Mitja Velikonja. Rock’n’retro: Novi jugoslavizem v sodobni slovenski popularni glasbi / Rock’n’Retro: New Yugoslavism in Contemporary Popular Music in Slovenia. Translated from the Slovenian by Olga Vuković. Ljubljana: Založba Sophia, 2013.
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“ambivalent perception of Yugoslavia during the post-Yugoslav period in Slovenia”
Rampant pro-EU propaganda in dominant discourses but no songs doing that. By contrast music praising Yugoslav era does exist, since 1996.
Elite “systematic strategy in their attitude Slovenia’s Yugoslav past” across the spectrum:
- attack it
- ignore it as if it never existed
“anti-Yugoslav ideology and the struggle against the communist windmills”
Slovenia’s acknowledgment of its Yugoslav past:
- re-discovery of connections with other ex-YU republics
- acceptance of former YU republics as equals
- Balkans as the closest and cheapest exotic destination
- essentialized images of the Balkans
Negative image of Yugoslavia in dominant political discourses vs exclusively positive images in popular culture, incl. music (positive Yugoslavism), ie in marginal/alternative discourses.
New Yugoslavism = ideological discourse of “”imaginary Yugoslavia” that materialized only after its physical counterpart had been destroyed,” found in Yugonostalgia, cyber communities, websites, retro-marketing, first-hand memories, second-hand images by post-YU generations, “music that speaks about “those times.””
- discourse on Yugoslavia veers into Balkanisms
- backwardness, rural mentality, patriarchy, hedonism
- turbo-folk and brass bands
- cultural otherness
- external Other – opposite of Europe (Orientalism – West)
- modern, progressive, urban, multicultural, pro-western
- rock’n’roll bands
- political otherness
- internal Other – opposite of Slovenia; transformation from former Yugoslavs to contemporary Slovenes
Yugoslavism = “a posteriori construction of images relating to the YUgoslav political system, social order, cultural production, everyday life, and Partisan fighters’ resistance”
Retro vs nostalgia
- cold vs warm emotional tone
- alienated vs sentimental
- purposive/instrumental vs emancipatory/restitutive
- sacrilegious/parodic vs sympathetic
- amusing/unburdened vs serious/mimetic
- ironic distance vs solace
- open to novelty, hybridization, and “perturbations of meaning” vs set in meaning
- past for the sake of the past itself vs seeks solutions for current problems in the past
Elizabeth Guffey on retro:
- half-ironic, half longing
- ‘shuffles…through history’s unopened closets and unlit corners”
Simon Reynolds: ‘a self-conscious fetish for a period stylization expressed creatively through pastiche and citation’
- repro = reproducing the old as it was, even if meanings have changed
- retro = combining old with new usually by old-style styling with new tech
- repro-retro = second helpings of the past, revives/reproduces something that traded on nostalgia
Retro in the West has primarily a cultural dimension, in the East a political one – not retro for retro but “every glance into the past in pop culture necessarily has political connotations”
Slovenia has two Others
- spatial = Balkans
- temporal = Yugoslavia
The Yugoslav Other is
- essentialized (it is the Other)
- exoticized (it is completely different from us)
- totalized (all its representatives are the same)
In socialist Yugoslavia, rock’n’roll / pop and rock
- was a generational response to dominant culture
- was influenced by western music
- was incorporated into mainstream to neutralize it
- had a tradition of glorifying Yugoslavia, Tito, Partisans, socialism
- major acts – Zdravko Čolić, Djordje Balašević, Lepa Brena, etc.
- New Partisans – Plavi Orkestar, Merlin, Bijelo Dugme
- alternative (punk, new wave) bands covered songs, e.g. Azra – Konjuh planinom and Partizan, Pankrti – Bandiera rossa, Korni grupa – Ivo Lola etc
Yugoslavism music in Slovenia:
- modest volume in a small overall scene living in the shadow of music from other ex-YU countries
- majority of performers began career after YU
- no continuity with the previous era
- most performers not known or successful outside Slovenia
There exists virtually no music that is anti-Yugoslavia, anti-socialism, anti-Balkans, anti-Partisans and also none that is nationalist or pro-EU/NATO.
Partial reason for Yugoslavism music: modernization (industrialization, urbanization, secularization, women’s emancipation) occurred during the YU era.
YU-themed concerts, festivals, parties, and other events as well as compilations and broadcasts
4 categories of performers:
- Whole repertoire is YU-themed
- Some songs are YU-themed
- One song is YU-themed
- YU motifs used only in names, videos, images, outfits, design (posters, album covers)
Yugoslavism music exists in other former republics, most widespread in Bosnia.
“This proves that the present “pro-Yugoslav” popular music is rather an independent cultural form not necessarily related to the current socio-economic and political situation of the actual environment.”
Form and content:
- Retro is prevalent: most pop/rock songs take old times (phrases, events, concepts from socialism) as a starting point for their new songs (phrases from socialism) – new songs for younger audiences.
- Most songs are in Slovenian.
- New messages in new context, to compare old (socialist) and new (current), to criticize new circumstances and propose old solutions (“we” then vs “I” now)
- Prevalent themes in songs and visuals: political/Yugoslav themes (brotherhood and unity, Tito, Young Pioneers, workers, Partisans, red star, flags), popular culture (music, movies, sports, design) and everyday life, proletarian/socialist themes, personal nostalgia for love or youth
- Entire music spectrum (all genres) represented
- Left wing criticism again but this time of neoliberalism/nationalism – continuity of alternative music’s opposition
- Collective “We”
- images from the past grafted on popular music in satirical or ironic manner
- “mix’n’match of socialist/Yugoslav/Partisan motifs and other historical content, aesthetic trends, political orientations, and elements of contemporary popular culture”
- remixing rather than reproduction
- documentarism: using snippets/excerpts of original songs, speeches, film/video footage in songs / videos
- imitation: using old songs or images
- images of the past are associated with contemporary mass culture, e.g. Partisans playing guitars, Pioneers partying
Because WWII battles have been “re-imagined” or reframed into Slovenian rather than Yugoslav experience, in Slovenia it is soft memory (personal memory, remembrances) that predominates over hard memory (monuments, buildings, symbolic places of remembrance like Kumrovec, Brioni, Kuca svjeca, WWII battle sites)
Ambitions, i.e. political engagement:
- nostalgic / neo-nostalgic, i.e. the past was better
- comparative-critical, i.e. the present is worse than the past
- emancipatory, i.e. use the past to fight for a better future
Feeling of liminality in contemporary Slovenia: living between the known past (“we are no more”) and an unclear future (“we are not yet”). The emergence of this music is not an accident: retro is a symptom, of being pulled to the past because the vision of the future is unknown.
Binary structure of Slovenian Yugoslavism:
- Slovenia vs Yugoslavia
- the present vs the past
- Europe vs the Balkans
- neoliberal capitalism vs self-management socialism
- nationalism vs multiculturality (brotherhood and unity)
- historical relativism vs anti-fascism
- individualism vs communitarianism
- workaholism vs easy living
- EU, NATO vs non-aligned movement
- conformism vs rebellion
Main trends within positive Yugoslavism:
- Non-political positive Yugoslavism passively shifts from controversial aspects of Yugoslav history.
- Political positive Yugoslavism presents an alternative to the present system.
- reduction to entertainment – party, good time
- ranting lumpenproletariat-style
- nostalgic contemplation leading to commercialization, incl. via visuals (retro design using avant-garde, functionalism, socialist realism elements)
- aestheticization – reduction of Yugoslav political symbols and cultural production to aesthetics, “just another symbol”
- ironic distancing – detachment from and joking about the past, carnivalization of Yugoslavia and everyday life in it (uniforms as costumes)
- connecting with neo-conservative ideologies incl. nationalism and patriarchy – emphasizing Slovenian-ness, passivized women (wearing Pioneers or Partisans or JNA costumes; in background as decoration)
“dehistoricization downgrades the Yugoslav and socialist past to “good old times”; de-contextualization turns them into isolated fragments; de-ideologization trivializes them into entertainment and easy life; [and] nationalism reduces them to the Slovenian-only experience.
This music thus becomes just another genre among many, a pop culture product like any other, harmless, drawing no negative critiques.
Paradox: The more this music favors the past, the more it’s dismissive of it. “the revolutionary load is effectively numbed by insisting on party/nostalgia/lamenting/pure aesthetic/ironic distance/conventional views” and “the continuity between them/then and us/now is erased through dichotomy” between the Slovene/Slovenianness and the Yugoslav/Yugoslavianness.
This duality justifies Yugophobia and reinforces negative Yugoslavism and “legitimizes the colonial approach to solving the otherness problem, which assumes a transition to dominant identity.” They-Yugoslavs (young/adolescent, partying, careless, Balkan) should become us-Slovenes (Western, mature democracy, European).
“The Yugoslav Other is an internal Other of the Slovenian Us, the Other from our past which we had to leave behind in order to reach our Slovenian Us.”
Yugoslavism is therefore transitional, past and discarded to allow for Slovenes to legitimize the present.
- raises a delicate, even taboo topic
- musealizes Yugoslavia/socialism – “Slovenian rock’n’retro is a virtual museum of the former common country.”
- catharsis and recovery of lost dignity
- symbolically rehabilitates Yugoslavia – Slovenian-ness entails both Yugoslavian-ness and Balkan-ness (usage of “we”)
- presents a positive picture of Yugoslavia – idealizes, romanticizes, nostalgicizes
- resistance to revisionism by reminding of positives of Yugoslavia, anti-fascism
- utopian position – highlights present injustice and past positive values though no performers are activists
- parody is a form of resistance – criticizes the seriousness of present day
This music has limited political and cultural reach – “neither music nor humor can change/preserve the world on its own” – “it supports rather than destroys the negative Yugoslavism of dominant discourses”.
Main contribution of this music: “it contributes on the ideological level, by questioning and wittily counterbalancing current Yugophobic discourses,” i.e. Slovenian nationalism and neoliberalism; offsets negative Yugoslavism by “parodic glorification of the former socialist Yugoslavia;” “opposes the centripetal force of contemporary Slovenian nationalism with the centrifugal force of images of life in the former Yugoslavia.” [what separates us vs what we have in common]
“Yugoslavia has therefore re-entered public discourse in Slovenia as an already realized historical alternative in which the Slovenes actively participated.”
This music is not an answer or solution to “ideological binarisms of Slovenia’s transition” but it does challenge them. “By taking an uncritically positive view of Yugoslavia, it counterbalances and calls into question the uncritical, negative views poured over it from dominant platforms. Through the parodic simulation and emphatic reproduction of the ideological elements and images that were dominant in the past, it undermines the self-sufficiency, bias, pathos and endless repetition of the present ones. Although politically harmless and devoid of political activism, it unintentionally, and frequently humorously, reveals Slovenia’s recent history, indicating ways to think about the future and prepare ourselves to cope with it. It raises the question of resistance in a world of pandemic conformism and opportunism. It points to the real, although miserably failed alternative, so that we can become aware of those alternatives that are available today.”