Ethnomusicologist Ana Hofman discusses the revival of Partisan songs by activist choirs on the territories of the former Yugoslavia.

Ana Hofman writes about the new life of Partisan songs

Darko Rundek, singing migrants, and bicycle-riding feminists also make an appearance.

Part 2 of 2 (see Part 1 here).

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Episode Transcript (and More)

[JINGLE]

PETER: In the last episode of the Remembering Yugoslavia podcast, ethnomusicologist Ana Hofman walked me through the life and meaning of Partisan songs in the former Yugoslavia.

ANA: These songs were immediately songs of a new life, new political future, because we talk about Yugoslav people’s revolution as Yugoslav antifascist Partisan resistance was not just national resistance but was basically socialist revolution. So we talk about the songs which were vehicles of imaginations of new future, new political horizon…

PETER: And we discussed what happened to these songs after Yugoslavia disintegrated.

ANA: In general these songs were not present in public discourses, at least not in radio broadcasting, in TV shows, I mean in TV, so in that sense is important that in public discourses they were seen as they have already been so much imposed for new national parties, new national elites basically seen them as part of the previous regime but somehow in a certain areas and for certain people, especially diaspora, but also certain parts of former Yugoslavia I can also say about Primorska area or some other parts, these songs continued in some informal settings, so people still continued to listen to these songs, not with such big performances or concerts, but definitely they were present in some, let’s say, outlets.

[01:49]

PETER: In this episode of Remembering Yugoslavia, I’m going to continue my conversation with Ana Hofman about the revival of Partisan songs in the Balkans.

Activist Choirs Give New Life to Partisan Songs

After the dust from the wars of dissolution settled and peace broke out, people started organizing into choirs singing Partisan songs. What triggered this development? Why and how did it come about? And what does it all mean?

[02:09]

ANA: Yes, my work is dedicated to one part of this, let’s say, new lives or kind of a more— intensity of presence of these songs in public. And it’s collective singing, activist singing. So there are some other genres, other musicians, also active in that aspect so I think it is important to say that already during the 90s there are some projects when musicians performing from different parts of former Yugoslavia joined and tried to revive these through some album recordings. Several prominent musicians like Rundek, like Rambo Amadeus, Đorđe Balašević, so, there are many streams, but what was interesting for me were activist choirs, of course, because how they use and repurpose this legacy, but also the way how choirs are in general currently, I think globally, laboratories of some new ways of musical organizing or self-organizing, so it’s definitely about songs, but also I try to put in dialog choirs that perform this particular repertoire and try to recall this past or revive this past, revitalize this past.

On the other hand, I also follow the global rise of activist singing and choirs and try to see how these global tendencies are actually merged or intertwined with specificities of this area. So I think activist choirs in that sense are interesting because [they] brought back collective singing also on the stage. So it’s not just Partisan songs as such and professional musicians perform these songs, but they also try to recall some other, let’s say, very important concepts in the current moment, of collective singing of singing or making music available to everyone and this is how I also try to discuss Partisan songs and legacy of antifascism and socialism, with some other concepts like amateurism, like radical amateurism and try to use choirs as, as I say, some kind of laboratories or experiments for reimagining or practicing new forms of political agency based on amateur music making. And, when doing that, choirs also recall particular legacy of Partisan songs as born during antifascist struggles and movement which was its own self-organized movement. So, and even later the context of self-management and the self-organization, which is, of course, merged with new cooperative movements and new kind of experiments in self-organization. So we definitely can track this kind of global, local, regional connections and how certain practices are put together or how they are floating to this area.

Another thing is, of course, political, social, economic conditions in the region, why these choirs started singing, so definitely— the first choir Horkeškart was founded in 2000, but the real rise of these choirs is from 2008. And this is not, of course, some coincidence that this year is the year of global economic crisis, which definitely somehow also shown in this area that capitalism is not the only possible future or is not the best possible future, not just for this region but globally. And Katherine Verdery and many other scholars talk about that how basically certain events coincided; so the global economic crisis and rise of new left in the South and eastern or former socialist East also, but let’s say also in the Balkans.

So the choirs particularly in the first bigger protests, so called Balkan Springs here in the region in 2011 and then series of other protests in 2012 and so on, we can really track the revival, not just of Partisan songs but also of antifascist slogans, “Death to fascism and capitalism and freedom to people and socialism,” singing of partisan songs is also part of the broader kind of revitalization or return of these, what Larisa Kurtović will say, socialist era discourse language or class struggle language, here in the region, but definitely in dialog with global kind of return and rise of antifascism and socialism we can definitely follow and we can also discuss current— how antifascists discovered they’re an organization, and they didn’t know, but Trump explained to them.

Criticism of Partisan Songs Revival

[07:39]

PETER: In my homeland, Czechoslovakia, the Communist Party-led regime was much more restrictive and repressive. We had to sing these songs, the Song of Labor, the Internationale, even the Soviet anthem, and I still remember them and entertain my American wife with them over beer. So when I first started hearing these Yugoslav Partisan songs, I had a negative reaction. Thanks to your work, I recognized the different dimensions and meanings and purposes of these. And yet, the criticism is easy to find, starting with promoting a totalitarian regime, as not-so-restrictive as it may have been. What do you say to all the criticism of this phenomenon?

[08:14]

ANA: Yeah, there are several lines of critique. One is definitely Yugonostalgia; so these people are simply nostalgic, they are not adjust to this current change and they want to return to this; so it’s very escapistic; it’s really nothing that you can really use for the current moment, but this is kind of a therapy also, that’s also another aspect of these; or, of course, as you said – they are just some people, definitely some old commies and they want to, I don’t know, sustain this tradition. The other thing is that these choirs particularly because, I think, the generational aspect is also very important here when we discuss this. Majority of people singing in these choirs are younger people.

And we can also discuss absolutely, they are middle class or upper middle class backgrounds; we can definitely discuss their intellectual backgrounds and so on, and this is again, another point of criticism for these–how these activists are basically some hipsters and some armchair activists.

These are, as I said, different lines of criticism, but the fact that these people are more or less younger people, I mean, people who, basically do not remember socialist Yugoslavia; for them, and some of them would say and they said to me like: “we are children of capitalism, so what we remember is just this transition and basically neoliberal capitalism,” which was introduced in the most radical way in the region; so in that sense they see Yugoslav socialism and in particular antifascism as a way of struggle not just against racism, against, you know, misogyny, against patriarchy, against right wing parties, but also for some structural change, some alternative which is not against just based on these typical neoliberal ideas of identitarian approach of minority rights, some other, but more a way to reclaim some structural transformation that— of course that they cannot say: “We want Yugoslav socialism back”, and they definitely do not say that, but definitely what they say is that they don’t want what is now as the only possible way. So, when socialism collapsed, they also felt that one utopia collapsed, then second utopia collapsed, so absolutely they think that we need and that this historical experience can be used as a valid point to challenge this current in ability of thinking the future.

[11:17]

PETER: After the break, neoliberal antifascism and Godfather Tito.

[INTERLUDE INTRO JINGLE]

PETER: This episode of the Remembering Yugoslavia podcast is brought to you by…you. Support the production of the Remembering Yugoslavia podcast on Patreon, at Patreon.com/RememberingYugoslavia. Thank you.

[INTERLUDE OUTRO JINGLE]

Antifascism as a Political Weapon

[11:43]

PETER: The new life of Partisan songs reflects some of the principles Yugoslavia was built on, highlighting the positive values the current regimes lack, many of which are hard to argue with, what’s wrong with antifascism, what’s wrong with socialism, I mean not socialism, lots wrong with socialism, I mean solidarity, a communal spirit.

I visited with two choirs, KIC POP Hor in Podgorica and Zbor Praksa, at their practices and the sense of “we’re in this together” was palpable, the energy in the room physically present. I felt like they’re doing something that has been lost, that they’re rediscovering or promoting something that may have been lost in the past.

I will say there actually were some older folks present, and by older I don’t mean senior citizens but people in their 50s, 60s, who do remember Yugoslavia, people in their 40s who remember Yugoslavia from their childhood, and it seemed they would relay the experience to the youths who never experienced or did not remember Yugoslavia.

[12:34]

ANA: What is relevant and you mentioned that—nothing’s wrong with antifascism, but so many things are wrong with socialism and this is a topic of my chapter and also one article I was trying to work on. So it’s interesting how, if these two things can be separated, at least in [the] Yugoslav case, so when you think about antifascism basically it was, as I said, [a] socialist revolution, so it was not some resistance movement, I don’t know, like in France or Italy, so, it really had really, really strong political and revolutionary agenda, so that attempts to somehow separate socialism from antifascism, or antifascism from socialism particularly, not from any socialism, from state socialism, so, I think is also the key point how we can think of emancipatory potential of antifascism.

If antifascism is really kind of, you know, liberated from burden of socialism, then it’s already used by not just liberalist, but even in some case what really— in Serbia some right wing groups, or some people who also claim that, I don’t know, Ustašas were also antifascist fighters, so I think we care coming to a very slippery terrain and if we claim antifascism to be completely kind of divorced from [its] concrete historical legacy in Yugoslavia, I think this is also— we can enter into the very slippery terrain also of either imposing some kind of an almost colonial approach to local historical experience, like antifascism is what it is now, antifascism everywhere.

On one hand, and on the other hand, it’s then free from any ideology and it is not just neoliberal mantra—everything without ideology. If antifascism is without ideology, then it’s so easy and we can all somehow agree that this is not problematic and what is wrong with antifascism, of course we are all antifascists. And this is, I think, also the problem for choir members, it’s not just we, two of us, we just entered into this debate, but absolutely it’s a thing that seems to me and this is some argument I try to develop in this article that at the point antifascism is somehow released from this burden of ideology only that it can be used as a political tool, because everyone actually can identify with this and especially in the very fragmented left, even people [who] do not agree about certain things, or they are not socialists, anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, antifascists—about antifascism they all agree and they can seam together and they can have some collective action. So it’s very interesting how at the moment actually real ideological potential of this term and practice is basically lost, then they can use it now for some new political actions. So it’s kind of a paradox.

New Life of Partisan Songs Five Years On

[16:05]

PETER: You first wrote about these choirs in 2015 and ’16. It’s been a few years, what has changed since then, if anything?

[16:12]

ANA: It’s interesting with singing activism that somehow the searching and singing follows different types of activism or different protests. So, it can just cover new movements, new protests and just adjust repertoire, so in that way it’s [a] very specific form of activism. It can also be seen as less political or more inclusive, as I just said about antifascism, but on the other hand I think what is important for choir that we have one choir that celebrates this year 20 years of existence, which is really much more than— you know, when we think about some social movement or some protests basically we, in the case of choirs, we really think about some long lasting approach to activism, so it’s really not something which is part of one year protest and then you have some culture practices leading to, you know, some time, and then they disappear, which is typical kind of social movement theory, now we can think about some kind of collectives; they change, they have crisis, they have decreasing of members, they have new kind of a rise.

So in that sense I would say that some things definitely also remain the same from 2015 and ’16. So choirs continued with their own lives, their own life [cycles] also, but definitely the intensity of their activities is always bigger when some ruptures are [laugh] in general. So, on one hand what happened is that more and more activities are taking place especially after 2015; we got in the refugee Balkan route so, lots of singing in front of the wire in Slovenia, in Croatia, in Serbia, also in refugee centers. Even some new choirs— one new choir in Zagreb gathering residents of Zagreb and people from Syria and Afghanistan, so this is definitely— also 29th of November in Vienna also with a very strong migrant kind of agenda from the very beginning, they call themselves Self-Organized Migrant Collective, but this even more intensified after this, so definitely so-called migrational crisis.

And what would be very interesting and I am also following now is the situation, the corona lockdown basically somehow really, really strongly affected any collective activities, although choirs here just started singing again, globally I got reports and information of some other scholars and friends and they say that choirs would probably be the last cultural activities that would be allowed because of, you know, bodily… Yeah.

So, this is another thing, but I think that collective singing on the street will definitely continue like it continued here in Slovenia with current protests here. So Kombinat members and Z’borke members— last time they sang “Bella Ciao” while riding bicycles with accompanying sound of, you know, bicycle ringing. So I think if we think about choirs in a more broader sense, that we all can be choir, so in that sense I think there is always a future, especially in protest marches and rallies which are happening outside.

[20:01]

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

“Bella Ciao” performed by Zbor Praksa

[22:06]

Yugoslavia Gets Personal

PETER: Speaking of Yugoslavia, what is your personal experience with that country?

[22:11]

ANA: It’s really layered, but, I mean, I am also child of— I was a Pioneer, so my experience in Yugoslavia was that it was definitely my country. Very personal – Tito was [the] godfather of my father. My father is called Rusomir, yeah, and not just kind of elite person, but that was practice in that time that with families with more children, then some of these more children, and my father was 13th child, yeah, and he actually got a name after— it was ‘46, and I think in ‘47 and ‘48 it wouldn’t be more Rusomir because it’s kind of a— but yes, and then another experience is singing in festivals, children festivals. I was very, very active as a singer as a child in different festivals across former Yugoslavia, when I performed children music, nothing, let’s say ideological, just simply children songs, but I traveled all across Yugoslavia and at that moment these festivals were done, organized in a way that you always sleep with the choir members or with some other soloists on the festival so I met so many people in different—from Prizren to Subotica, Ljubljana, so I experienced that Yugoslavia in temporal and spatial sense really.

I remember that I performed in Italy even for some festival with a badge of Tito and that was the way I perform. And then even I still have this cassette when they announced me, my performance, and they said: “This is Ana Hofman from Tito’s Yugoslavia, performing song ‘Sogni di bimbi’” a children’s song, so I still— I also embodied, in a certain sense, Yugoslavia singing.

PETER: Right, right. So, where were you born and where did you live in those times?

ANA: I was born in Niš, south Serbia.

[24:30]

PETER: How did you go from Niš to Ljubljana and from singing in children’s choirs to studying activist choirs of today?

[24:37]

ANA: I am coming from, what we here say, musical family, so my mom also finished [the] Music Academy; my dad was also [a] musician; my dad was [a] musician in popular music, so in this sense— my mom was also a conductor and she herself also prepare[d] and conduct[ed] some of these songs [these] choir[s] perform now, so can you imagine her surprise, she was like “What? These songs they perform again?” and I remember from my childhood how she was always saying like: “When my choir starts singing all first row is crying and second row in the audience, they cannot stop crying”, so when, first song, I don’t know, [sings] “Maršala Tita,” you know, something really— and I think from my early childhood, probably these first childhood memories somehow influenced my work and also obviously my theoretical approach to affect theory, but definitely yes.

And then I finished music school, I enrolled [in the] Music Academy in Belgrade, Ethnomusicology— there is a Department for Ethnomusicology there— and my interest for Partisan songs started already from my master degree, basically I studied— the title of my master thesis was The Role of Partisan Songs in [the] Building of Yugoslav Socialism, but then I researched songbooks as a kind of object— you said you’re also interested in objects— and I researched songbooks and the way how they canonized this legacy of Partisan songs, from after Second World War, so that was the topic.

And then I got some fellowship, not some but Wenner-Gren Fellowship and I went to University of Chicago, I was there with professor Phil Bohlman and this was [a] really amazing experience. Then I really somehow also theoretically shaped my approach to all these topics and then I turned to some other topics, I made PhD on emancipation of women through singing and through amateur music making in southern Serbia, also in relation to socialist gender politics, but then these choirs started singing, and I said: “My master thesis”— which was very contested, I had huge problems with this thesis in Belgrade, so they— huge problems, they couldn’t really understand why I’m interested in this. For my professors this was, as you said, this was something totally canonize irrelevant, who now will discover, we have [a] lot of scholar production and now you want again to do something in 2000 and I think they probably changed their minds.

[27:40]

[MUSICAL INTERLUDE]

“Uz Maršala Tita” performed by KIC POP Hor

[29:02]

PETER: What are you working on now and what’s next for you?

[29:05]

ANA: Jao, next for me is [a] huge, huge job of finishing my manuscript, which is called Socialism Now: Singing Activism After Yugoslavia. I’m writing it for a long period of time, so it’s really more than five years now, so this is the next important thing I would like to finish and it’s related to this. I always have some other things I’m interested in – labor, music labor and also kind of precarious aspects of music labor, also doing socialism, I’m interested in this legacy of precarity, so if we can— in order to understand precarity in the current moment, I think we should also go back in history and see how different forms of precarity existed, so this is another passion, but for the moment I really try to think about socialism now and what does it mean in this region, but also globally.

I would just like to add that I think singing is very important. People just sing and try to, really try to use your— if you want to do some activists work or you’re exhausted from some activist work, definitely I think that collective singing is something that you can channelize and you can really also do something you cannot do alone or you cannot do in some other activist groups or… I think singing, activist singing is [a] really, really good model for [the] current moment, because it’s simultaneously self-care and it can also be very effective.

[31:01]

PETER: Not just singing but merely humming, I might add. I’m still learning the lyrics to one of my favorite Partisan songs, Po sumama i gorama, Through the Woods and Hills, which I played in Part 1 of Ana Hofman’s interview. But merely listening to the song and humming along lifts my spirits, it’s so upbeat and defiant.

I’ll explore Partisan songs and their new life in future episodes. To be the first to know when new episodes are released, subscribe to Remembering Yugoslavia on your favorite podcast listening app. For early access to upcoming episodes, become a member on Patreon.

Until then…

[OUTRO JINGLE]

…you can find links to all the references, songs played, excerpts from The New Life of Partisan Songs, and more at RememberingYugoslavia.com/Podcast.

Support the production of the Remembering Yugoslavia podcast on Patreon, at Patreon.com/RememberingYugoslavia.

Music in this episode was courtesy of Edna Jurcan and Zbor Praksa in Pula and KIC POP Hor in Podgorica.

Transcript by Zorica Popović. Outro music courtesy of Robert Petrić.

I am Peter Korchňak.

Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu!

Additional Resources

Song Lyrics

These are the two songs heard in the episode.

Uz Maršala Tita / With Marshall Tito

Uz maršala Tita, junačkoga sina / With Marshal Tito, the heroic son
Nas neće ni pakao smest’ / Not even Hell shall stop us.
Mi dižemo čelo, mi kročimo smjelo / We raise our foreheads, we walk boldly
I čvrsto stiskamo pest / And clench our fists hard.

Rod prastari svi smo, a Goti mi nismo / We are an ancient breed, but Goths we are not
Slavenstva smo drevnoga čest / We are part of ancient Slavdom
Ko drukčije kaže, kleveće i laže / Whoever says otherwise slanders and lies
Našu će osjetit’ pest / [And] will feel our fist

Sve prste na ruci u jadu i muci / All our fingers, through misery and suffering
Partizanska stvorila je svijest / Were created by Partisans awareness
Pa sad kad i treba, do sunca do neba / And now when we should, to the sun, to the sky
Visoko mi dižemo pest / We raise our fists high

Learn more about the song on Wikipedia.

Bella Ciao / Bye Beautiful

Una mattina mi son svegliato / One morning I awakened
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
Una mattina mi son svegliato / One morning I awakened
E ho trovato l’invasor / And I found the invader

O partigiano portami via / Oh partisan carry me away
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
O partigiano portami via / Oh partisan carry me away
Che mi sento di morir / Because I feel death approaching

E se io muoio da partigiano / And if I die as a partisan,
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
e se io muoio da partigiano / And if I die as a partisan
tu mi devi seppellir / Then you must bury me

Seppellire lassù in montagna / Bury me up in the mountain
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
seppellire lassù in montagna / Bury me up in the mountain
sotto l’ombra di un bel fior / Under the shade of a beautiful flower

I tutti quelli che passeranno / And all those who shall pass
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
i tutti quelli che passeranno / And all those who shall pass
mi diranno “che bel fior” / will tell me, “what a beautiful flower.”

Questo è il fiore del partigiano / This is the flower of the Partisan
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao / Bye beautiful
questo è il fiore del partigiano / This is the flower of the Partisan
morto per la libertà / Who died for freedom

Learn more about the song on Wikipedia.

Ana Hofman’s Work