On 14 June, the Sunny Hill festival, proclaimed by many media outlets in Balkans and across the world to be the biggest festival in Kosovo, and according to the organizers themselves; “Probably the best festival in the region,” announced it would move its venue from Prishtina to Tirana.
Held in 2018 and 2019 in Pristina’s Germia Park with world-famous headliners such as Calvin Harris, Miley Cyrus and Martin Garrix, the festival was organized by famous Kosovar-British singer Dua Lipa’s father, Dukagjin. However, it was cancelled two years after 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving festival-goers excited for the next one to come this summer. Now, it’s being moved 250 kilometres from Prishtina to Tirana, leaving people upset and asking for answers amidst the turmoil.
Around the time of the announcement to change the venue location, the festival’s lead organizer Dukagjin Lipa posted on Facebook a lengthy letter addressing government officials. Lipa informed the public of the move and explained that he had been unable to lease a new plot of land from Prishtina Municipality as the previous site, Germia Park, is now considered too small.
“With great regret and despair, we inform you that due to the numerous delays caused by the lack of response and the final decision on the use of space for the festival by the MAPL (Ministry of Local Government Administration), this year’s edition of Sunny Hill festival will not be held in Prishtina,” read Lipa’s statement.
Behind the move
Lipa and his Sunny Hill team attempted to obtain a 99-year land lease in the village of Bernice e Poshtme, a 20-minute drive from the capital. They announced plans to turn the 17 hectares of land into a multi-use park in addition to being a venue for the festival for this year and in the future.
In addition, the contract stated that the municipality could not use the land for any event 40 days before and 20 days after Sunny Hill; it can only use the site for 60 days a year and only for events such as classical and jazz concerts. Furthermore, any events held on the land could not exceed 3000 visitors, and the municipality would only be able to keep 30% of all revenue from their own events.
On 10 May, members of Pristina’s municipality assembly voted on granting the lease for Sunny Hill, approving the contract for the land lease. A week later, it was sent to MAPL for review and approval.
However, due to opposition from members of Prime Minister Albin Kurti’s Vetëvendosje party, compliance concerns, and requests for clarification, Lipa determined it was impossible to hold this year’s event in Prishtina.
“In addition to this case, there were some essential documents that were missing in the application for which MLGA also requested additional clarifications,” read a statement from MAPL, further emphasizing the issues brought up by civil society organizations regarding the gravity of granting land use for such a long period.
While the coming of a prominent festival to Tirana has been welcomed by some, it has also been overshadowed by finger-pointing between Lipa, MAPL, Prishtina Mayor Preparim Rama and the Kosovo government.
“Such a decision, caused entirely by the government’s procrastination, will cause damage to the capital in culture, tourism, economic development and its overall image. The failure of this festival this year is a loss not only for Prishtina but for all of Kosovo,” said Perparim Rama in a statement.
Meanwhile, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed the festival to Tirana with open arms, calling it “good news” and adding that “there’s nothing like Tirana.” In addition, Veliaj wrote, “Prishtinali and Kosovars are also from Tirana,” adding that the people of Albania and Kosovo are always “one, always together.”
The Kosovo opposition was quick to criticise the move, accusing the government of expelling one of the biggest and most successful artistic initiatives.
“Vetëvendosje Movement and Albin Kurti closed the door to the only world-class music festival in our country,”said Memli Krasniqi, leader of the Democratic Party of Kosovo.
Donjeta Miftari, advisor to Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani, posted on social media expressing that the “Sunny Hill festival puts Kosovo on the map & is an extraordinary opportunity to promote our country. Our office fought to keep it in PR – our youth expects & deserves better.”
“A solution must be found to bring it back where it belongs!” she added.
The cancellation even mustered a reaction from members of the European Parliament (EP), agreeing with Miftari and Krasniqi’s statements. Viola von Crammon, a German politician and member of EP, shared her thoughts on Twitter.
“I’m very sad to see that #SunnyHill Festival won’t take place in #Pristina this summer. It is a strategic mistake as it brings people to Kosovo & promotes its youth,” wrote von Crammon. “Kosovo Government should have ensured that Sunny Hill takes place in Pristina & hope it will return there.”
Ardiana Shala, a PhD student from Kosovo studying in the United Kingdom believes that she had no right to give an opinion on the matter.
“This should not be your worry at all. Sunny Hill, a private company, shouldn’t have tried to get public land for free for 99 years. Let them try that in your country. Your statement is beyond insulting. You have absolutely no place in telling our government how to do their work,” replied Shala.
Meanwhile, Pristina mayor Perparim Rama held a conference on Thursday discussing the festival’s move, stating that Pristina will lose €12-15 million due to the festival being held in Tirana, further stating, “I have nothing against Tirana,” however “the festival should have been in Pristina.
Meanwhile, Veliaj said the festival, which will reportedly be held around the lake area, will bring some €50 million to the capital.
“It is a prestige and privilege for Tirana. We welcomed it with enthusiasm when the organizers asked us to become the host country… I think that it is always better to have it in another Albanian city than in another country in Europe,” he added.