Croatia: Music and Censorship in ex-Yugoslavia

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Croatia:
Music and Censorship in ex-Yugoslavia – Some views from Croatia

Speech by Mr. Svanibor Pettan, at the 1st Freemuse World conference in 1998


Peoples who dominated the first Southern Slav state from 1918 to World War II (Serbs, Croats, Slovenes) or became fully recognized in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Montenegrins, Macedonians, ethnic Muslims, ethnic Albanian minority) differed in several respects. In some issues they had very little in common, in others they were mutually opposed. Lack of commonality can be seen e.g. in a comparison between the Central-European Alpine style of music in Slovenia and the Balkan, Turkish influenced music in Kosovo. An opposition can be seen in highly respected epic songs in which Christian and Muslim singers, respectively, glorified heroes belonging to the mutually opposed sides. What one ethnic group looked at as the glorious past, the other looked at as a national tragedy. Consequently, patriotic songs of one ethnic group were treated as nationalistic by the other.

Yugoslav authorities made considerable attempts to bring people together on common grounds. Organizers of musical life were sent from one part of the country to the other, folklore ensembles were stimulated to perform programs with songs and dances from all republics and provinces, and music in the media was directed in a way that would promote “Brotherhood and Unity” among the peoples within Yugoslavia. Instead of these basically positive aspects of Yugoslav cultural policy, I will concentrate rather on some negative, less known ones, since they are more likely to help us comprehend the violent end of Yugoslavia. The key word is “enforcement”, nicely composed in an adage used by American anthropologist of Serbian descent Andrei Simic: “Woe unto a brotherhood and unity imposed by force of law”.

Political authorities in post-World-War-II Yugoslavia were aware of the impact certain music could have on the population and therefore forbade public performance of (1) songs related to national identity of the constituent peoples of Yugoslavia – if not within the frame of Yugoslavia, and (2) songs with religious contents outside the places for religious services. I shall present two cases to document the former category and another one to document the latter.

The Croatian national anthem »Lijepa naša« (Our Beautiful Homeland) was recognized as such by the Croats on both mutually opposed sides at the time of World War II – by the Ustashas and by the Partisans. Strangely enough, this particular song was officially proclaimed as the anthem much later, first in the 1972 amendments and finally in the 1974 Constitution. But still, it was not supposed to be performed neither alone nor together with Croatian patriotic / nationalistic songs. It was supposed to be performed only next to the Yugoslav national anthem »Hej Slaveni« (Hey, Slavs), thus pointing to Croatia as part of Yugoslavia. Otherwise, according to ethnologist Dunja Rihtman-Auguštin, it could have been treated as a criminal offence and sanctioned with a sixty-day prison term.

Another indicative example of censorship was the song about ban (viceroy) Josip Jelačić. Jelačić was a 19th century Croatian politician who at some point militarily opposed the Hungarians – and not the Serbs, nor any other group later included in Yugoslavia. But Yugoslav authorities considered him a Croatian nationalist leader, for whom the Croats called with this particular song whenever they felt repressed. The statue of Jelačić was removed from the main square in the Croatian capital Zagreb after World War II by the communist regime and was re-erected only in the course of political changes a decade ago. The example of the song »Ustani, bane« (Wake up, viceroy) demonstrates that a song related to different historical circumstances can be – and in fact was – recognized as a threat by the authorities and therefore banned.

As far as religion was concerned, music director of the brass band in the Croatian town of Samobor was discharged after the performance of the ensemble in a church procession in 1953 (according to Bogolin 1992). Religious symbols were never mentioned nor shown in radio and television programs about traditional music, so a poorly informed listener would be led to the false conclusion that traditional weddings in Croatia had nothing to do with churches. I remember that as late as in the 1980s cover notes accompanying some recordings of traditional music in the archives of the national radio station in Zagreb conveyed warnings such as: God is mentioned in this song, so be very careful about using it or do not use it in regular programs at all. In general, radio editors showed no interest in recording religious songs in the course of their fieldwork, because they knew that such songs should not be broadcasted. It is important to note that it was the editor himself / herself who was claimed responsible for obeying the limits. And this kind of imposed auto-censorship was very efficient.

From today’s perspective one could also laugh at certain examples of banned music from the post World War II period. At the time, however, such examples were interpreted in very serious terms. As an example, a Croatian choir gave concert in Montenegro about 30 years ago.

Its repertoire included a traditional song from their home-town Samobor entitled »Samoborci piju vino z lonci« (The inhabitants of Samobor drink wine from the buckets). Local authorities in Montenegro claimed that the word »Samoborci« could also be interpreted as the two words – »samo borci« meaning “only the (partisan) fighters” – and forced the choir to remove this particular song from the program. Another example is related to a performance of the Croatian professional folklore ensemble named Lado in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1980s. The problem was raised by the fact that the dancers’ traditional belts resembled the colors of the Croatian national flag – red, white, and blue, and that there was no Yugoslav symbol on it – the red star – which was present on the flag.

Some of the finest musicians were punished after World War II for having been on the “wrong” side in the war or simply for their bourgeois background. The conductor Lovro Matačić, who later became well known, used to be the principal for military music in the Independent State of Croatia during the war and was sentenced to death in 1945. The sentence was later changed to a prison term (according to Završki 1993). The composer Boris Papandopulo, of aristocratic background, was forced after the war to be a truck driver (according to Martinčević 1993). Composers known for being religious were on black-lists and their compositions were rarely publicly performed. Jakov Gotovac’s opera-oratorio Petar Svačić was forbidden in 1971 for political reasons (according to Tomić 1992).

Part of these problems can be explained in regard to the ideology of proletarian egalitarianism favored by the communist partisans who emerged victorious from the war in 1945. Their cultural concept was opposed to the pre war bourgeois culture. As an example, the conductor Pero Gotovac recalled the performance of his father’s opera Kamenik in the main Zagreb theater in 1946: “…during the second act, a group of young people came in whistling, beating with their feet, and shouting the slogans ‘Burn the score’ … and ‘Down with … author’. I think it was a group from the partisan secondary school, young people in uniform, some of them armed. The archivist … hurried to conceal the score, and my father barely escaped from the Western door [probably back door, op. S.P.] of the theater, while the protesters spontaneously formed the Kozaračko kolo [a popular partisan circle dance, op. S.P.] all around the theater” (Tomić 1992).

Silvije Bombardeli, one of the rare composers faithful to the partisan ideals as late as in 1986, wrote: “Although abnegated through the liberation war and revolution [World War II, op. S.P.], the bourgeois understanding of culture consolidated again, and from the 1950s on became particularly aggressive. As opposed to the bourgeois thesis that the synthesis of art and revolution is impossible… I claim that only their synthesis can result with the relevant!” (in Vesanović 1986). The fact is that the urban (“bourgeois”) culture, based either on the Habsburg or the Ottoman tradition, was too deeply rooted in various parts of Yugoslavia for any kind of newly created syntheses to be widely adopted as an alternative.

The process of liberalization following the constitutional changes in the 1970s and the death of the principal Yugoslav authority, Marshal Tito in 1980, brought into the political arena several concepts about the future of the South Slav state. Former emphasis on commonality among the groups gave place to the emphasis on mutual differences. In late 1980s, the attempts of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to achieve greater autonomy and determination of the Serbian state to cut off the autonomous status of that province were reflected in lyrics of the songs. Historical topics justifying the right of either group over Kosovo were mixed with current events (e.g. alleged Albanian rapes of Serbian women) and new heroes (a verse about Slobodan Milošević “although you are a Communist, we love you like Jesus Christ”). Forceful suspension of Kosovo autonomy, with Vojvodina and Montenegro already being dominated by the Milošević’s regime, raised anxiety and quickened the events in the western part of Yugoslavia. Slovenia and Croatia were soon followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina and also by Macedonia in their attempt to reach sovereignty, first within Yugoslavia (only if transformed into a loose confederation), later also outside the Yugoslav framework. And music was there to help – to mobilize people for their new roles and to support those who gained political power.

By the late 1980s, the national(ist) insignia, often with problematic connotations related to the World War II period, were available at street stands in all major cities throughout Yugoslavia.

Music cassettes with songs emphasizing Serbianness, Croatianness, and so on (rather than Yugoslavianness), many of them forbidden for decades, suddenly became available. In Croatia, at least, many people interpreted this change as a sign of arriving democracy. One of the first ensembles to perform and even record Croatian songs that had been forbidden for political reasons was neotraditional tamburica band “Zlatni dukati”. After a concert in late 1989, the ensemble members were called to the police for an informal interview. Josip Ivanković, the ensemble leader, recalls it: “The police officer asked us if we knew that these songs were forbidden. ‘No, where is it specified?’ – I replied. ‘It should have been specified in a written form to be an argument’. But this was an unwritten law and everybody knew that these songs were not supposed to be performed. Police officer documented what we said, and if the political conditions would not have been changed so fast, I am positive, we would be sentenced for the famous two-month prison terms.” (personal communication 1993).

Political changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s set the terrain for the breakdown of some boundaries and for the creation of the new ones. Ideologically motivated ban of public performance of nationalistic, anti-Communist and religious songs ceased to exist in Croatia, while the ban related to the shared heritage with the enemy (pro-Yugoslav and pro-Communist songs, the Balkan-style novokomponovana narodna muzika – newly composed folk music folk-pop genre) came into existence. No music-related censorship was mentioned in legal documents, but the »unwritten law«, just like in the Yugoslav period, called for the sense of self-censorship on behalf of the individuals employed in the state media.

Censorship in music in Croatia and in other independent states, brought to life through the break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, however, opens up a new topic and will be considered at some other occasion.


Mr. Svanibor Pettan, asst. professor, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia.


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1st Freemuse World Conference On Music and Censorship

The 1st Freemuse World Conference on Music and Censorship was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 1998. Among the participants were musicians, reseachers, human rights activists and journalists from all over the world.



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Dangerous Music
Listen to 2nd World Conference on Music and Censorship broadcast from Radio Netherlands (in English). Interviews with Gerald Seligman, Executive Committee member of Freemuse, Farhad Darya (musician, Afghanistan), Sanar Yurdatapan (composer, Turkey).


Listen at Radio Netherlands