Alexandria Virtual Cultural Centre of WA


page 3 of 12

Relevant history of the Balkans and the future of the Yugoslav States 

Nationalism in music: pluralist and dialectic styles

This discussion addresses the “Nationalist Movement” as a predecessor to the contemporary hybrid genres such as Bregovic’s soundtrack opus. The “Nationalist Movement” introduced new more complex musical styles through fusion of “Folk” and “Western Art Music”. The term “complex” does not imply any particular level of compositional intricacy in the studied examples, it is used to describe the multiplicity of the musical aesthetics (deriving from both art and folk musical traditions) portrayed in this music.  The focal geographical point of this discussion is Yugoslavia.

The “Nationalist Movement” was initially connected with “Western Art Music” in Eastern Europe (particularly Russia, Czechoslovakia and later Hungary.) The impact and developments of the “Nationalist Movement” in Yugoslav music are not part of the general Western historical canon. Reasons for this situation include the formation of Yugoslavia, its surrounding countries with their cultural and artistic influences and the overall impact of “Nationalism” as an extension of “Romanticism” in music.

“Nationalism” in Southern, Northern and Eastern Europe was an artistic attempt to declare a non-Western identity by incorporating pre-existing cultural traditions as a reaction to the growing influence of Western traditions in art music. The “Nationalist Movement” across many different parts of Europe is a good example of the aesthetic pluralism in art music in comparison to some world examples of the totalitarian approach of destroying (burning) all Western instruments and manuscripts and replacing them with traditional models (ie. post-revolutionary Iran.) I have opted to use the terms “Pluralist Musical Nationalism” to describe the European examples and “Dialectic Musical Nationalism” for descriptions of more totalitarian models. The concept of “dialectic” derives from the descriptions of various societies (see later in this chapter) and describes a unitarian model of musical “Nationalism” based upon the specific cultural elements of a particular tradition without any regards for the other possible minor influences within the dominant ideology. “Pluralism” of the European musical “Nationalism” is manifested through two significant aspects. The first one relates to the national expression portrayed through the aesthetic multiplicity in the given musical style. The European form of “Nationalism” is derived from both “Western Art” and traditional music of each particular country. This is the first dialogical quality of such style. Secondly, at the end of the nineteenth and in the beginning of the twentieth century, many “Nationalist” composers in Europe increasingly incorporated various “oriental” references alluding to Asian and Islamic cultures and to minority groups increasing living in their societies.

The most famous Russian examples with such references are Nikolay Rimsky Korsakov’s (1844-1908) opera, Scheherazade (1888), and Mily Balakirev’s (1837-1910) solo piano work, Islamey, sometimes also entitled as The Oriental Fantasy (1886). Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is a much less known example. His intense interest in the Islamic world led him to write The Love Songs of Hafiz for voice and orchestra (1911), setting Hans Bethge’s adaptations of the Arabian texts by the sixth century poet Hafiz to music. Szymanowski’s second work with a similar subject is the collection of songs titled Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin (1934).

In the former Yugoslavia, Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac (1856-1914) wrote short cantatas for mixed vocal ensembles. The fifteen cantatas  (1883-1909) are all titled Rukoveti (this expression literally translates to hand-made creations, but the widely recognised translation is “Song Collections”) and each one is based around folk melodies from a particular region of the former Yugoslavia (these collections include works from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia).

“Nationalism” in the music of former Yugoslavia is as complex as are the concepts of both Yugoslav music and Yugoslav identity. The interrelated nature of the political and artistic scenes together with its “pluralist” society that always seems to be in greater dialogue with the surrounding foreign countries rather than with the neighbouring states within the actual borders of the country(ies) are the main contributing factors in the development of the complex Yugoslav musical expression.


For just one very special night, Goran assembled artists from countries that he calls his “musical feeding ground”- between Budapest and Istanbul.

(Unattributed, undated, Available from: HYPERLINK ""


How is it possible for a composer to have such a geographically and culturally wide feeding ground? Is this Bregovic’s indulging statement that alludes to his favourite types of traditional music or some kind of an unwritten description alluding to the variety of Yugoslav cultural and artistic expression?

Yugoslavia has been formed, reformed, integrated and disintegrated several times between the nineteenth century (the rise of the “Nationalist Movement”) and the present day. The multiplicity of the Yugoslav identity is suggested by its geographic location, by its very name (see below in the following section) and by the diverse ethnicities that have been populating the country since the Middle Ages. The focal discussion addresses the influence of these cultural elements on the diversity of traditional music in Yugoslavia and relates this national and artistic multiplicity to hybridity in music and development of new genres. As this section mainly addresses the “Nationalist Movement” in music, it is most important to list the various configurations of government arrangements under which the country/countries had existed during the nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

The beginning of the musical “Nationalist” period in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe mainly occurred in the later part of the nineteenth century. Most of Yugoslavia was under the Austro-Hungarian occupation until the beginning of the First World War and the country did not officially gain its name until 3rd October 1929, so all the “Nationalist Movement” composers from this period were not really Yugoslav composers during that time.


Yugoslavia is a compound word. It is constructed from two words: Yugo and Slavia. Yug is a Slav word for the south; o at the end of yugo was probably added to smoothly connect this word to Slavia, which is a feminine noun that defines a Slav-populated place. So, etymologically Yugoslavia is the “Southern Slavic Land.”

Prior to the 1991 war, Yugoslavia functioned as a Socialist Federation comprising the Republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The fact that all these states, (now largely independent countries) were previously federated, highlights the country’s geographic and ethnic complexity and unravels the “pluralist” state of its society. Identification of the states that used to complete the “Yugo-puzzle” and of the neighbouring countries that surround the former Yugoslavia also describes the country’s location. Socialist Federation of the Yugoslav Republics (SFRY) was surrounded by Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Greece, Albania, Hungary and Austria. These countries and ethnic configurations formed the borders of the old country that disintegrated during the war in the early 90s.  For later musical discussion in the paper, the Federated Socialist Yugoslavia is the most important country. However, this country was established well after the beginnings of the musical “Nationalist Movement” during which period Yugoslavia was under the Austro-Hungarian occupation.


Composers in this region of the Balkan Peninsula were influenced by a complex mixture of strong forces including their religion, ethnicity and the variety of cultural elements and traditions from other surrounding states and countries.

Depending on the overall impact of these sources, composers from different regions turned to various types of inspiration. The country that later became Yugoslavia was always the home of several different ethnic and religious groups.

Ethnic groups such as Serbs, Montenegrans and Macedonians are predominantly religiously East Christian (Orthodox), Croatians and Slovenians are predominantly West Christians (mainly Catholic), while Bosnia and Herzegovina remains the most ethnically diverse state with significant Islamic and Jewish communities and both Orthodox and Catholic Christian populations. This tiny state, situated in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula became the homeland of the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Muslims (some of this population are the formerly Christian Slavs who converted during the Ottoman occupation period) and the Jewish people who came in exile from Spain and Portugal. Bosnia and Herzegovina, very much like Serbia, Montenegro and to smaller extent Croatia, also became one of the oases for future Yugoslavia’s large Gypsy minority groups. 

What were some of the significant musical influences?

The Orthodox Church music was heavily influenced by the Russian tradition and, from the 1700s, the services in the Orthodox Church in both Serbia and Montenegro were performed in the so-called Church Slavonic language. Under the Russian influence, non-liturgical chant started developing as secular theatre music in the Serbian dramas.

The other significant religion-based connection was between Orthodox Serbia and Orthodox Greece. Although still under the Austro-Hungarian government, the Serbian intelligensia opened a Greek Singing School in 1721. The influence of Greek language was a significant factor both in the development of the later Serbo-Croatian language and in the Slav-language subcategory of the Southern-Slavics (Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian and Bulgarian.)

The compositions from these regions were mainly choral pieces, solos and vocal theatre pieces, symphonic and chamber works being much less frequent. Just like in the other non-Western countries, the Balkan composers tried to express and strengthen their national identity though music and to make it a creative link between their already scattered people. These creatively-unifying aspects and solidarity of the Balkan nations were particularly significant given their ethnic and cultural differences and the tragic end of Yugoslavia just over a decade ago.

The musical life of Serbia blossomed under the composer, pianist and director Kornelije Stankovic (1831-1865). Stankovic composed and performed and also recorded and collected traditional music. His compositional concepts were deeply rooted in traditional music.

The most important Serbian operas from this period are Stanislav Binicki’s (1872-1942) Na uranku (Rising Early, 1903), Isidor Bajic’s (1878-1915) Knez Ivo od Semberije (Prince Ivo of Semberija, 1911) Stevan Hristic’s  (1885-1958) chamber opera Sumrak (Twilight, 1925) and two operas by Petar Konjovic (1883-1970) Zetski princ (The Prince of Zeta, 1929) and Kostana (1931). The importance of these operas is in their continuation of Stankovic’s “National style.” The operas use Serbian folk tales and mythology for libretti and incorporate traditional theatre with music.

The most prolific name in both, ex-Yugoslav and Serbian composition remains Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac (1856-1914) whose contributions were multi-faceted. His compositions remain the most virtuosic and sophisticated pieces of music that emerged from the as yet unformed Yugoslavia of the future. They are also the most versatile and insightful data collections of the folk music across the Balkans and the Yugoslavia-to-be.

Rukoveti (Song Collections, 1883-1909) are choral journeys through folk music of different parts of Yugoslavia. This music is prophetically inclusive of the diverse future-Yugoslav ethnicities – it was written almost seven decades before the country was created in that multi-ethnic form. This feature of Mokranjac’s compositions might have been a creative reflection of the desired sense of unity among the people from these regions as advocated by the composer or his own private artistic and cultural choice.

Mokranjac and Bregovic are musicians whose work establishes them as “the complete or uncompromising Yugoslavs outside of the Yugoslav time.” Mokranjac united the country in his music long before it was actually created, while Bregovic still remains the rare musical link of these scattered and separated nations after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Contrary to this unifying aspect characteristic of Mokranjac’s creative opus, the future Yugoslavia’s other most distinctive geographic and ethnic feature was its outward rather than inward outlook as its states were also strongly informed through their foreign neighbours, rather than their future immediate compatriots. So the future Yugoslavia was always incidentally or deliberately cultivating an ethnic paradox as its most intricate national feature.

The Catholic-populated regions are strongly anchored into the Mediterranean tradition, particularly the regions near the Adriatic Sea. Partly because of its geographic location and partly because of the cultural and religious influences, Croatia always had a continuing form of creative connection with Austria, Hungary and Italy.

During the rule of the Habsburg Dynasty, the Croatian musical scene was very quiet. The first Croatian opera Ljubav i zloba (Love and Virulence) was written in 1846 by the composer Vatroslav Lisinski (1819-1854) who also wrote an opera Porin (1851). Croatian “Nationalism” (quite similarly to the Southern Slavic “Nationalism” in general) was at its most pronounced between the two world wars, despite the fact that both Vatroslav Lisinski’s Porin and Ivan Zajc’s (1831-1914) Nikola Subic Zrinjski (1876) were written in the late nineteenth century. Both of these operas tell stories about the lives of national heroes.

The early twentieth century saw the real rise of national expression in the Croatian music with operas such as Blagoje Bersa’s (1873-1934) Oganj (Fire, 1911), and Jakov Gotovac’s (1895-1982) Ero s onog svijeta (Ero the Joker, 1935.) These operas follow the increase of the folkloric expression in Croatian music.

The concept of the two opposing forces---the search for unity and homogenic Southern Slavic expression and the outward outlook on the neighbouring foreign countries---may be the possible precursor for the powerful conflicting analogical qualities in the more contemporary Yugoslav musical genres (ie: Bregovic’s composition).

The former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina remained musically anonymous during the “Nationalist” period. A possible reason for this is the fact that the Bosnian nation is a mixture of different ethnicities from the other states (ie. Serbs, Croats, etc.) and various minority groups (ie. the Jewish and Gypsy populations). Interesting research aspects of the cultural and creative development of Bosnia and Herzegovina include this ethnic multiplicity of its population and the state’s geographic location.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is the most inwardly influenced of the future Yugoslav states. Placed between Serbia and Croatia, this state has borders only with other (future) Yugoslav states, unlike all the remaining ones that generally also have at least one foreign border. The combination of both the state’s location and the ethnic multiplicity of its population, led Bosnia and Herzegovina (and its capital city Sarajevo in particular), to turn inwardly. Both the state and its capital look into itself and develop a specific cultural and creative life-style that was more pluralistically conceived there than anywhere else in the future Yugoslavia.


Whether this double line of defences against the outside world obliges the city “to look inwards”, to turn completely in on itself, or for some other reason, very soon after its foundation Sarajevo became a metaphor for the world, a place in which the different faces of the world, gathered in one point, just as scattered rays of light are gathered in a prism. Some hundred years after its foundation, the city had brought together people of all monotheistic religions, and the cultures derived from those religions, numerous different languages and the ways of life associated with those languages. It became a microcosm, a centre of the world which, like all centers in the teaching of the Esoterics, contains the entire world. That is why Sarajevo is without question an inward city, in the sense attributed to that world by the Esoterics: everything that is possible in the world may be found in Sarajevo, in miniature, reduced to its essence, it is there because Sarajevo is the centre of the world. Like the fortune teller’s crystal ball, which contains all events, everything that any human being might experience, all things and all phenomena of the world, just as Borges’ Aleph displays in himself everything that has been, that will be and that could be, Sarajevo contains everything that is the world to the West of India.

  (Karahasan, Dz., 1994, pg.90)

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina was founded in 1440 by Isa Bey Ishakovic.  In his description, Dzevad Karahasan discusses the double isolation of Sarajevo, referring to its geographical location – in the valley of the Miljacka River, surrounded by the hills that isolate it from everything external. He also attributes a further isolation to the city centre which is located in the valley bottom, surrounded by the suburbs that are spread over the inner slopes of the hill and which then again shut off the city centre from the rest of the world. So, Sarajevo was always destined to turn in on itself, to look inwardly and to firstly create from the multitude of its inner riches and then to look for an external point of communication.

Immediately after the city was founded, representatives of three monotheistic religions, Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and Islam, moved into Sarajevo. They spoke Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, Hungarian, Italian, German, Turkish, Persian and Arabic. About half a century later, the Jewish population arrived in search of a shelter, escaping from Queen Isabella and King Fernando’s Spanish persecution. They brought a fourth monotheistic religion and two other languages – Hebrew and Spanish. This convergence of cultures turned Sarajevo into a kind of a new Babylon and new Jerusalem, giving the entire state a specific multi-cultural life-style and supporting the rise of a particular multifaceted Herzeg-Bosnian culture.

It is interesting to note the three levels of isolation or the triple inwardness that have been presented to describe Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first level refers to the inward state of Bosnia and Herzegovina in an externally oriented Yugoslavia. Earlier descriptions show no foreign borders between this state and others – all of its borders were with the future Yugoslav republic. The following level relates the city of Sarajevo’s geographic location with its inward socio-cultural nature. Finally, the city centre is further isolated from the suburbs, completing the triptych of the Bosnian isolation and inwardness within its cultural, creative and artistic development. In spite of its inwardness and geographical division from the rest of the country and the world, Sarajevo quickly developed one of the most dynamic and intricate cultural systems in the country and later on, in Europe. What are the features of this cultural system?


Such a cultural system is further described as “dramatic” and its fundamental characteristic is “pluralism”. A dramatic cultural system is diametrically opposite to many mono-cultural systems which still exist in different, apparently much more outward-looking parts of the world. Heightened cultural identification among the contrasting factors in such a society is accurately described and linked to the creative arts through the metaphorical use of the concept of dramatic tension.

The fundamental principles of the Bosnian cultural system are similar to the principles on which drama is based. Notably, the basic relationship between the various elements of the system is tension, which means that the elements are placed in opposition to one another and linked together precisely by the opposition which defines each of them; the elements become part of the system (the larger whole), without losing their original nature, ie. the characteristics they have outside the system they constitute. Each element becomes part of the whole system by acquiring new characteristics, and not by losing any of those it had before: each of these elements is itself a “complex” whole consisting of two opposing parts.

(Karahasan, Dz., 1994, p.92.)

Karahasan’s portrayal of Sarajevo as the metaphor of the world bears a direct connection with both Kusturica and Bregovic’s recontextualised use of “Balkan” to artistically portray the concepts of conflict and tension. Furthermore, Karahasan suggests that on a molecular level the individual elements of this “pluralist” society can look inwardly inside itself and develop a “dialectic” system within their own conceptual split.

If the fundamental relationship in a dramatic cultural system is tension which confirms the primary nature of both actors, in a dialectic system the fundamental relationship is mutual penetration, or the containment of the lower in the higher, the weaker in the stronger. To each member of the dramatic cultural system the Other is necessary as a proof of his own identity, because his particular nature is articulated in relation to the particular nature of the Other. In the dialectically constructed system, the other is only apparently Other and actually a disguised “I”. That is, the other is contained in me, since in the dialectical system (and in dialectical way of thinking), the opposing factors are actually one.

                                                                       (Karahasan, Dz., 1994, p.93.)

This conceptual split within an individual element is the most important analytical tool in further outlines of the case studies (see chapters III, IV and V). I have described this phenomenon as the “inward Sarajevan principle.”


The roots of the Yugoslav musical divisions, as traced back to the “Nationalist” period, play an important role in later perceptions of both art and popular musical genres during the modern period in the Socialist Yugoslavia.

There are two reasons why it is possible to jump from the late nineteenth–early twentieth century Nationalism in music straight to the 1980s where similar musical divisions can be found across different musical genres.

Firstly, some of the issues in the Socialist Yugoslavia spring from its unifying aspect under which all tensions remained frozen for several decades. Although the future Yugoslav states were already “pluralistic” even during the “Nationalist” period that musically started almost a decade before the formation of SFRY, their “Pluralism” was highly “dialectic” in relation to the Socialist approach. Despite the fact that the musical expression of the “Nationalist” period is “pluralistic” through its unifying art and traditional musical aesthetics and the references to the cultures other than the dominant nationality, the core of musical expression was patriotic, related to a specific national identity. Such a “patriotic” approach from this musical period becomes “nationalistic” in the eyes of the Socialist government. Secondly the musical life of Bosnia and Herzegovina was at its most resourceful during this period in SFRY.

Previous research uncovers Mokranjac as an exception of the “art music” scene through his prophetically Yugoslav vision. Likewise, Bregovic is an exception of today’s society, but it is interesting to discover that this “uncompromisingly Yugoslav” approach of the current day has its roots in the non-politically oriented subculture with which Bregovic tried to identify himself and his band from the 1970s and 1980s.

The increasing influence of the pop and rock musical genres on the contemporary society is addressed through the discussion about Bregovic’s band Bijelo dugme (White Button). The discussion and description is led with regards to the band’s reliance/popularity of imports from traditional ethnic sources in rock writing and the impact that such work had on both the Yugoslav society at the time and the evolution of Bregovic’s compositional language to the present day.


 originally spelled as jug in Serbo-Croatian, Yugoslavia is spelled as Jugoslavija in Serbo-Croatian

 I have constructed this term as a reference to the visually-catchy symbol that use to appear on some Yugoslav TV news during the early 90s: the symbol consisted of a puzzle representative of the Yugoslav map and presented different states as pieces of the puzzle that were added or cut from the country according to the changing political circumstances.

 For further information access:Roksanda Pejovic’s “Medieval Music” publised in: Ivic, P. (1995) “History of Serbian Culture”, Porthill Publishers, Edgware, Middiesex, England, Available from:  HYPERLINK ""

 this is also the reason why the section also introduces the musical “Nationalism” of Serbia and Croatia, as these are two significant groups living in Bosnia and Herzegovina

 the only foreign border of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the so-called water border (with the coastline), the Herzegovinian city of Neum has a miniature (6 km) border that leads to the Adriatic Sea which separates it from Italy

 For further reference consult: Borges, J.L.(1949/1983) The Aleph, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, Spain

 Dzevad Karahasan (born 1953) is a Sarajevan author, theatre critic and drama lecturer at the University of Sarajevo, has three published prose works and is the editor-in-chief of Izraz (Expression) Bosnian journal of literature and criticism.

 this old adjective that is in reverse order to the name of the country was kept even in modern  Serbo-Croatian language. The adjective alludes to the old name for Bosnia and Herzegovina that was Herzeg-Bosnia. This name dates to the pre-Ottoman rulership period - excluding the coastline border and looking into continental borders only.

page 3 of 12


short film archive
Ducumentary / Dokumentarni video zapisi
Theatre - video archive

Virtual Cultural Centre of WA

Fine Literature Re-Published

Alexandria - Acting on the brighter future for the professional arts in Australia