Balkan Trafik Festival - A Symphony of Cultures in Brussels | WeBalkans | EU Projects in the Western Balkans

Balkan Trafik Festival - A Symphony of Cultures in Brussels


In the heart of Europe, Brussels has again played host to the vibrant Balkan Trafik Festival. This gathering is a celebration of Eastern European culture, supported by the European Union, which emphasises the importance of unity and diversity across the continent.

Now in its fourth year, the festival is a melting pot of musical talents. Balkan Trafik has become a cultural meeting point where the diverse threads of Balkan arts are woven into a rich tapestry. The festival is more than a celebration; it’s a significant expression of the European Union’s dedication to cultural diversity and unity. Supported by the EU, the festival highlights the role of Balkan heritage in the European cultural mosaic.

The festival was attended by Young European Ambassadors (YEAs) from the Western Balkans. This year they were also joined by YEAs from the East, namely Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Together they spoke with artists, reflecting questions important to audiences back home and in the EU. Their mission is not only to build bridges with the West, but also to raise awareness amongst their communities back home of what the EU values mean in practice.

“Balkan Trafik is more than a festival; it’s a bridge between the East and the heart of the European Union, celebrating the diversity and creative energy of the Balkans.”

Nicolas Wieërs, the creator of Balkan Trafik Festival

As Europe’s political landscape evolves, Wieërs sees the festival as a key platform for integration and understanding, a celebration that enriches Brussels and spotlights the cultural dynamism of the Balkan region.  

He first became aware of the Western Balkans’ situation in 2002, just after the war had ended when he dined at a small restaurant in his neighbourhood established by an Albanian Kosovar who had fled the war in his country. Through this émigré’s eyes, he learned much about what was happening in a part of Europe that previously had been hidden behind an iron wall. 

This man was a sort of ambassador, Wieërs realised. “I recognised that we need to get to know our neighbours better, now that the old Cold War walls are down,” he reflected. The basic idea was to expand the knowledge of our people about what is happening beyond our borders. It’s a traffic of culture, not of something negative. 

“Music breaks down borders, in part by sharing joy. We see our audiences, and we see how they bond through music. And that is the message we musicians need to bring in a world of conflict.” 


Elias Kazas, Amsterdam Klezmer Band

“And that is where our vision and that of the EU overlaps,” Wieërs added in a separate interview. “The support we receive from the EU is not just financial. It is moral. We are co-travellers.” 

From 25-27 April 2024, the festival presented an array of eclectic acts. Stars like Manu Chao with their global influence resonated with the festival’s mission of multiculturalism and community. 

The festival inclusively represents not only Balkan states but also nations like Ukraine and Moldova, stressing the expanding scope of the European cultural and political landscape. The inclusion of these countries underscores the festival’s role in fostering European unity through cultural exchange. 

Kalush Orchestra, the Eurovision 2022 winners, showcased the youthful energy of Ukraine’s music scene. Their music—a blend of traditional Ukrainian elements with rap sounds and dynamic dance—demonstrates the festival’s innovative spirit. 

The Western Balkans were represented perhaps most vividly by Zarina. Her music, inspired by collaboration and a tapestry of traditions, draws listeners into the depths of Balkan soul, with songs from Turkey, Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and beyond. Her melodies, steeped in tradition, resonate with the contemporary spirit of the festival, offering a bridge between the historic and the modern. 

Joining Zarina in the line-up was the Greek ethnic-rock band Koza Mostra. Their energetic blend of genres captures the festival’s essence of innovation within tradition, turning every performance into a celebratory act of rebellion. 

The Balkan tradition is already making waves in Western Europe, as evidenced by the success of bands like the Barcelona Gipsy Balkan Orchestra, the Amsterdam Klezmer Band, and the Fabijan Balkan Brass Band. All three, based in Western Europe but proudly draw on various Eastern European musical heritages. 

But perhaps the most defining spirit of Balkan Trafik is seen when bands like Fabijan’s Balkan Brass Band descend from the stage to blend with the crowd. Here, music becomes a living entity, breathing the same air, sharing the same space, and embracing each audience member in a personal serenade. This isn’t just a performance; it’s an intimate exchange between artist and audience, a shared story told in the universal language of music. 

This is the essence of Balkan Trafik: a festival that reaches out, invites in, and celebrates the cultural heartbeats of the Balkans with open arms and dancing steps. It’s a cultural phenomenon where the music is not just heard; it’s felt—up close and personal. 

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