Malthus, Mayhem and the Myth of Yugoslavia

Here is how it started in today's necessity 
everything without fire, burning into itself[1] 
from the poem "Jugoslavija" by Branko Miljkovic

The Zeitgeist of Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia, particularly the place that rose mythically from the ruins of World War II in the "experiment" of Marshal Josip Broz Tito, marked perhaps better than any nation or region the clash of identity and difference between "East" and "West" in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, such identities and alignments formed the core arguments that Slovenia and Croatia used in claiming to be different and "Western" in 1991 as they sought to break free from the hegemony of "Eastern" and "Ottoman" Serbia. Declaring their independence and freedom from the repression of then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, the actions of Slovenia and Croatia deeply influenced (and in some ways forced) the Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to assert their own independence and freedom.[2] Yet, during the time frame of this study, Macedonia and Bosnia suffered dissimilar fates: Bosnia-Herzegovina was dismembered by ethnic internecine warfare and today remains a fractured parastate; Macedonia struggled to survive, economically and as a single state, in the aftermath of the last Balkan war and amid cultural clashes between ethnic (Muslim) Albanians and Slavic (Orthodox) Macedonians.

Divisions among the Dinaric Alpine peoples, of course a people of one original ethnic identity split by culture and various historical influences over the course of centuries, have characterized the "Yugo" (South) Slavs ever since their first appearance on the Balkan peninsula around the year 500 a.d. (Schevill 1991, 59).[3] Yugoslavia, perhaps more than any other European nation during the Cold War, portrayed major ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity.

In its relations with the United States, Yugoslavia once enjoyed a position as a strategic buffer to Soviet expansionism. Following Tito's unequivocal break from the Cominform in 1948, Yugoslavia's brand of independent socialism influenced attempted similar moves by Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, both of which failed to break from the USSR. The United States, avoiding direct Soviet confrontation, also sought to encourage the breakaway Yugoslavia; however, both the Truman and Eisenhower administrations provided a total of $750 million in military assistance to Yugoslavia (Weintraub 1978, 9).

With the demise of the Cold War ideological conflict between superpowers, the status for Yugoslavia as a "different" type of Communist nation vanished almost instantly; further, Yugoslavia's internal turmoil prevented the evolving political consciousness that had taken place in Poland, Hungary, and in the (now) Czech Republic that provided a more certain path for both new political processes and transformation in the Cold War's aftermath. The connections that bound Yugoslavia as an identifiable state were connections marked by differences, at times incredibly vast, between peoples and societies. Long before the eventual death of the nation, suspicions and accusations raged between various republics of self-serving complicity and self-interests. Serbians, who comprised 40 percent of the population and 60 percent of the military officer corps (Nyrop 1982, 275; 277), increasingly asserted in the 1980s that Slovenia and Croatia had accumulated wealth within their republics at the expense of the Yugoslav nation (Ramet 1991, 85; Hewitt and Stanger 1998, 9).

Added to this accusation was the proof of marked difference between the regions of Yugoslavia: in the north, Slovenia, a "Communist" Yugoslav republic, demonstrated among the highest employment and literacy rates, lowest infant mortality rates, and highest per capita incomes in Europe; in the south, the largely ethnic Albanian autonomous province of Kosovo experienced (and still experiences) the highest unemployment rates, lowest per capita incomes, and the highest birth and infant mortality rates in Europe (Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1988 1989, 1264). Kosovo's neighbor, the Republic of Macedonia, also struggled with abysmal economic growth, and throughout the period of this study, never lingered far from the edge of bankruptcy. Such differences, of course, then and now, are profound.

Much of the bromide for diversity and harmony promulgated internally and externally during the time of Yugoslavia's existence, best reflected in Tito's slogan "Bratstvo I Jedinstvo". So that Brotherhood and Unity May Forever Continue", was also a myth, serving largely to obscure the very real disputes that formed the complex Yugoslav trellis. Drawing on nationalistic themes, Montenegrins, for example, might likely consider them­selves most closely aligned with Serbs (and indeed were the only former Yugoslav republic to remain in federation with Serbia after the death of the nation), yet would claim a fierce and distinct identity from Serbia. Further, there were as many as twenty-six languages used throughout the country; in Kosovo, as one example, Albanian was the major tongue.

The diversity among peoples that ended with the death of Yugoslavia illustrates how social identity struggles to find stasis, if not equilibrium, during times of rapid change particularly change driven by technological influence. The tragedy of Yugoslavia is that it was doomed from the beginning; the miracle of Yugoslavia is that it survived as long as it did.

The Whole in Its Parts?: The Zeitgeist of Difference

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Yugoslavia was always a nation of parts, cultural affiliations, political necessities, and pragmatic realities in a Cold War era of larger ideological struggles. The Yugoslav peoples, in perspective, could have been better understood in terms of their differences, rather than in terms of their similarities. Even the common emphasis on cultural diversity among ethnic nationalities frequently overlooked the dissimilarity of peoples within each nationality (Banac, introduction toBalkan Babel 1996, xii-xvii).[4]

Thus, in considering a possible zeitgeist that could suggest (rather than singularly define) some of the tragic differences that helped destroy a nation, it becomes necessary to stress how the zeitgeist that existed among "Yugoslav" peoples in the last days of the nation was quite unlike the zeitgeist that appeared when the nation came into being.

This final zeitgeist, one of "difference," emerged over a period of a slowly evolving consciousness. The Yugoslav peoples came finally―and separately―to see themselves as "uncommon" from each other after nearly five decades of living together under a socialist system.

In the Bosnian village of Jajce, in November 1943, the Socialist Federal Republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia) were created under the banner of Tito's authoritarian control during a time of Nazi occupation of the entire Balkan peninsula; in June 1991, with the secession of Slovenia and Croatia from the federation, Yugoslavia ceased to exist. Tito's "imposed" zeitgeist of 1943 ethnic harmony, brotherhood, and unity, came to be replaced by the zeitgeist of 1991 ethnic affiliation over national identity, intolerance, and socio-cultural division.

In portraying such a zeitgeistof difference, the connections between technology, art, and evolving political consciousness might help portray the spirit of the age that led to war. Such interconnectivity, as it were, serves best by inference (rather than direct assertion) in creating a causal relationship with an ultimately disastrous effect. Technology isthe expression of art and the logic of art, the means of labor's production expressed as utility "to make." Art involves creative production as well as the process of labor; skill and dexterity are an expression of both craft, trade, and provide significance to the culture and cultural context in which the art is produced. The philosopher Martin Heidegger obsessed with the relationship between politics, technology, and art, recognized the true connectivity between art (as providing a measure, limit, boundary, and form) and technology. Technology (drawing on the creative aspects of art), according to Heidegger, offered the possibility of moving beyond industrial modes of production to offer an alternative vision and alternative reality (Zimmerman 1990, 94).[5]

Art, therefore, had a twofold meaning: both the process of skilled craftsmanship as well as the understanding of poesis, the bringing forth of the "techne" that both imbued and reflected the spirit of the time and place (Zimmerman 1990, 110). The artist, in other words, must be of andwithin her age to reflect that age.

Thus, in the interplay between these three referents of technology, art, and political ideas that came to represent the zeitgeist of difference, we must bear in mind the larger context in which social transformation and, indeed, revolutionary change, swept Europe in the last days of the twentieth century, a century that ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the outbreak of yet another Balkan war in the former Yugoslavia. Perhaps it is true that the enormous cultural differences among the Yugoslav peoples would have led to fragmentation sooner had the Cold War bipolar divisions and security issues not been as significant, and threatening, as they were.

Yet if the general intellectual, moral, and cultural spirit of an era, the zeitgeist can be taken as re­flecting identifiable markers of historic periods, then the bipolar fragmentation that took place in Europe following the Second World War may well have divided so-called "Eastern" and "Western" Europe into separate categories of identity and culture and helped create differing zeitgeists for both East and West. If so, the advent of technological convenience represented by birth control contributed to changing demographic patterns and social expectations among cultures. Moreover, within Yugoslavia in particular, the signifi­cance and influence of art, and the evolution of alternative philosophical and political ideas helped widen the gulf between peoples.

The change in individual choice that the tech­nology allowed helped accelerate differences among ethnic societies; rock mu­sic as art form accurately "predicted" the end of the Yugoslav idea; and, in an ultimate perversion, the rise of nationalism and vicious ethnic divisions led to a grotesque endorsement of Malthus's idea of population control―not through the technology of birth control but through the murderous validation of "ethnic cleansing."

Malthus, the Birth of the Birth Control Pill and Demographic Change in Yugoslavia

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Chorus: Who then is helmsman of Necessity? 
Prometheus: The Fates three-formed and the remembering Furies.
Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Necessity's Helmsman: The Technology of Birth Control

The technology of birth control has existed since the time of ancient Egypt; in the modern era, interest accelerated in the nineteenth century partly as a result of the writings of Malthus, who in 1798 published An Essay on the Principle of Population, which suggested the "principle" that population increases by geometrical ratio and the means of subsistence by arithmetical ratio, and that such dissimilar increase, unchecked, would lead to eventual disaster. Heavily dependent on the ideas of Scottish economist Adam Smith (author of the pivotal 1776 work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations), Malthus proposed that the only effective checks on population would be "the positive checks to increase" war, famine, accidents, and disease (Boorstin 1983, 473). In an 1803 revision to his Essay, he also added the notion of "moral restraint" as a means of checking population explosions that might threaten the social order (Chernow and Vallasi 1993, 1674). Malthus, nevertheless, was not an advocate of contraception, particularly among the working class whom he came to think of as ripe for exploitation for the "benefit of society." In the fifth (1817) edition of his Essay, Malthus portrayed specific opinion on the notion of contraception: "I should always particularly reprobate any artificial and unnatural modes of checking population, both on account of their immorality and their tendency to remove a necessary stimulus to industry" (Chase 1977, 81).

Malthus's ideas on population were originally a reaction against the utopianism of Jean Jacques Rousseau and William Godwin (Boorstin 1983, 474). Yet the enduring legacy of Malthus, despite the essential inaccuracy of his arithmetic/geometric difference ratios, proved enormously influential often for different reasons for evolutionists such as Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, and economists Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes (Boorstin 1983, 469-474; Chase 1977, 369). Malthus also proved influential, despite subsequent revisions to his earlier work, for the technological development of birth control and contraception as a means of population control. In 1878, in Amsterdam, Aletta Jacobs founded the first birth control clinic; that same year, the Malthusian League, which supported the opening of other clinics, was also founded. Yet the full effect of some Malthusian effects did not fully become manifest until 1920 when the thirty-four-year-old Margaret Sanger, influenced by the thinking of Neo-Malthusians, coined the radical phrase birth control and founded the International Planned Parenthood Federation (Asbell 1995, 6-7; 53).

Sanger, in 1950 at the age of seventy-one, provided the inspiration for technology "pull" in enlisting scientists to develop an oral contraceptive, as well as the push for its field-testing for safety and effectiveness, government approval, and mass production (Asbell 1995, 7; 313). Although no single event can completely encompass one moment in which "the Pill" as it has come to be commonly known came into being, the common mythology fixes the date as 15 October 1951 and the place a laboratory outside Mexico City. There, a chemist named Carl Djerassi synthesized "norethindrone," the substance that would eventually become the progestational ingredient in half of all oral contraceptives used worldwide (Djerassi 1992, 58). Djerassi, nonetheless, repeatedly claimed that he did not understand fully the significance of his discovery at the time. Russell E. Marker, another chemist influential in this project, equally denies having been driven by an end product: "I was never interested in the use of the hormone . . . I didn't realize it could be used for birth control pills until I had quit completely" (Asbell, 104).

Technology in isolation, however, takes on little meaning absent the significance of idea and motivations for technology's use (ideas and motivations that Margaret Sanger, among many others, provided). The technology of the Pill represents social and societal ramifications far beyond the physical convenience of oral contraception. As such, the Pill is both technological device and philosophical/political idea and has never strayed far from the issue of morality despite its technological utility and convenience. Malthus, in 1798, could warn against the dangers of population "explosion" but could not comprehend, naturally enough, that two centuries later the issue of population "control" would take on social, ethical, and moral significance.

Gendered States: 
Demography and Difference in the Former Yugoslavia

The Pill, of course, represents only one form of birth control. In the Yugoslav example, it would be inaccurate to place the technology of any form of birth control in complete isolation from other societal and cultural tensions and conflicts and then claim that such technology of itself was the singularly defining marker for the zeitgeist of difference that led to Yugoslavia's death. At the same time, such technology appears to have had some influence.

Birth control as well as declining birth rates within a particular society and among a specific, identifiable people can represent significant social markers of demographic difference. Within the nations that came to form the Socialist Federal Republics of Yugoslavia, demographic change had been taking place on a large scale for well over a century. Between 1880 to 1980, for example the crude birthrate for the Yugoslav peoples in general dropped from fifty per thousand population to approximately fifteen; at the same time, between 1900 to 1980, the percentage of the region's urban population jumped from 8 percent to 43 percent of the whole (Easterlin 1996, 98; 34).Further, in the twentieth century alone, the region of Yugoslavia suffered enormous losses through the so-called Malthusian "positive checks" of two Balkan and two world wars; in World War II on the Balkan peninsula, the struggle was both a war of liberation against Nazi occupation forces and an internecine struggle largely between Serbs and Croatians. Although no accurate figure can ever be obtained, some estimates claim that as many as one in eight Yugoslavs died between 1941-1945, and half of these Yugoslavs killed were killed by other Yugoslavs.[6]

In Yugoslavia as in much of post-World War II Eastern Europe, the decline in fertility rates occurred despite legislation that made distribution and advertisement of birth control methods illegal. Parental desires to limit family size appear to have overruled the legislation of the state; even as late as 1970, a survey found that upwards of three-quarters of the reproductive age population in Yugoslavia were using withdrawal as the main form of fertility control (Easterlin, 109).

Although, birth control "technology" would eventually become available in the Balkans (as it did in much of Europe and the United States in the 1960s), its delayed appearance on the social/cultural stage may also have had some effect on the emergence of a different and later zeitgeist. Equally, cultural difference, and most particularly the cultural divider of religion, helped stratify differences between Yugoslav peoples. Sociologist Bette Denich has previously identified the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo (largely Muslim and Orthodox communities) as being more sexually stratified and patriarchal, in opposition to Slovenia and Croatia (largely Protestant and Catholic communities), which Denich identified as agriculturist in character and tending to exclude "extreme forms of actual and ritual subordination of women to men" (Denich 1974, 253; 256).

As Sabrina Petra Ramet has dealt with at some length in her work, the difference between such cultures can lead to immense stratification. Patriarchal societies deprive women of choice, exclude them from decision-making, and subjugate women to men; in agriculturist societies, women enjoy equal status, active participation in public life, and a role in family decision-making (Ramet 1996a, 119; 123). Thus, within the same Yugoslav "nation," a Montenegrin father would not consider a daughter (and thus non-male) as being one of his "legitimate children"; an ethnic Albanian woman would be known only by the possessive form of her husband's first name; yet in Slovenia and Croatia, there would be open toleration of female engagement in premarital sexual relations; and in Slovenia, toleration of illegitimate births (Denich 250; 252-253; Ramet, 123-124).

Given such cultural difference between the northern and southern regions of Yugoslavia, birth control methods contributed to further separation. In the most fundamentally conservative cultures, that of ethnic (Muslim) Albanians, there continued a steady and high birthrate relative to declining rates in Serbia, Slovenia, and Croatia. One government official referred to this high birthrate as "demographic imperialism," leading to the establishment of Albanian majorities in regions such as Kosovo (Roskin 1994, 95). Statistical data illustrates that the largest Yugoslav ethnic group, the Serbs, experienced a 13 percent drop (from 41.7 to 36.3 percent) of the total population of Yugoslavia from 1953-1981, while the ethnic Albanian population experienced a 175 percent increase (from 4.4 to 7.7 percent) during the same time period (Nyrop 1982, 274; Curtis 1992, 274; 292).

By the time of Yugoslavia's death in 1991, although no accurate figures exist, there would appear to be further widening of difference among such cultures (based on these previous statistical data). Birth control and the increasing availability of the oral contraceptive, for those ethnic cultures in which its use was permissible, appear to have widened the gap between peoples. It is into this difference, with its emerging zeitgeist, that the music of Yugoslav rock 'n' roll entered.

Rockin' the Myth: Music As Political Force

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Spit and sing, Yugoslavia . . .
Yugoslavia, on your feet and sing.
Whoever doesn't listen to this song, 
Will hear a storm!
"Pljuni i zapjevaj, moja Jugoslavijo"
Goran Bregovic and Bijeo dugme (1987)


We always have treated political themes in our songs. . . . 
Rock 'n' roll is one of the most important vehicles 
for helping people in communist countries to think in a different way. 
So for that reason I think rock 'n' roll is more important for people
in Eastern countries than for people in the West.
Goran Bregovic interview, 14 September 1989

Rock 'n' roll in Yugoslavia, unlike many Eastern European nations during the Cold War (most particularly Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria), experienced degrees of freedom that might have been unthinkable in the "West." Certainly Marshal Tito's unprecedented break from Stalin in 1948 established a trademark of Yugoslav independence; music, originally Yugoslav jazz music, came partially to represent that independence provided it met certain restrictions and did not exceed certain dislikes of the Yugoslav League of Communists. Singing the wrong songs, as in saying the wrong things about the leaders of the "new" Yugoslavia, could definitely lead to prison terms and penal labor (Ramet 1996a, 92-93).

Yet Tito personally considered early on what stance to take regarding rock music, and in contrast to other East European despots, chose tolerance for and limited acceptance of rock music's rebellious form of expression (Vesic 1990, 2). His gamble apparently paid off; by the 1960s, any number of rock bands were singing praise to Tito and his self-management program (Ramet 1992, 85-86). The result, according to journalist Dusan Vesic, was that Tito successfully co-opted rock music's rebellious forms of expression against the state and made these "[Yugoslav] rockers . . . the greatest servants of the Tito regime" (Vesic, 4). This "servitude" lasted from the 1960s until the 1980s.

In the decade after Tito's death, there were varying forms of censorship and freedom in rock music. Rock bands such as Laibach (which employed both Fascist and anti-Fascist symbolism and on occasion wore Nazi uniforms on stage) and the sadomasochistic lyricism of the band Borghesia created, in Yugoslavia (as they would have in the United States), problems. In comparison with the United States, in truth, the freedom of expression both in lyrics and in performance was at least as lenient in Yugoslavia as in America.

In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom made the perhaps extreme claim that "nobody thought to control it [rock music], and now it is too late" (New York Times18 October 1987, A30). Yet in Yugoslavia, freedom of expression in all art forms was welcomed, provided it did not exceed set limits or touch too closely on political themes. Bands such as Let (Flight No.) 3 could release their debut, apolitical album titled Two Dogs Fuckinwithout raising the censor's ire, and then turn "political" in 1994, in response to the horrors of war, with an album simply titled Peace (Ramet 1996a, 291). Equally, the pivotal rock band of Yugoslavia, Bijelo dugme (White Button), came into political controversy by claiming in the lyrics of a song that "Christ was a bastard and a worry [to his mother]" (Ramet 1994, 137; Ramet 1996a, 105). The question of Christ's lineage, one might think, would be of little concern to a Communist regime; the regime, nonetheless, clearly realized the sensitivity of myriad cultures and traditions that comprised the Yugoslav identity.

The Music of the Zeitgeist?

In considering a zeitgeist of difference, one that recognized societal and cultural tensions and conflicts among the peoples of Yugoslavia and the widening separation between them, rock 'n' roll music seems a particularly apt art form for the recognition of the spirit of that age. Given that most intellectuals did not seriously consider rock music a "pure" art form, such music as a form of dissent, achieved within a short period of time an active deviance from the normally accepted or expected social attitudes within the Yugoslav state. Rock 'n' roll music represented the triptych of art, political rebellion, and technology (communication of power through amplified medium, performance "art," mass recording, and the ability to reach a wide audience quickly). Such music came to embody the spirit of generational difference as well, the gap between a World War II generation and the children of the Cold War, and the idea that all Yugoslav peoples were not the same.

In its capacity as "art," rock 'n' roll expressed the notion of liberation through loud, pulsing, expressive sound; it represented a form of liberation. Thus, the "rise" of "Yugoslav" rock 'n' roll music came to express viable forms of youthful angst while serving as a form of social protest a form of liberation in its way as equally powerful as the potential for sexual self-determination that the "technology" of birth control had provided to certain societies within the Yugoslav state. Rock music further widened the gap with the increasing urbanized demographic social order. Rock 'n' roll's largest influence was felt in the cities, most especially in the capital cities of Ljubljana (Slovenia), Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo (Bosnia), and in Skopje (Macedonia).[7]Largely agricultural communities in Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Western Macedonia were less affected by this influence.

Such music, as sociologist Howard Becker has noted, also created for itself an entirely different category of identity that marked it as a deviance that both "offended" the rule makers of the Yugoslavs and confounded them. Rock 'n' roll thrived in a category of marked difference from previous Yugoslav "art" forms and forms of social protest. Rock music, as deviance, was allowed to exist in the Yugoslav state, provided it stayed within boundaries; yet, as the music evolved, both as political idea and art form, the boundaries shifted (Shapiro 1978, 6-7). The paradox, of course, is that rock 'n' roll, as a form of accepted deviance in Yugoslavia, eventually transformed into the unacceptable form of political deviance; that is, rock music came to be a form of dissidence.

As such, rock music, particularly in its lyrics, observed the "multivarious connections between Yugoslav rock and the famed 'national question'" of Yugoslavia, as well as reflected, commented on, and influenced interethnic behavior (Ramet 1994, 125). Both the music and the bands took a stand, as it were, on the fate of the nation. And among the many rock bands that thrived in the former Yugoslavia during the 1980s, none was more important than the group Bijelo dugme (White Button), created in Sarajevo in 1974. No composer was more influential than its leader, Goran Bregovic, the son of a "mixed" marriage of a Serb and Croat.

By 1976, members of the Yugoslav elite began to notice the influence rock music was having; its effect, as Simon Frith has argued, had provided "both a symbol for solidarity and inspiration for action" as well as displaying an ability to create in audiences "[meaning] independent of the intentions of its original creators" (Frith 1978, 198). That same year, Belgrade University Professor Sergei Lukas, in a series of blistering articles in the weekly NIN (once the most prestigious journal in Yugoslavia), attacked Bijelo dugme for corruption and providing a Westernizing influence on Yugoslav youth (Ramet 1996a, 96). While Goran Bregovic admitted that his band early on intentionally projected a bizarre image―such as wearing earrings and dresses on stage―he equally realized how Bijelo dugme, which came to be known as "the Beatles of Yugoslavia," succeeded in actually Yugoslavizing rock music. Although most of their songs were sung in Serbo-Croatian a requirement for all so-called Yugoslav bands seeking a "national" (Yugoslav) mass market Bijelo dugme did not hesitate to record and perform a song in Albanian in 1981 (when ethnic tensions flared between Serbia and the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo); at the time, such an action, an attempt at political expression through the "corrupt" art of rock 'n' roll, was unheard of. Equally, the band would hoist black and red colors at their concerts to symbolically satirize the similarity between Naziïsm and Communism (Bregovic 1994, 133-137).

In articulating the zeitgeist of Yugoslavia, Bijelo dugme, and indeed all rock bands in the country, admitted they received support from one critical element: the lyrics were more important than the music (Ramet 1994, 114).[8] Unlike "Western" audiences, who favored the ambiguity or multiple meanings of popular bands such as the Beatles or Paul Simon in the turbulent American 1960s or R.E.M. or Pavement in the 1990s, Yugoslav audiences listened for and expected messages in the lyrics even if such lyrics were intentionally masked or made absurdly satirical to avoid censorship. Bijelo dugme, consummate musicians who increasingly incorporated ethnic music and influences of various Balkan cultures into their music (such as Turkish, Albanian, Serbian, and Croatian elements all within the same piece), equally concentrated on lyrics that expressed the concerns and preoccupations of their generation.

It would be a mistake, therefore, to too quickly assume that Bijelo dugme, "the Beatles of Yugoslavia," simply appropriated successful performance images and ideas from Western ways of thinking. To the contrary, Goran Bregovic maintains that while the West particularly bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones had initial influence, the development of rock 'n' roll took on an identity that reflected the turbulent times and the turbulent spirit of Yugoslavia. For Bijelo dugme, Bregovic's intent was to create a "Yugoslav character to our music . . . a bit too rude and too primitive for the outside world" (Bregovic 1994, 134). Equally, Bregovic consistently treated political themes in his songs and attempted to express through his music a sentiment that was "always a bit anti-communist" (Bregovic 1994, 135). Such political dissidence, as it indeed was, often led to the censoring of Bijelo dugmes's lyrics on records (though not in performance) and with threats of court prosecution that never came to actual trial.

Perhaps the most daring attempt on Bregovic's part to portray the zeitgeist of difference among Yugoslav peoples occurred as natural process of the evolution of Bijelo dugme:

[We] started with songs about love and now sing mostly about politics. The central fact of our life is that there are Serbs and Croats and they don't understand each other. They will finish with war. It will be 1941 all over again. We are heading in the same direction. You can see this even in music. Serbs and Croats have their own songs, which are more important for them than any "Yugoslav" songs. Last year [1988] I put together their two national hymns in a single song, and when I played this at some recent concerts, it resulted in small wars. The Croatian hymn "Lijepa nasa" [roughly, Our Beautiful Land] and the Serbian hymn "Tamo daleko" [There, Far Away] put these together under the title "Lijepa nasa." Not to take sides, of course.(Bregovic interview, 135)

Bijelo dugme represented the tip of the iceberg for rock music in Yugoslavia; by 1987, estimates placed the total number of professional bands at fifty and the number of amateur rock bands in the nation at 5,000 with 200 amateur groups in Belgrade alone (Ramet 1994, 109). That same year, Bijelo dugme recorded the song that both reflected the zeitgeist, and perhaps unwittingly, predicted the end of Yugoslavia. Titled "Spit and Sing Yugoslavia, My Yugoslavia," Bregovic had intended the piece as a song that would "frighten the politicians" (Ramet 1994, 139; Ramet 1996a, 91):

Spit and sing, Yugoslavia . . .
Yugoslavia, on your feet and sing.
Whoever doesn't listen to this song, 
Will hear a storm!

As it turned out, the song came to be the defining and defiant elegy for the ending of Yugoslavia. In 1987, playing to concerts of 20,000 people, audiences would all rise and sing the lyrics of an anthem for the "nation" they knew; in 1988, the song had evolved into one of insurrection. Tens of thousands of supporters of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic ,the individual most responsible for the death of Yugoslavia, took to the streets in Vojvodina and Montenegro, carrying pictures of Milosevic and roaring their support. The governments of both the autonomous province of Vojvodina and the republic of Montenegro fell and supporters of Milosevic, little more than puppet figures, assumed control of both governments.

Bijelo dugme itself was a victim of the last Balkan war. Banned from playing in Slovenia because of Yugoslav "nationalist" sentiment in its music, Bijelo dugme disbanded after the outbreak of war in 1991. Goran Bregovic, however, has continued to write significant, influential, "Yugoslav" music. In 1995, for example, he composed, arranged, and produced the music for Emir Kusturica's Underground (which echoes the theme of Odysseus's return to Ithaka from Troy, set in the besieged Sarajevo), winner of the 1995 Palme d'OrFestival de Cannes. The opening song for the soundtrack portrays how Bregovic had lost neither his biting satire nor his ability to comment politically on the horrors of war. Titled simply "Kalasnjkov," the song is a paean of joy, a fanfare for the common man's weapon of war: the AK-47, which "celebrated" its fiftieth year of destructive existence in 1997.[9]

If the general intellectual, moral, and cultural spirit of an era the zeitgeist can be taken as re­flecting identifiable markers of historic periods, rock 'n' roll music, as it uniquely expressed itself in socialist Yugoslavia, reflected a more general knowledge that change was taking place. It would be an extreme claim, nonetheless, to suggest that rock music, of itself, represented the vanguard of an emerging recognition that led to the collapse of a state. To the contrary, this music contributed to and was influenced by changing social expectations within Yugoslavia. The eventual, chaotic outcome that Bregovic and many others composers warned of (or embraced in a kind of nihilistic fatalism) came true. Whoever doesn't listen to this song, will hear a storm! The storm came.

The Rise of the Nationalist Idea in the Wake of Post-Cold War Euphoria

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When the Berlin Wall was falling, in November of 1989, 
I happened to be in Kosovo, covering a riot 
between Serbs and Albanians. The future was in Kosovo, 
I told myself that night, not in Berlin. 
Robert D. Kaplan, "The Coming Anarchy" (1994, 76)

I think there will be war in Yugoslavia. It will be a stupid war.
Goran Bregovic, 14 September 1989

What seemed obvious to Bregovic in 1989 remained elusive for most European and American politicians and diplomats in 1992, even while war began to erupt in Bosnia-Herzegovina: there would be war; it would be brutal and antagonistic; it would be a "stupid" war. The initial leaders of all the former republics who became presidents of independent nations:Momir Bulatovic of Montenegro, Milan Kucan of Slovenia, Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, Kiro Gligorov of Macedonia, Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia were

forced to trade the "myth" of Yugoslav unity for the myth of separate identities, independence, self-determination.[10]

The events of 1989 in Eastern Europe signalled in­evitable change as well as the end of the Cold War. Some of these changes, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, seemed full of promise; some, such as the "palace coup" and assassination of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, served up reminders that the promise of history was equally laced with blood. Thus, when violence first erupted in the former Yugoslavia, "Western" leaders were swift to condemn but slow to respond with any meaningful significance. In retrospect, this seems to have been intentional neglect on the part of Western powers, in the false hope that "noninter­ven­tion [in what was then Yugoslavia] . . . might have prompted the belligerent parties to deal more realistically with each other"(Clarke 1993, 66).

The Yugoslav disaster is also, partially, the West's fault. Woodrow Wilson's defense of self-determination helped bring about the destruction of whole empires in 1918; such admirable idealism, more recently flagged under a foreign policy of "democratic realism," and no less a commitment to the right of national self-determination, helped destroy the very states that Wilson helped create in 1918 in­cluding the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes that bec­ame Yugoslavia, country of the south Slavs. On 21 June 1991, then secretary of state James Baker, during a whirlwind visit to Yugoslavia, bluntly informed Slovenian president Kucan that the United States would not support unilateral recognition of declarations of independence by Yugoslav republics (Silber and Little 1995, 150).On 25 June 1991, with the near-simultaneous declarations of independence by Croatia and Slovenia, Yugoslavia ended forever.

Yet both the United States and Europe subsequently condemned attempts by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) to intervene militarily in the breakaway republics; the nation of "Yugoslavia"―under the authoritarian control of Serbia―expressed its right to protect the inviolability of its borders, an inherent and recognized principle established by the Helsinki Act of 1975, the original charter of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Coöperation in Europe) (Ramet 1991, 85). Europe was "bound," in other words, by an ultimate contradiction: 1) its commitment, under the Helsinki Accords, to respect the inviolability of borders and thus uphold its commitment to help preserve the current union of six republics and two autonomous provinces, and 2) the right of peoples to self-determine their own fates.

Against these contradictions, the influence of the political idea within the former Yugoslavia that is, a national identity as belonging exclusively to an ethnic "bond" rather than to the distinction of ethnic republics and people existing harmoniously together―came to represent the ultimate expression of the zeitgeist of difference. Tito's slogan of "Brotherhood and Unity" would come to be replaced by Milosevic's claim that "No one has the right to beat a Serb!" or by Tudjman's "dream" of an independent Croatia, for which his "nation" had waited nine hundred years (Silber and Little 37-47; 131-132; 144-145; 212; 213).

In the continuing analysis and argument over the root causes for the death of Yugoslavia, a fairly arbitrary dynamic has been created that claims either that the conflict was caused by a few individuals who ruthlessly manipulated the crisis to individual advantage or, by contrast, that the crisis grew out of the deep roots and violent history of Yugoslavia and was an inevitable consequence.[11] While such arguments are not necessarily myopic, they must not exclude the truth―as many analysts have tended to do―that what happened in Yugoslavia was inseparable from international change and interdependence, that―contrary to much current belief―the process of Yugoslav disintegration was not confined to the Balkans but was itself a reflection of wider political disintegration at the end of the twentieth century.[12]

An alternate view of this disintegration could be argued from an Aristotelian perspective. As Aristotle intimates in the Politics, the notion of self-governing citizens who had a responsibility to the "polis" (in Greek, "the city") was a relatively new development in the ancient Hellenic world; previously, tribal chieftains ruled despotically over their peoples, who were primitively subject to "the blood bond." According to Aristotle, the state defines itself within its reference to the distribution of political power and when the modes of distribution of power change, a new state (or, as in the case of Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, new states) comes into being (Politics, Book 3, Chapter 3, 1276a7).

What remains extraordinary about the Yugoslav example, however, is that the self-identification of the various Yugoslav republics with ethnic identity (that is the "blood bond") over the citizenry's joint obligation to the "polis" (the state) actually reversed the historical precedent Aristotle wrote of. Such a new mode of political distribution, though not entirely exclusive to the history of twentieth-century historical and political change, also sends a cautionary message about the stability of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the twenty-first century.

If "blood" is always chosen over what Aristotle termed the "friendship of the polis," war and violent outcomes seem the inevitable means by which the transitional process will occur. Aeschylus (who wrote of the implications for change that technology can bring in Prometheus Bound) seems to warn of this in his play, The Oresteia. By changing the "nature" of the Furies or the Eryines, the Angry Ones to the Eumenides the Beneficent Ones Athena, the patron goddess of the "polis" Athens assures the Eumenides that her citizens will both worship them and keep for them "temples underground" (Lowell 1978, 76). The Eumenides, convinced of Athena's eloquence and her sincerity, go underground beneath the city center of Athens―to await sacrifices made to them.[13] Yet, equally, the presence of the "blood avengers"―the Furies underground, seems to suggest their symbolism as collective and perhaps unconscious responsibility to both honor the blood bond and not let it exceed its boundaries.

The death of the Yugoslav idea and the rise of the national idea were not mutually contemporaneous events. One could make the argument, especially prevalent among the younger generation―the Children of the De-Evolution of Yugoslavia―that the death of the Yugoslav idea is the direct fault of the older generation, the Children of the Yugoslav Revolution, the Partisan resistance of World War II, and the Cold War paradoxes that the "myth" of Yugoslavia represented. Nationalism within Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia did not suddenly erupt with the end of the Cold War; such nationalistic "blood bonds" had been present for centuries. Yet Europe, in failing to adequately respond to the Yugoslav crisis, became itself unbound by the inherent contradictions of its own principles: the right to self-determination and the inviolability of borders.

Europe unwittingly helped accelerate the destruction. The Vance-Owen Peace Plan, introduced in 1993, was meant to separate ethnic communities from each other in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to establish specific ethnic enclaves within the independent nation. In the rush to establish ethnic "majorities" in regions where no ethnic majority had existed before, all parties to some extent (though the Bosnian Serbs clearly were the greatest villains) engaged in a murderous validation of Thomas Malthus's "principle" of population control through the savage practice of "ethnic cleansing."

Thus, in defining the sense of a Yugoslav zeitgeist that slowly emerged during the time of the Cold War and erupted in the Cold War's aftermath, the nationalist "idea" that expressed the spirit of the age and the sense of "difference" among Yugoslav peoples unlike the technology of birth control that came to define demographic difference over the course of several decades or the evolving growth of rock 'n' roll as both an expression of youthful angst, liberation, and political dissidence emerged rapidly. Further, the political "ideas" of nationalism and ethnic affiliation contributed to the rapid disintegration of the Yugoslav state, endorsing the perspective now available in hindsight that the Yugoslav zeitgeist had come of age. The change in individual choice that the technology allowed helped accelerate differences in demography; rock music as art form both influenced and responded to the emerging recognition that the end of the Yugoslav idea was inevitable; and, in an ultimate perversion, the rise of nationalism and vicious ethnic divisions led to a grotesque endorsement of Malthus's idea of population control not through the technology of birth control but through the murderous validation of "ethnic cleansing" for the sake of ethnic predominance in monoethnic, separate nations.

Children of the Devolution: The Case for Cause and Effect

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During a recent research trip to the Balkans, I was stunned by a seemingly simple event. Visiting the home of a close friend in Skopje, Macedonia, I watched as my host's eight-year-old son, born in the days when Yugoslavia was dying, danced to the music of Bijelo dugme and, full of joy, sang the lyrics of one of the group's most popular songs. I suddenly recognized the song: "Pljuni i zapjevaj, moja Jugoslavijo" ("Spit and Sing, My Yugoslavia.")

For this young boy named Borjan Gjuzel, who had grown in the years after Yugoslavia had de-evolved, the lyrics had taken on a different meaning, partially because they belonged to a different zeitgeist than the zeitgeist that came to fruition and then expired with Yugoslavia's ending. Yet it was possible, even then, to find an Internet link with the lyrics of former Yugoslav rock 'n' roll songs, full of both protest and of praise, about the place once named Yugoslavia (

Admittedly, "Yugo Rock" ceased to be a significant influence after the first days of Yugoslavia's death throes began in 1991. In its time, nevertheless, rock 'n' roll was a viable political force. In its aftermath, the rise of the horrific music known as "Turbo Folk"-in essence a kind of permanent destruction (or cultural armageddon) imposed on rock 'n' roll-assured the passing of a cultural motif. Notably, as a kind of attempted bridge between "rock" and "folk," the work of Djordje Balasevic became perhaps the most important and iconic music of the post-Yugoslav condition.

While an argument could be made that what happened in Yugoslavia was merely the full explosion of a spirit that manifested differently among different "peoples," such an explanation seems somehow insufficient for the myriad ways in which the Yugoslavs were once bound as much by similarity as by difference. From 1943 until its end in 1991, the social significance of changing demographics and evolving political consciousness within various Yugoslav republics suggest a zeitgeist of difference that evolved gradually and then deconstructed itself almost immediately at its zenith.

The borders between cultures, as the Greek poet Yannis Patilis has rightly noted in his prose, are not geographical borders but rather internal ones (Patilis 1997, 51). In examining the space within these borders, we begin to recognize aspects of difference and dissimilarity, as well as a more appreciable "sense" of a zeitgeist. In 1991, these boundaries began to fracture when the Yugoslav state could not sufficiently fulfill the increasingly divergent social realities and social expectations of its citizens.

"The Owl of Minerva flies only at dusk," penned Hegel in the penultimate paragraph of his introduction to The Philosophy of Right (Knox translation, 1952). Such an ambiguous phrase, rich in suggestion, seems to imply that we see philosophically only backwards that is, by hindsight and thus, as recent history demonstrates, we are not only just beginning to consider the Yugoslav disaster and its consequence for the future of Europe, but ought to consider it in completely different ways of understanding.


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[1]. Miljkovic (1934-1961) was the most prolific and influen­tial Serbian poet of his generation. During the last two years of his life, he published five books of poetry (I Wake Her in Vain, Death against Death, The Origin of Hope, Fire and Nothing, The Shining Blood), criticism, and translations of the French Symbolists and Osip Mandelstam. His influence still continues.

[2] Milosevic was parliamentary elected to the presidency of the rump "Yugoslavia" on 16 July 1997, after having served a maximum two terms (since 1991) as president of Serbia.

[3]Although Yugoslavia no longer exists, the term "Yugo" (South) Slav remains a useful cultural and geographic marker that distinguishes the Dinaric Alpine people as being a distinct Slavicethnos within Southeast Europe.

[4]The nation of Yugoslavia (first known as the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) was created following the Treaty of Versailles, with the addition of the Istrian Peninsula to Slovenia following the Second World War. No one, of course, was more aware of this fragile status than the Yugoslavs themselves. When I first lived and worked in Yugoslavia from 1988 to 1989, a frequent remark heard during travels was: "In the future there will be one Europe and the six nations of Yugoslavia."

[5]The Greeks, as Heidegger saw them, were most responsible for the bringing forth of "productionist metaphysics" and thus the Greek conception of art ended with the technological era. Heidegger's self-annointed task was to make possible alternative technology that itself would give both new art and structure.

[6]Robert D. Kaplan, for example, claims in Balkan Ghosts: A Journey through History (1993, 5-6), that as many as 700,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals died in the Croatian concentration camp of Jasenovac during World War II. I have seen numbers as low as 10,000 deaths from Jasenovac reported through Croatian sources; conversely, Serbian estimates have exceeded one million deaths.

[7]Rock bands were also specifically associated with cities: Laibach with Ljubljana; Leb i sol (Bread and Salt) with Skopje; Zabranjeno pusenje (Smoking is Forbidden) and Bijelo dugme with Sarajevo.

[8]Ramet (128, n. 6) also provides study evidence from R. Serge Denisoff, Sing a Song of Social Significance (Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1972), which reports the survey results taken from questions asked of 180 students on one of the most pessimistic songs of the 1960s with very specific lyrics "Eve of Destruction," which was a number one record. Only 36 percent of those surveyed understood the lyrics as the composer has intended them to be understood; 23 percent completely misconstrued them. Denisoff's arguable conclusion is that the protest song was primarily entertainment and not a medium of political significance. For a more recent, eloquent commentary on the continued acceptance by American listeners for ambiguity in rock music as, for example, Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who sticks unstructured phrases into melodies that are not worked out by the rest of the band, or the peculiar lyrics of the band Pavement, whose sonorous phrasings are "a series of small labyrinths" see Alex Ross, "The Pavement Tapes: How a Rock Band Became Famous for Lyrics that Made No Sense," New Yorker, 26 May 1997, 85-87.

[9]Music from the film Underground, Polygram Music for Films, 528 910 2 LC-0268 (1995). A fascinating and repulsive "celebration" of the AK-47's fiftieth gala, as well as an interview with the weapon's inventorCMikhail Timofeieviƒ KalaÓnikov, appears in Guy Martin, "The Killing Machine," Esquire, June 1997, 72-77.

[10]Admittedly, Bulatovic remained a protégé of Milosevic; following his defeat by Milo Djukanovic on 20 October 1997 in the Montenegrin presidential elections, Bulatovic subsequently became prime minister of Serbia on 21 May 1998.

[11]Eloquent and forceful arguments can be made for both views. Silber and Little (27) make clear early in their work, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation, their belief that the last Balkan war was "prosecuted with terrifying rationality by protagonists playing long-term power games." Ivo Banac, as well as Sabrina Petra Ramet and Peter F. Sugar, tend to align more closely with the view that the death of Yugoslavia was the inevitability of historical process.

[12]The most articulate voice for this clearheaded perspective is Susan L. Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1995). She completed the draft of her work before becoming senior adviser to Yasushi Akashi, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for former Yugoslavia.

[13]The thematic similarities played out in Emir Kusturica's film Underground in which peoples live beneath the burning Sarajevoand in the image of the Furies beneath the city center of Athens in The Oresteia do not appear coincidental.

About the author

P.Liotta recent work has appeared in Parameters, Strategic Review, Mediterranean Quarterly, and European Security. Lexington recently published his book on Yugoslavia titled :"The Wreckage Reconsidered: Five Oxymorons from Balkan Deconstruction" and will publish: " Dismembering the State: The Death of Yugoslavia and Why It Matters" in the coming months. Xenos Books of California will also publish:" The Wolf at the Door: A Poetic Cycle Translated from the Macedonian of Bogomil Gjuzel in the next few months. Ansering to the editor-s question, how came that he was interesting on this issue,

P.Liotta answered:Eleven years ago, I was a Fulbright scholar--actually a "slobodan umjetnik--in Yugoslavia and made my first happy acquaintances with Macedonia. Since then, I've returned to the Balkans many, many times--especially to Macedonia. In fact, I represented the United States at the Struga festival in 1994 and 1999.