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Yugonostalgia and Music: Identity Beyond Borders
Though cultural differences abounded among the member states of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, collective Yugoslav identity nevertheless existed and servered as a unifying force across the Balkan peninsula. Even in music, Yugoslav identity found unique expression, fusing practices of other nations in the West and the East with a wholly Yugoslavian sensibility. When Yugoslavia broke up violently in the 1990s, the music industry of the region fell into disarray as “musical preferences of the public changed due to the rising of belligerent nationalisms” (Petrov, “Yugonostalgia as a Kind of Love” 1). Neighboring states that once served with one another turned on each other in armed conflict and the people of these nations viewed each other through a lens of otherness. Culture of any sort from another nation could be grounds for dispute or confrontation, such as what occurred between Croatia and Serbia. Despite the loss of their country and its unified physical space, Yugoslavs continue to carry on national identity through collective reminiscing and discussions centered around Yugoslavia and the days before it dissolved into separate nations. Yugonostalgia as a concept encompasses a general sense of “‘nostalgia for Yugoslavia’ and for the lost ‘golden age’” (Petrov, “Yugonostalgia in the Market” 205). Specific individuals, groups, and music continue to serve the community as symbols long after the country’s dissipation. It is in this connection where the heart of the relation between music and Yugonostalgia lies. Music from pre-war Yugoslavia or the post-war region that invokes feelings of Yugoslavia, directly or indirectly, feed into the narratives of the people in the area coping with reality in the post-Yugoslav world. Presentation and representation of Yugoslav attributes through Yugoslav-identified music foster an environment for cultivation and dismissal of Yugonostalgia among those who feel an emotional attachment to the former Yugoslavia.
Music’s ability to manifest Yugonostalgia through internalized emotions and memories allows for the industry, artists, and listeners of Yugoslav music to connect feelings in the present to feelings of a past Yugoslavia. The connection of the peoples of the various states within the Republic allowed for the regional success and power of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke apart, decades of collective and shared identity between the peoples of the area broke apart with it. The music industry of Yugoslavia did not collapse completely, though, during the 1990s and the remaining elements of the sector orchestrated former Yugoslav stars into bridging the divides of newfound national boundaries after the breakup (Petrov, “Yugonostalgia in the Market” 206). The ties between the states under the Yugoslav banner allowed for music to reach audiences across the Balkans. These ties remained important for artists to succeed in dispersing their music following the separation of the states into countries. However, the process of performing and exchanging music involves the tense issue of politicization and national identities beyond just being Yugoslav and into the new national characters. Yugonostalgia in Balkan nations allows for Yugoslav artists to reach audiences across borders, but this comes with difficulty at times. An example of the tension present through the 2000s and 2010s between two neighbors involves Croatia and Serbia, with the former desiring to distance itself from the latter and its oriental, Eastern ways. When Turbofolk star Lepa Brena began touring in 2009, veterans and right-leaning conservatives in Croatia pushed to block her from performing in the country (Hofman 26). The fans and those who identified with a Yugoslav identity won in the end, but this example highlights the relationship of music, Yugonostalgia, and identity in the post-Yugoslav region. Two examples of Yugoslav stars and their songs will hopefully further illustrate the extent of Yugoslav imagery and iconography utilized to invoke feelings of Yugonostalgia among those who identify as Yugoslav.
Lepa Brena’s 1989 song “Jugoslovenka” displays an image of Yugoslav identity that evokes Yugonostalgia, while Brena herself carefully presents any connections to Yugoslav identity of her music in the post-war years to avoid politicizing herself or her music. “Jugoslovenka” consists of a verse sung by a male followed by Brena responding in the chorus twice, before the process repeats twice more. The chorus, sung by Brena and located below, provides an image of a Yugoslav woman with blue eyes, golden hair, and the spirit of a Slav:
My eyes are the Adriatic Sea, my hair is Pannonian wheat,
Wistful is my Slovene soul, I am a Yugoslavian.
(Oci su mi more Jadransko, kose su mi klasje Panonsko,
Setna mi je dusa Slovenska, ja sam Jugoslovenka.)
(Lyric Translate – “Jugoslovenka”).
The verses of the song ask, “where are you from,” “who gave you golden hair,” “where did you grow,” and further variations of this sentiment. With this simple structure and lyrics, the listener gathers that Brena is attributing herself, body and mind, to her Yugoslav identity. The music video, located below, features Brena dressed in a long flowing gown in a field of wheat, in a helicopter looking at the Adriatic, shots from around a coastal town, and the constant inclusion of the Yugoslav flag (Brena). The imagery presented in this video connects both to the lyrics of the song but to the desired effect of displaying the beauty of Yugoslavia. This song reflects the Yugoslavia of 1989, when conflict and tension in the nation peaked right before its descent in the next couple years. Since the 1990s, this song remains popular among Yugoslavs, while also receiving disdain from those who do not care for Turbofolk (such as Croatia which identifies Turbofolk with Serbia). Brena, born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and with ties to Serbia during her career and marriage, reflects a common trend of transnational identity from the Yugoslav region. Despite this Yugoslav identity, Brena “tried to escape her image of the Yugoslav star and rarely expressed any kind of longing for the past” (Hofman 24). Brena does this through the 2000s and 2010s by presenting her music that some interpret as Yugoslav love songs, that do not tie to a direct nation or period but to “former times,” “our time,” and “old times” (Ibid 24). Brena attempted to lessen the connection of her performances and music to Yugoslavia, but the audience still identified her and her music to Yugoslavia. The Yugonostalgia that listeners of her music have are not misplaced, as illustrated through the lyrics and video of this one song from her. The next example, from the mid-2000s, shows a post-Yugoslav take on Yugoslav identity in music with clear intent for Yugonostalgic effect.
Tijana Dapcevic’s 2005 song “Everything is the same, only he is gone” establishes a general view of each former state of Yugoslavia relating to their ways of life after Tito, utilizing major Yugonostalgic iconography for listeners or viewers. “Everything is the same, only he is gone” consists of an alternation between a verse sung by Dapcevic playing the part of one of each of the six former member states of Yugoslavia and the chorus with Dapcevic in military attire singing the lyrics included below:
All is the same, only he’s gone, Brega brought Dugme back together,
Summer is hot, winter with a lot of snow, All is the same, only he’s gone.
(Sve je isto samo njega nema, opet Dugme okupio Brega,
Leto vrelo, zima puna snega, sve je isto samo njega nema.)
(Lyric Translate – “All is the same only he’s gone”).
Beginning with the chorus, Dapcevic includes not only the title line of the track but also the Yugonostalgic lyric: "All is the same, only he's gone", where 'he' references Josip Broz Tito, the father of Yugoslavia and President until his death in 1980. Referring to Tito in a post-Yugoslav song is telling of the intention of the song, but in examining the verses, this song further illustrates a Yugoslav intent. Six verses represent six nations who once belonged to Yugoslavia: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Serbia. Dapcevic’s inclusion of each nation and depiction of each through lyrics and visuals in the video create a holistic, encompassing look at the region not as separate nations with no common ground but as former peers who share a past. Ana Petrov elaborates on this point, saying, “The remembering of the past can happen through the emotional engagement of sharing the same culture, so that the collectivities are made in a concrete space, at a certain time, as a result of listening to the same music or discussing the same issues, watching the same film or consuming other Yugoslav product” (“Yugonostalgia in the Market” 204). This video allows for Yugoslavs or Yugonostalgic audiences to connect with the larger narrative again of the Yugoslav state through a song the portrays the duality of Yugoslav collectiveness and post-Yugoslav nationalism.
Music representing Yugoslav identity in the post-Yugoslav region contributes to the collective ideology of Yugonostalgia, allowing for those who identify as Yugoslav to maintain a sense of connection to the country that they loss. Brena’s “Jugoslovenka” and Dapcevic’s “All is the same only he’s gone” both exemplify this connection to the memories of Yugoslavia through the employment of lyrics and imagery that recall Yugoslav locales and iconography. When the Yugoslav states broke up, a large portion of the citizens of the states wished for independence from the collective Federation. The desire for national sovereignty did not reflect the wishes of all and this meant that citizens of Yugoslavia who hoped for it to remain lost their country and their home. Music, today, serves as one tether for Yugoslavs back to a time when they felt peace and functioning existed. Beyond the personal experience, the internet provides a place for Yugoslavs to interact and discuss this music. The comment sections of YouTube contain the thoughts and memories of Yugoslav’s in the region and abroad, whether they fled the fighting during the 1990s or from other reasons. Ana Petrov says that “Virtual Yugoslavs appear regularly in the comments on links with any Yugoslav related content. They often promote the Yugoslav idea by pointing to the music as the heritage, or as many interviewees put it: ‘All we have left is the music’” (Yugonostalgia as a Kind of Love 13). The discussion of a reunification of the former Yugoslavia is not an easy one, if a conversation could happen at all. The matter of the people who lost their home, their country, and their connection to the place they grew up in is a matter necessary of discussion, for their sakes at the very least. Yugonostalgia indicates that there still are lasting effects from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s that are unresolved and unaddressed. Further analysis and study into this phenomenon may shed light into the problems that occurred leading to this and the possible solutions for these Yugoslavs without Yugoslavia.
Brena, Lepa. “Lepa Brena - Jugoslovenka - (Official Video 1989).” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Mar. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsKn5KX6XnU.
Dapcevic, Tijana. “TIJANA DAPČEVIĆ - SVE JE ISTO, SAMO NJEGA NEMA (OFFICIAL VIDEO 2005).” YouTube, YouTube, 23 May 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAUmPQxsimQ.
Hofman, Ana. “Lepa Brena: Repolitization of Musical Memories on Yugoslavia.” Glasnik Etnografskog Instituta SANU, vol. 11, 2012, 21-32.
“Lepa Brena - Jugoslovenka Lyrics English Translation.” Lyrics Translate, lyricstranslate.com/en/Jugoslovenka-Yugoslavian.html#songtranslation.
Petrov, Ana. “Yugonostalgia in the market: Popular music and consumerism in post-Yugoslav space.” Muzikoloski Zbornik, vol. 53, no. 1, June 2017, 203-215.
---. “Yugonostalgia as a Kind of Love: Politics of Emotional Reconciliations through Yugoslav Popular Music.” Humanities, vol. 7, no. 119, Nov. 2018, 1-16.
“Tijana Dapčević - Sve Je Isto Samo Njega Nema Lyrics English Translation.” Lyrics Translate, lyricstranslate.com/en/sve-je-isto-samo-njega-nema-all-same-only-he-gone.html.