Straznice folklore festival flaunts best of traditional music, dance, and crafts

One of the oldest and most popular folklore festivals in Europe kicked off at Straznice in southern Moravia on Thursday. With over 15,000 visitors every year, Czech folk bands, singers and dancers, consider it the 'Mecca' of all folklore festivals. Over 2,000 participants from the Czech Republic and abroad will perform during 31 events. The festival comes to a close this Sunday.

The annual International Folklore Festival is being held for the 62nd time. It is organised by the National Institute for Folk Culture in Straznice, which was founded by the Culture Ministry to foster contemporary folklore activity and identify as well as document traditional folk culture in the Czech Republic. Since the fall of Communism in 1989, dozens of folk bands and folk groups have come to life in villages and cities around the country. Their main goal has been to uphold Czech traditions and roots in generations to come. At this year's festival, visitors will be entertained by 50 dancers of the Verbunk, says the event's president Jan Krist:

"To this day, boys and young men use this dance to attract attention. The competition has been held continuously for the last twenty years and is very popular. The preceding rounds are held in the regions and the final then takes place here at the festival. We have been documenting this development for years and in 2005, the Verbunk dance was proclaimed a UNESCO Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Many Czechs know about this, but are unaware that the Slovak Fujara music and musical instrument has also been put on the UNSECO list. So, we've prepared a joint programme called Fujara and Verbunk at which we honour these two phenomenal types of art."

Folk crafts in the Czech Republic are still popular until this day. They include embroidery, textile weaving, the manufacture of traditional costumes, shoes, and wooden toys, as well as building techniques using simple material like wood and clay. Many of the country's craftsmen and women strive to not only keep the tradition alive but also pass their know-how on to the next generation.

"UNESCO encourages countries to establish systems for such people called 'Living Human Treasures'. We were inspired by states like South Korea, Japan, France, and others who have these systems and introduced one for folk craftsmen. The culture ministry honours them for their promotion of the tradition of folk art. Every year, the title can be given to up to five people and most of the titleholders will be presenting their crafts and also selling them at this festival."

The Straznice festival is primarily a showplace for Czech folk artists, though a number of foreign participants are also invited every year. At previous festivals, the National Institute for Folk Culture experimented with themed events. Past foreign participants, for example, specialised in traditional Slavonic weddings or sword dances.

"This year's event involving foreign artists will also be thematic. We decided to focus on the use of masks in traditional folk culture. We have a group from a village in Bulgaria and a Romany group from Romania. We also have a group from South Korea, another from Cameroon, and one from Slovakia, representing the Rozmberk region known for its traditional masks. Besides the performances, there will also be expert lectures on the significance of masks."