War and Peace, Music and Money, Politics and Identity — Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Europe
It has been about thirty years since the wars in the area of ex-Yugoslavia broke out. Before Yugoslavia collapsed, the country was marked by music and musicians against the war, nationalist politics, and radicalization of ethnic communities. There was a pro-peace and civility movement of musicians and other cultural workers in the years before that.
The early 1990s can also be seen as an occasion when people showed their true faces and values. In many cases, political opportunism won in its most brutal and inhumane examples due to radical nationalist development, shaping cultural policies by favoring those who supported contemporary warmongering, corrupt and authoritarian governments.
Ethno- and White Nationalists on Youtube
On March 15, 2019, 51 people were murdered in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. The dead were local Muslims at the Friday prayer, and the massacre shocked the world, not least because of the prevailing racism and social phobia against Muslims as in Europe.
The murderer and right-wing extremist Brenton Harrison Tarrant became known in the media, among other things, because on his way to the local mosque, he listened to war music that was popular among Serb nationalists during the 1990s wars. In addition, it became known that Harrison Tarrant, like Anders Behring Breivik, had taken inspiration from radical and ethnonationalist Serbian politicians, who, among other things, believed that they “defended Christian Europe” against Muslims.
In connection with the massacre, the Balkans came into focus, not least considering that the songs that white nationalists and far right-wing extremists usually listen to via Youtube already had millions of views. But there is also music from late Yugoslavia and the period during the country’s bloody collapse that is much more worthy of attention. Namely, music based on pacifism, freedom, and humanity, created by artists who, during the nationalist 1990s, were often persecuted, stigmatized, and exposed to threats and violence.
Peace Concert in Sarajevo
At the end of July 1991, a major peace concert was organized in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo under the name “Yutel koncert za mir” (Yutel Concert for Peace). The initiator was the television station Yutel, and the concert was part of a series of concerts to draw attention to the serious and warlike situation that prevailed in Croatia, where bloody battles were going on between the Yugoslav People’s Army and Serbian paramilitary units on one side and Croatian Home Guard and police forces on the other.
Yutel’s ambition was to gather popular support to end the war by organizing concerts with the country’s famous musicians and artists, not least from the Yugoslav rock-and-roll scene. When I go through the artist list 30 years after the concert, there is much that I recognize from my own experiences and memories from the early 2000s of music and politics in Bosnia.
At the concert, there was, among others, the actor Rade Serbedzija who, born and raised in Croatia, had a hard time in the new nationalist Croatia due to his Serbian identity. There was also room for intellectuals, such as the Bosnian writer Abdulah Sidran, known for his works addressing Bosnia’s multiethnic history.
“Nationalism strikes against human rationality”
One of my favorites was the rock group Ekaterina Velika (Katarina the Great) who in 1989 made a song called A couple of years left for us — surreal enough, considering that the war broke out just two years later. The group’s frontman Milan Mladenovic suffered from depression due to the war and was harassed several times, including in connection with the statement that he would never play again in the city of Banja Luka, “the Bosnian Serb capital”, and known for expelling Bosniaks and Croats during the war until all the destroyed mosques in the city had been rebuilt.
Another famous musician, Davorin Popovic from the pop group Indexi, chose to stay in besieged Sarajevo during the war and use his music to defend the city and the country against Serbia’s aggression.
Among the messages during the concert were statements such as that “peace shall prevail!”, “nationalism strikes against human rationality” and that “we should live like everyone else in Europe, happy and satisfied”. Even the then UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar sent his greetings to the people at the concert and expressed his hope that the war in the country would end.
Tragedy and Comedy
At the same time, it is tragic and important to note that several participants later turned out to be opportunists and even really nationalistic. Bosnian pop singer and “female magnet” Hara Mata Hari (Hajrudin Varesanovic) spent much of the 1990s in Belgrade's Serbian capital, where it was easier to make money as a musician, but he did not become known for criticizing the war or the Serbian regime. Another singer from Bosnia, with the artist name Dino Merlin (Edin Dervishalidovic), began to increasingly embrace Bosnian nationalism during the war in Bosnia, which was also based on Islamist ideas.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was Nele Karajlic, a musician who during the concert was presented as a “peacemaker” and who was a well-known humorist in the Sarajevo-based collective Top list nadrealista “(Surrealisters top list) whose humor was based on the genre” new primitivism “, including humor based on criticizing the political developments in Yugoslavia and Bosnia, and also warning residents that the war was going to happen.
Like his artistic partner, film director Emir Kusturica, Karajlic left Sarajevo and moved to Belgrade, where he quickly embraced Serbian nationalism and, among other things, defended dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his warlike and criminal government. It can be said that both Karajlic and Kusturica took place in the suffering of the Sarajevo people and their city, and have made themselves known for praising Serbian war criminals and autocrats like Vladimir Putin as part of an “anti-imperialist” critique of the West, the United States, and the European Union.
Inspiration and Reflection
The Peace Concert in Sarajevo and other similar concerts during the last years of Yugoslavia can today serve as inspiration and examples of the history of pacifism, peace policy, and humanity. At the same time, history shows how people can be opportunistic and “radicalized” when offered money, positions, and power.
A reminder from history is that individuals who are principled, civilized, and universalist are often in the minority partly because of our primitive and unreflected behaviors regarding the brain, physiology, and emotional reactions. Due to our inability to act in a complex way and our impulsive ability to act selectively and opportunistically. In the events of perceived danger, such as in connection with war, undemocratic and inhuman behavior can be rewarded, for example, through public donations to musicians, artists, and cultural workers who support a brutal regime and its politicians.
Such behavior is currently occurring in Russia in connection with the war against Ukraine, where the Russian state rewards celebrities, musicians, and others who support Putin’s regime and his imperialist war.
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