Young artists and professors from the Balkans will swim in the online ‘River of Tolerance’

NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’, under the patronage of UNESCO, organises the art festival for the fourth time—and, for the first time, virtually

text: Magdalena Gigova

For the first time, the ‘River of Tolerance’ Festival for young artists and their lecturers from the Balkans will be held online. The event, organised by NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’ in a traditional partnership with UNESCO, is part of the celebrations, which continue throughout 2021, of the 40th anniversary of the state donative organisation.

Unfortunately, the threat of a fourth coronavirus wave thwarted our plans for a colourful live fest at the Sarafs’ House in Samokov. But there again, in non-traditional forms of education, lecturers and students have had the opportunity to share experiences, create, demonstrate their talent and, last but not least, to become acquainted with the artistic heritage of Bulgaria. For Samokov is one of the cradles of the National Revival culture. It was the religious harmony in this town that inspired the idea of naming the festival ‘River of Tolerance’.

This year, the meetings of young artists from Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Serbia, and Romania, will be online, but they will have the opportunity not only to exchange ideas and challenges, but also virtually to view the historical and architectural monument of the Sarafs’ House, to visit various studios at the National Academy of Arts, and get to know each other.

‘The history of the “River of Tolerance” art festival is proof of how much Bulgarian spirituality has always been tolerant of different religions and ethnicities,’ said Ms Slava Ivanova, Executive Director of NEF ‘13 Centuries of Bulgaria’. ‘In Samokov, as well as in Sofia and elsewhere, the mosque, the church and the synagogue coexist next to each other in a very small area. In addition, they were built by the same masters, they were painted to the same pattern (if we use Revival terminology).

‘When young people find themselves in this atmosphere, they cannot help but look for the contemporary dimensions of this spirituality. And this is reflected in their output. Proof is the collection of artworks by students from the Balkans, which the Fund owns from the first three editions of the Festival. I hope that the fourth, which is now forthcoming, will be the next step forward in the development of the Festival,’ Slava Ivanova stated, full of optimism.


The first edition of the art meeting was in 2010. Then came the tradition that the Sarafs’ House—an architectural jewel wreathed in a veil of fascinating family history—hosts the event.

The ‘River of Tolerance’ project brings together young, creative people from different ethnicities and religions. Photographers, artists, and camera operators from Balkan countries get to know each other, learn from each other and from the prominent professors who have been invited, create together, and challenge their talent and mind.

Non-formal education and communication have proven to lend talents wings.

During the festival’s fourth edition (11–13 September 2021), although online, they will create art together, and the younger ones will have the opportunity to ‘steal’ from the skills and knowledge of the more experienced.


You can view Tsvetan Ignatovski’s video of artworks from the three previous editions of the ‘River of Tolerance’, presented by Mila Stareishinska at Prof. Vasil Gerov Hall.

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