in 2000. It came into effect in 2001 when the Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade was bloodily annihilated by fascist organisations and violent football hooligans who could comply due to insufficient police protection. Government officials, being in charge to secure the right of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly provided by the Serbian constitution, remained silent[11]. Since then it has not been possible to organise a Gay Pride Parade in Belgrade.


Fifthly, emanating from Boris Groys’ assumption that art differs from non-art by being under an extraordinary police protection[12], the exhibition’s non-protection executed by the Serbian police must be understood as an attempt to invalidate the exhibition’s art works and convert them into non-art.


Sixthly, Jashari’s depiction was not the cause of disagreement in the hysteric scandalization campaign. Essentially hatred reactions and blind destruction were triggered by the fact that Serbian cultural racism could not bear having its stereotype of “uncivilized Albanians” being strongly contrasted and therefore nullified by perfectly articulated artistic positions of Prishtina’s contemporary art scene.





Eduard Freudmann, born 1979, studied Fine Art in Vienna and Weimar, lives as artist and cultural worker in Vienna and Belgrade, works as artistic-scientific assistant at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.


Ivana Marjanović is co-founder and co-curator of the Kontekst Gallery in Belgrade. At the moment she is a PhD candidate at Fine Arts Academy in Vienna. Lives and works in Belgrade and Vienna.



[1] The exhibition presents artworks by Albanian artists of the younger generation from Kosovo: Artan Balaj, Jakup Ferri, Driton Hajredini, Flaka Haliti, Fitore Isufi Koja, Dren Maliqi, Alban Muja, Vigan Nimani, Nurhan Qehaja, Alketa Xhafa, and Lulzim Zeqiri. The curators of the exhibition are Vida Knežević, Kristian Lukić, Ivana Marjanović, and Gordana Nikolić.

[2] Glas javnosti, 28.01.2008, Retrieved on August 10 2008,

[3] From the election’s campaign video broadcasted on Serbian televisions. Link on You Tube: Retrieved on August 10 2008,

[4] “Your representatives support exhibitions about Jashari.”, Suocavanje kandidata/predsednicki izbori, 30.01.2008, RTS 1

[5] Retrieved on August 10 2008,; Retrieved on August 10 2008,; Retrieved on August 10 2008,


[6] Blic Online, 25.01.2008, Retrieved on August 10 2008,

[7] Retrieved on August 10 2008,
Retrieved on August 10 2008,
Retrieved on August 10 2008,

[8] Retrieved on August 10 2008,

[9] stated by a member of Belgrade City Council

[10] Art historian Saša Janjić in “Izložbe visokog rizika”, Politika, 9. 2. 2008, retrieved on August 8 2008,

[11] Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić even stated that it was not the right moment for such a manifestation.

[12] „Things that are acknowledged as art are put under special protection. We take care of those things, for their existence, for their integrity. To destruct, to blast, to annihilate those things is considered as barbarianism, as unacceptable or at least as iconoclasm, whereas it is considered as normal to destruct things that are no art works.”
Boris Groys, „Repräsentation und Ausnahmezustand“, 2001, retrieved on August 8 2008,