Serbia’s 2008 Entry: Kosovo Myth in Present Day

(c) Penny Kuang  15 Nov 2013

The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) is one of Europe’s longest-running and most well-known television programs in the world, providing international careers to artists such as ABBA, Secret Garden, and Celine Dion. Based off Italy’s San Remo Music Festival, the idea of Eurovision was proposed nearly 60 years ago by Marcel Bezençon, the head of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in 1955 (“The Story”). World War II had ended just over a decade ago, so he produced a plan to bring Europe together with music instead of weapons: Each EBU member-country would send a song to perform at a music festival, and other countries would vote on which song was their favourite. Just a year after Bezençon proposed the idea, the Eurovision Song Contest took place in Lugano, Switzerland for the first time in 1956. Since then, over 40 countries have participated, from Germany and Switzerland in 1956 to Azerbaijan and San Marino in 2008.

To avoid the possibility of conflict between countries, the EBU prohibits “lyrics, speeches, and gestures of a political or similar nature” with the threat of disqualification (Bakker). Despite the rule in Eurovision, the enforcement depends on the host country. Due to the title of Georgia’s 2009 entry “We Don’t Wanna Put In”, the Russian delegation accused the song and artists Stephane and 3G of being political and as a reaction to the 2008 war in Southern Ossetia and Vladimir Putin’s actions. As a result, Georgia failed to even present its song at the semi-final level in 2009 (Bakker).  However, in 2008, Serbia managed to hide its political content in its presentation from the English and French-speaking European Broadcasting Union under the Serbian language and layers of history and culture until after the Eurovision final with little criticism from the mainstream media.

Although the Republic of Serbia has participated only seven times as an independent country since 2007 (as of 2013), it is quite familiar with Eurovision. The Balkan country previously entered ESC as a part of Yugoslavia from 1961 to 1992 and later as Serbia and Montenegro in 2004 to 2005. Due to this experience, Serbia was able to win its debut year with the song “Molitva” and earn the right to host the following year in Belgrade. As the host country, Serbia automatically qualified for the final and presented the song “Oro,” performed by Jelena Tomašević featuring flautist Bora Dugić. The tune and lyrics were written by Željko Joksimović and Dejan Ivanović, respectively.

 (PastTV)

“Oro” is an example of a “Balkan Ballad,” a type of Eurovision entry exclusive to ex-Yugoslav countries sung mostly in the country’s native language (though exceptions do occur) and often backed by ethnic instrumentation. From a surface perspective, the lyrics describe a fallen-apart relationship.

The modern form of the Balkan ballad is thought to have not appeared until 2004 when Serbia and Montenegro debuted in the Eurovision Song Contest. Before then the only difference between a Balkan ballad and a French ballad would have been the lyrics due to the language restriction rule before 1998, when countries were required to sing in their national languages (Jordan). Due to this, Yugoslavia, which debuted in 1961 as the first out of five non-Western-European countries to participate before the fall of the Iron Curtain (the other 4 being Israel, Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus), needed to send entries which fit Western  European tastes to earn points. Not surprisingly, Yugoslavia’s three highest scoring entries were sent by Croatia, which attracted many Western European tourists (Vuletic 93).

After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the national broadcaster JRT lost its membership in the EBU, and the new Serbian and Montenegrin national broadcaster UJRT reapplied for participation in Eurovision in 2004.As the winning country gets to host the following year’s contest, the said country is able to generate money through tourism (Baker 182). This acts as an incentive for Eastern European countries to improve their economies; therefore these countries put more work into selecting their songs. However, the winning country also needs to provide a good first impression to its future tourists. As a country whose recent history was marred by civil war and ethnic cleansing, Serbia and Montenegro needed a way to promote itself with a new, positive stereotype accepted by both its people and the pan-European audience. The solution was Željko Joksimović’s entry “Lane Moje” (“My Sweetheart”), which scored top marks from both the televoters and all but one of the juries in Evrop(j)esma , the country’s national song selection. Joksimović and his Ad Hoc Orchestra wore modernized versions of folk dress at both Evrop(j)esma and the international stage in Istanbul, evoking a sense of timelessness (Baker 175), eventually reaching second place behind Ukraine with 263 points and douze points from seven countries. After the success of Serbia and Montenegro’s 2004 entry, the other ex-Yugoslav countries (besides Montenegro) either entered Balkan ballads or incorporated aspects of Balkan ballads into their Eurovision entries. Bosnia and Herzegovina reached its highest placing of 3rd place in 2006 with the Balkan ballad “Lejla” composed by none other by Željko Joksimović (Baker 175), and Serbia won on its debut in 2007 with the Balkan ballad “Molitva” (“Prayer”). However, Balkan ballads can also be used to hide political content at a deeper level. This is the case of “Oro,” as seen by its presentation of lyrics, tune, and choreography.

LYRICS:

“ORO“
Ko li miluje milo moje?
“ORO”
Who caresses my loved one?
Ko li usne te snene budi? Who kisses those sleepy lips?
Ne zaboravi ime moje Don’t forget my name
Kada krene da, da te ljubi When she begins to kiss you
Klasje moje ne spavaj My dear cornstalks, don’t sleep
Njega ljubi, mene uspavaj Kiss him, and put me asleep
Ne lomi mi led, vodu nema Don’t break my ice, there’s no water within
Ne soli mi ranu, suza nema Don’t put salt on my wound, I have no more tears
Ko li zaigra oro moje Whoever dances my Oro
Neka ne igra za nas dvoje He shouldn’t dance it for the two of us
Klasje, mene uspavaj Cornstalks, put me to sleep
Nuna nej, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna nej Nuna ney, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna ney
Nuna nej, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna nej Nuna ney, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna ney
Na Vidovdan, probudi me, da ga opet pogledam Wake me on Saint Vitus’ day, to look at him again
Nuna nej, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna nej Nuna ney, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna ney
Nuna nej, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna nej Nuna ney, nuna nuna nuna nuna nuna ney
Na Vidovdan, probudi me, da ga opet pogledam Wake me on Saint Vitus’ day, to look at him again
Na Vidovdan, probudi me, još jednom da ga pogledam(D. Ivanović) Wake me on Saint Vitus’ day, to look at him once more(Diggiloo Thrush)

The most important line in “Oro” is, “Na Vidovdan probudi me, da ga opet pogledam”, which mentions the holiday Vidovdan, or St. Vitus’ Day, celebrated on June 28th of the Gregorian calendar. Besides being a saint’s feast day recognized by the Serbian Orthodox Church, the day also commemorates the Battle of Kosovo in Blackbird’s Field, one of the most decisive battles of the Ottoman Empire’s expansion into the Balkan Peninsula (Ređep 253). The battle occurred shortly after the internal collapse of the Kingdom of Serbia in the late 14th century, after the death of King Stefan Uroš V “The Weak” (“Lazar”). Facing the threat of invasion by the Ottoman Empire, Knez (“Prince”) Lazar Hrebeljanović and his allies met Sultan Murad I in Blackbird’s Field in the early morning and fought until around noon (Ređep 253). The battle result was inconclusive, as both sides suffered high amounts of casualties, and both Prince Lazar and Sultan Murad were killed in battle. Although Serb, Byzantine, and Ottoman records exist, few details were confirmed (Ređep 254).

Although records describe that the battle result was inconclusive, Serbian legend depicts the result as a physical loss and a spiritual victory (Ređep 255). The Kosovo myth started developing immediately after the battle and the Serbian Orthodox Church’s canonization of Prince Lazar in 1391 (Ređep 254). Early versions of the Kosovo myth such as Danilo the Younger’s “Slovo u Knezu Lazaru” (“Discourse on Prince Lazar”) written between 1390 and 1420 already describe his agreement with God before the battle: Either he and his troops would suffer few casualties and be promised an earthly kingdom, or they would suffer a high amount of casualties but all go to heaven (Ređep 255).

Over time, the myth expanded to include Prince Lazar’s family members Miloš Obilić and Vuk Branković, described as hero and traitor, respectively.

The story of Miloš Obilić appeared in the 1430’s in records by Constantine the Philosopher. Miloš originally was not mentioned by name in the myth, but known simply as “neko veoma blagorodan”, or “someone of noble birth” (Ređep 258). Versions differ to why he needed to prove his worth to the Serb army, but they agree that Miloš pretended to defect to the Ottoman army. Once he was presented to the sultan, he pulled out a knife and killed Murad (Ređep 258). Though Miloš was immediately killed by Ottoman guards, he was celebrated by the Serbs as a national martyr-hero, and is still celebrated in the military in the form of medals of bravery.

Vuk Branković, the “real” traitor of the Kosovo myth, was thought to be the reason for Prince Lazar’s downfall. First mentioned over two centuries after the battle (Ređep 257), Vuk was Prince Lazar’s son-in-law who fought with his father-in-law at Blackbird’s Field. However, as the Ottomans appeared to overpower the Serbs, Vuk pulled his troops out of battle, leading to the Serb army’s loss and Prince Lazar’s death (Ređep 257).

After evolving for approximately 500 years, the Kosovo myth started to appear in politics in the late 19th century shortly before Ottoman rule formally ending in 1878 and the Serbian Orthodox Church recognizing commemoration of the 1389 battle as an official religious holiday (Bieber 98-99). The event was so entrenched in Serbian culture that other countries took advantage of this in attempts to demonstrate that the Serbs lost again: Archduke Franz Ferdinand chose this day to ride through the streets of Sarajevo in 1914 (and unknowingly, to be shot by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb playing the role of Miloš Obilić the martyr-hero), Joseph Stalin chose this day to expel Yugoslavia from the Eastern Bloc in 1948, and Montenegro chose this day to officially join the United Nations as an independent country in 2006 (Bieber 95).

The Kosovo myth was mostly ignored by federal government during Josef Bronz Tito’s reign in its trying to promote new Yugoslav myth; it was preserved mostly by the Serbian Orthodox Church until the 1980’s, when the Albanian majority of Kosovo started protesting for full autonomy (Bieber 99). As a response to the ethnic Albanians, Orthodox priests protested that

The Serbian nation [had] been struggling from the Kosovo Battle 1389 up to this day for remembrance and to protect its own identity, to protect the meaning of its existence from its enemies. It is ironically at the point in time at which one might have thought that the battle is won that Kosovo ceases to be ours and we stop being what we were. And all this without war, during a time of peace and freedom! (Bieber 99-100)

Due to the Church promoting the Kosovo myth for nationalistic reasons and presenting the Serb minority in Kosovo as victims, tension between Serbs and non-Serbs in Yugoslavia rose. The situation only grew worse with Slobodan Milošević’s “anti-bureaucratic revolution” to increase Serb domination in Montenegro and Vojvodina, continuation of the Church’s media manipulation, and the removal of Kosovo’s autonomy, until the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo (“Obituary”).

On June 28th, 1989, the newly-elected Yugoslav president Milošević made his famous speech at Gazimestan, the monument in Blackbird’s Field (Bieber 101). At a surface level, the speech sounded as if he wanted the patchwork-nation Yugoslavia to unite as a multinational state: Part of the reason for losing the battle 600 years ago was the tragic disunity of Serbian leaders against the well-organized Ottomans, and here was Yugoslavia with divided leadership at the brink of collapse (Milošević). Yet to those who understood the symbolism of unity and traitors in Milošević’s speech, he was calling for Serbs to unite and re-form the empire that King Uroš V and Prince Lazar failed to save by at least increasing Serbian dominance in the government- actions he called “late justice made by Miloš Obilić 600 years ago” (Bieber 102) Those who did not understand most likely found out at the end of his speech, when Milošević called out, “Long live the eternal remembrance of the heroism in Kosovo! Long live Serbia! Long live Yugoslavia! Long live peace and brotherhood between the people!” and his audience responded with “Samo sloga Srbina spasava” (“Only unity saves the Serbs”) (Bieber 101).

After Milošević’s speech, the Serbian media immediately reinterpreted the Kosovo myth to fit their present conditions: their leader symbolized Prince Lazar trying his best to hold onto a falling-apart country, the Albanians were the Ottomans whose threat would tear the country apart, and Montenegro and Vojvodina represented followers of Vuk Branković, the internal traitors whose presence was as much as a threat as the Serbs’ external threat (Bieber 102-103). Articles praised Milošević that “Prince Lazar did not have the luck of having Slobo by [his] side,” and the “Greater Serbia” philosophy (Bieber 102).

The “Greater Serbia” philosophy did not end with the breakup of Yugoslavia, the civil wars, or even Milošević’s being deported to den Haag to be tried for crimes against humanity in 2001 (Bieber 95), as it still persists today. In December 2007 and January 2008, after Serbia’s Eurovision win, Marija Šerifović was seen performing “Molitva” for presidential candidate Tomislav Nikolić and the Serbian Radical Party, a right-winged party supporting the “Greater Serbia” philosophy (Mitrović 175). Two months later the philosophy and the Kosovo myth appeared in Beovizija 2008, Serbia’s national song selection. When the Albanian majority of Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia a few days before the planned date of the selection’s semi-final of February 23rd. Due to national broadcaster Radio Television Serbia (RTS) covering the unexpected news of Kosovo, the planned date of the semi-final was pushed back two weeks to March 9th. The Serbian audience’s feelings for the event could be observed in the semi-final voting results: Even though “Oro” was ranked fourth by the juries, the televoters (general audience) placed the song first (“Beovizija”).

After “Oro” won the final of Beovizija with 24 points, the maximum number of points awarded by jury and televoting, the choreography was changed to show a national reaction to the Kosovo’s declaration of independence. Instead of simply Jelena Tomašević standing on stage in a bright red dress and flautist Bora Dugić accompanying her, RTS dimmed the lighting, changed Tomašević’s dress from red to blue and grey, and focused more camera work on the background dancers.

The dimmed lighting and the dull colors are an extension of the sadness felt from the Balkan Ballad’s mentioned broken relationship, as the lover is implied to be dead from fighting in the Battle of Kosovo. This is also observed from the two dancers, who lie on the ground dead during the first verse. The visual focus then shifts from the singer to the dancers, who walk around as ghosts but do not make contact with each other, representing either the Kosovo Maiden and her lover or Serbia as a whole and its past territories as the Kingdom of Serbia and later as Yugoslavia. “Who will dance my Oro [with me]?” asks Tomašević, as the ghosts wander about; she wonders if she should wander with them until June 28th, the day that Prince Lazar’s troops were promised a place in heaven. There and then she could wake up reunited with her lover, and her country would regain its lost territories back. As Tomašević mentions the holiday, the ghost-dancers make eye contact with each other and reunite, holding hands and smiling before the cheering audience, which eventually awards her 6th place with 160 points and douze points four times (“Eurovision”). Only unity saves the Serbs…and douze points pour la Serbie!

Even though the Battle of Kosovo occurred in 1389, the tragic story of Prince Lazar and its cultural impact can still be seen today in politics, current events, and the arts, including international events such as the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite its negative connotations to the “Greater Serbia” philosophy, Slobodan Milošević, and the civil war in former Yugoslav countries, by combining the Kosovo myth and the timeless Balkan ballad, RTS and Željko Joksimović managed to create an entry which fit the stereotypical Eurovision standard. The lyrics, music, and choreography of “Oro” were accepted by the Serbian and pan-European audience. To most of Europe, the song was an ethnic love ballad. To Serbs, the song reflected Serbia’s cultural and political ideals created over 600 years ago.

Works Cited:

Ređep, Jelka. “The Legend of Kosovo.” Oral Tradition 6.2 (1991): 253-65. Print.

Bieber, Florian. “Nationalist Mobilization and Stories of Serb Suffering: The Kosovo Myth from 600th Anniversary to the Present.” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 6.1 (2002): 95-110. Print

Baker, Catherine. “Wild Dances and Dying Wolves: Simulation, Essentialization, and National Identity at the Eurovision Song Contest.” Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture 6.3 (2008): 173-189. Print.

Mitrović, Marijana. “”New Face of Serbia” at the Eurovision Song Contest: International Media Spectacle and National Identity.” European Review of History: Revue Europeenne D’histoire 17.2 (2010): 171-185. Print.

Vuletic, Dean. “The Socialist Star.” A Song for Europe: Popular Music and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest. Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007. 83-98. Print.

“Obituary: Slobodan Milosevic.” BBC News. BBC, 03 Nov. 2006. Web. 25 Oct. 2013.

Milošević, Slobodan. “St. Vitus Day Speech.” Speech. Translated by National Technical Information Service of the Department of Commerce of the USA.  Gazimestan, Kosovo Polje, Yugoslavia. 28 June 1989.

“The Story.” Eurovision.tv. European Broadcasting Union, 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2013.

“Eurovision Song Contest 2008 Final.” Eurovision.tv. European Broadcasting Union, 26 May 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

“Beovizija 2008.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. (This was only due to RTS being a jerk and deleting the score sheets. Originally the information was found on RTS)

Ivanović, Dejan. “Oro.” Lyrics. Perf. Jelena Tomašević feat. Bora Dugić.  Panta Rei. Minacord, 2008.

“Oro – Lyrics – Diggiloo Thrush.” Diggiloo.net. Diggiloo Thrush, 2008. Web. 23 Sept. 2013.

“Lazar Hrebeljanovic, Prince (1371 – 1389).” Srpskoblago.org. Blago Treasure, n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

Bakker, Sietse. “Georgian Song Lyrics Do Not Comply with Rules.” Eurovision.tv. European Broadcasting Union, 10 Mar. 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

PastTV. “Eurovision 2008 Final – Serbia – Jelena Tomasevic – Oro” Online video clip. YouTube. Youtube, 24 May 2008. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.

Jordan, Paul. “Double Dutch? Choosing the Right Language for Eurovision.” Escinsight.com. ESC Insight. 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2013

4 comments on “Serbia’s 2008 Entry: Kosovo Myth in Present Day

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