evz 2018 3evz 2018 4evz 2018 1

Petra Hamer

“Ethnonational and religious categorisation in patriotic songs made in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, from 1992 to 1995”

Theoretical approach

Through the theory of Benedict Anderson's imagine communities (Anderson 2006) different categorisation in Bosnian -Herzegovinian patriotic songs will try to prove that the ethnonational division was a forced process of political establishment in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Research question

Inhabitants of Sarajevo are of different national and religious affiliation. In the war the official political party tried to divide them along ethnonational and religious lines. How did this categorisation and division reflected in popular music?

Research design

This research is based on the ethnographic method with fieldwork research made in Sarajevo between 2011 and 2013, when several semi-structured interviews with Sarajevans were made. People of different ethnonational and religious affiliation shared their memories on survival techniques, everyday life and music production.


Before the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo people's feeling of identification with a particular ethnic background was based on religious traditions within the family and was a matter of private life (Maček 2009: 124). When Sarajevo was under the siege (1992–1995) the situation changed. Around half a million people lived in the city, where the general need for resistance was expressed through everyday cultural manifestations (Maček 2009: 55–6). Production of patriotic songs increased, and every popular musician made a song dedicated to his/her homeland, soldier, army unit, army commander, or stricken civilians. Singers from Dino Merlin, Mladen Vojičić – Tifa, Amra Dacca, Faruk Jažić, Hasiba Agić, Zlatan Falić – Fazla, Davorin Popović, Ismeta Dervoz, Safet Isović, and bands Macbeth, Bombaj Štampa, Muha Bend, Mjesečari, Siker, SCH, Protest, Tmina made a song expressing their feeling about the situation in the besieged city and country.

General phenomena that appeared in Sarajevo under siege were mistrust and ostracism, with increasing nationalism and religious extremism, but also local patriotism became important. All that was visible in the majority of popular songs made in that time. Therefore I divided the categorisation into two most obvious categories; the ethnonational and religious one. Categorising people into Bosnians, Serbs and Croats, or into Balije, Četniki and Ustaši (names with pejorative connotation) was found in several patriotic songs, but one stands out; this is a song Sarajevo zaboravit neće nikada (Sarajevo will never forget) by Alen and Teška Industrija.

The ruling political party Stranka demokratske akcije (SDA) started the campaign of Islamisation of society. So Muslim religious hymn Ilahija was sung publicly, even on the radio, and the most famous sevdalinka singer Safet Isović sang a song Šehidski rastanak (Martyr's leave taking) dedicated to šehidi (Muslim fallen soldiers).


Petra Hamer, PhD student, University of Graz Department of History, Center for Southeast European Studies


  • Anderson, Benedict. 2006 Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. New York: Verso.

  • Baker, Catherine. 2010 Sounds of the Borderland. Popular Music, War and Nationalism in Croatia since 1991. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

  • Bartulović, Alenka. 2013 “Nismo vaši!” Antinacionalizem v povojnem Sarajevu. [We are not yours! Antinationalism in post-war Sarajevo.] Ljubljana: Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana.

  • Bougarel, Xavier. 2007 'Death and the Nationalist: Martyrdom, War memory and Veteran Identity among Bosnian Muslims.' In: The New Bosnian Mosaic. Identities, Memories and Moral Claims in a Post-War Society. Xavier Bougarel, Elissa Helms and Ger Duijzings, eds. Burlington: Ashgate. Pp. 123–138.

  • Bougarel Xavier, Elissa Helms and Ger Duijzings, eds. 2007 The New Bosnian Mosaic. Identities, Memories and Moral Claims in a Post-War Society. Burlington: Ashgate.

  • Čavlović Ivan. 2001 'Musical life in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1990s'. Muzika. 43–48.

  • Halbwachs, Maurice. 2001 Kolektivni spomin. [Collective memory.] Ljubljana: Studia Humanitatis.

  • Halpern, Joel M. and David A. Kideckel. 2000 Neighbours at War: Anthropological Perspectives on Yugoslav Ethnicity, Culture and History. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press.

  • Hamer, Petra. 2017 'Popular Music under the Siege: Patriotic songs in Sarajevo. ' In Sounds of Attraction: Yugoslav and Post-Yugoslav Popular Music. Miha Kozorog and Rajko Muršič eds. Ljubljana: Ljubljana University Press, Faculty of Arts. Pp. 115–136.

  • Jeffs, Nikolai. 2005 'Some people in this town don't want to die like a hero: Multiculturalism and the alternative music scene in Sarajevo 1992 – 1996.' In: Rock'n'roll and nationalism: A multicultural perspective. Mark Yoffe and Andrea Collins, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars press. Pp. 1–19.

  • Laušević, Mirjana. 2000 'Some Aspects of Music and Politics in Bosnia.' In: Neighbours at War: Anthropological Perspectives on Yugoslav Ethnicity, Culture and History. Joel M. Halpern and David A. Kideckel, eds. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press. Pp. 289–301.

  • Maček, Ivana. 2009 Sarajevo under Siege: Anthropology in Wartime. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Malcolm, Noel. 1996 Bosnia: A short history. Basingstoke and Oxford. Pan Books.

  • Pettan, Svanibor. 1998 'Music, Politics, and War in Croatia in the 1990s. An Introduction.' In: Music, Politics, and War: Views from Croatia. Svanibor Pettan, ed. Zagreb: Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research. Pp. 9–27.

  • Vidić Rasmussen, Ljerka. 1996 The Southern Wind of Change: Style and the Politics of Identity in Prewar Yugoslavia. In: Retuning Culture. Musical changes in Central and Eastern Europe. Mark Slobin, ed. Durham and London: Duke University Press, Pp. 99–116.